When will we learn that the ultimate beauty of language is not that it’s rigid and one size fits all, but that it is so fluid, so complex, and ever-evolving?
With the advancement of social media, teens and tweens have been getting a bad rap for their “poor language skills” and texting/technology has been getting a bad rap for “ruining the English language.” IS anyone saying anything negative about twitter and language??
I have to say that I strongly disagree with these sentiments. Thank goodness I’m not the only one who sees the benefits of people using language in multiple ways.
For so long haven’t we tried to explain to our children that it is time and place that matters? We tell them about the clothes they can wear to hang out with their friends versus the clothes they wear for school picture day. We nag them about speaking respectfully to their grandmother. How did you speak to your teacher? Say that to your friends, but I’m not your friend, I’m your mama. Granted, these examples I’m sure are culturally embedded (Sometimes I write from my own understanding of “normal’), but you get the point. For me, the simple way to explain this is that there is a time and place for everything.
The fancy schmancy way to say this is registers (be this formal, informal, or neutral) or if you really want to go deeper and be the fanciest, you can call It communicative competence. Basically, it means that there are different ways to use language to communicate effectively, depending upon the situation or context.
So basically, when it comes to teens, texting, tweeting, FaceBooking, we are seeing communicative competence in written form on a daily basis. We are learning that if you want to write, Whatchu doin’ or Imma swing by later or wher you at? That it’s okay to write it this way (and hopefully not be judged by the so-called grammar elitists) in a text or tweet because in that situation, with that audience, that form, style, register of language is being used to effectively communicate. Think of it like code switching, but in written form. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still reasons that I personally feel the need to use a formal register when texting, like if I were to text a client that I was running late, but then again, even that depends on who my client is:)
So, besides teaching us communicative competence, the other upside to teens, tweets, and texts is that we are able to see the most recent non-mainstream dialects in written form!! Hallelujah! Finally,
we can look at literacy from another perspective. And when I say “we” I mean Mainstream America, because our kids have been writing and reading in their dialect in their own circles for a long time.
But if you really think about it, now we can actually see that literacy and being literate doesn’t just mean I can read and write in the mainstream dialect. It means I can map MY oral code onto MY written code and communicate effectively without fear of reprimand (again, hopefully).
Now, again, this isn’t new per se…We see non-mainstream dialects in the traditional poetry sense; think Paul Lawrence Dunbar, we see it in novels written by certain authors, usually representing a non-mainstream class or race of people, and we see it in rap lyrics, but these are all entities that you would pretty much have to seek out on your own to find it.
Think about it, with texting and tweeting not only are we able to see time and place of language being represented, but we can really see a different form of literacy taking place and I gotta tell ya, I think it’s freakin’ awesome!