Sunday, 7 April 2013

Criticisms of the OED (An English Language Coursework Piece)

w00t, I <3 the OED!!! 
lol, jk.

A ‘screenager’ getting to grips with the Oxford English Dictionary trying desperately to keep up with the internet.

If like me the title of this article made you grimace, then read on.
With words like ‘lol’ and ‘twonk’ recently being added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is it any wonder people think the English language is deteriorating with the rise of technology? While many words seem to just be a passing fad in the lives of the media junkies of this generation, it all gets a bit more serious when the OED decide to make them officially a staple of the English Language.
Just how far can the OED take their inclusion of such internet terms before 
before it veers more towards the infamous “”?
Imagine a future where publications can be overwhelmed with language atrocities such as “disneyfied” and “screenager”. Even worse, imagine that we’re all expected to understand these words and it’s assumed that the general public use them regularly. We’ve all used vocabulary or misspellings that we’re not proud of before, I know I’ve fell foul to the occasional ‘lol’ and ‘gunna’ in my time.
To many, adding such eyesores to the OED has become a desperate bid to keep up with the cyber-age we now find ourselves in rather than enriching the diversity of the English language.

Whether you like it or not, the internet is having an enormous effect on language. This is understandable when you consider that a couple of centuries ago you could travel from one English county to another and have difficulty communicating thanks to the lack of standardisation of English (bravo William Caxton, bringer of the printing press!).
We now have the ability to communicate to anyone in the world at the click of a button.
It may be through translation websites or the basics of a language picked up online but its communication nonetheless and for that we have the internet to thank.
Renowned linguist David Crystal states that the internet has become a global community and we need to establish whether it is a collection of language differences or whether it is a clump of trends which so far don’t have a classification such as deviant spelling e.g. ‘kool’. Many people worry that the internet is making English a hybrid language with rules bent to the whim whoever happens to be behind them but at the same time Crystal argues that the majority of online documents are in Standard English i.e. the form we have all been taught, or at least, follow the basic rules of the language. Surely this must be a sigh of relief to all those out there who, like me, see initialisms like ‘OMG’ enter into everyday spelling and cringe!

Still, its terms like these becoming accepted everyday use in society that irks us language lovers. In fact, ‘OMG’ was officially added to the OED in March 2011 according to the Guardian. I can’t think why there is much need to introduce entries which essentially, are seen as an embarrassment to use even if they were very popular once upon a time when they had their short shelf life. Take ‘w00t’ for example, also added in 2011, while it is popular in a corner of the cyber world when is the last time you heard someone say it in conversation or read it in a publication?
The OED isn’t the only guilty party. Over a quarter of recent additions to the Chambers dictionary have also came from internet culture. This doesn’t seem so offensive given the enormous impact the internet has had on our lives but when you take into consideration the sheer amount of users and its fast pace it’s difficult to see where some of this new lingo is apparently fitting into our everyday lives.

The OED defend its decision to include dictionary entries such as “Grrrrl” and “meatspace” no matter how controversial they are. Their reasoning behind this is, "You have to show that the word has been in usage for a decent length of time and, most importantly, that the word is used and understood by a wide audience." So building on that statement by Graeme Diamond, when’s the last time you used ‘meatspace’ or ‘grrrrl’ at all? In fact, if you even know what they mean without the use of a dictionary, please leave a comment!
Maybe I’m just too immersed in what the internet calls ‘the grammar nazis’ and the linguists call ‘prescriptivists’  i.e. the people who are reluctant to let language grow wild and like to see a clear set of rules to adhere to.
The two supposed words above have never been part of my vocabulary nor my grandparents, nor my neighbours so who exactly is this wide audience Graeme Diamond defends the OED with?

On the other side of the language change debate is the descriptivist camp, these are the more liberal free-thinking ‘describers’ of language if you like. They believe that it is important that language evolves and we must describe how instead of intervening but in my view, I think in three decades time we’ll rustle through our dictionaries and see them littered with passing words that originated with a hashtag on Twitter, not a complex history of language change or borrowing from other languages which gives us the rich vocabulary and variation we have today.

Known for his work in sociolinguistics, Peter Trudgill points out that language is not only a means of communicating information but it’s also essential in establishing relationships. With this in mind, maybe seemingly ridiculous ‘words’ do deserve to be entered into the OED as they create another way for people to connect as well as recognising how people connect already.  For instance, if I heard someone say ‘crunk’ and I grabbed my trusty dictionary to decipher,  I know what it is to ‘get crunk’ about ‘crunk’ with that person and voila! A relationship is established.
In my opinion though, I would just frown at whoever said ‘crunk’ and back away slowly as it sounds like a word I’d rather not have in my vocabulary. 

Yes, language does have to evolve to a certain degree but how far do you let it trot off on its merry way before reining it in and giving it some sort of order?
By the OED’s standards, it seems quite far.

A theory called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis proposes that language has a direct relationship to thought, in other words, would we think the same way if our language was different? It could be that these new words are vital tools for a new era of expression and thought for the upcoming generation – revolutionary stuff!
If it wasn’t for language evolving then we’d be stuck grunting at each other with only the very basics of communication at our fingertips, although a few of us seem to still be stuck in that era (Jeremy Kyle’s daytime television show, need I say more?)

It seems to me that like a lot of things these days, words are becoming disposable. Quick, convenient ways to broadcast anything we like online has resulted in words having a huge hype for a month or so then being left to rot as our vocabulary, and indeed our screens, are swamped by a dozen more. For instance, how many people have used ‘Gangnam’ as a verb after the recent ‘Gangnam Style’ internet viral?  I for one hear it quite regularly but will people in a decade’s time still use that phrase and more importantly, understand it?
It could be a great service of the OED that it seeks to remember these viral, cyber trends and capture aspects of internet culture by making them additions to what is essentially the core of the English language itself.
Personally, I’d rather forget words with such a short use-by date and focus on language which enriches culture, not warps it into something #hip.

Word Count: 1,317

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