I watched this TED talk yesterday, given by John McWorter, who is a linguist. The talk (only 13 minutes, definitely worth it) explains why the younger generation, with their penchant for text messaging, is NOT proof that our world is going to heck in a handbasket, as is often claimed by the older generations. We look at “kids these days” and their disdain for grammar, punctuation, and rules and we worry that they will fail as grownups, and bring the rest of us down with them.
As a speaker and author on generational issues, I hear this complaint a lot about millennials. They can’t write. They don’t know how to use complete sentences. All they know how to do are status updates, but they can’t string two sentences together. There is one problem with these complaints: it’s all hype.
Yes, there are plenty of examples of texts with bad grammar, but this doesn’t mean Millennials can’t write. McWorter makes a compelling case on the issue of writing. He’s a linguist, and he studies language, so he knows. He recognizes that the speech (spoken word) is different than writing. The way we speak and the way we write is different, and it always has been. And it’s only recently (with computers and mobile phones) that we have started actually use writing to convey our speech. He calls texting “fingered speech,” because it’s not really writing at all. It’s talking. And that’s why it doesn’t follow the same rules (when’s the last time you thought about punctuation as you were talking to someone?).
And what’s even better is that he points out ways in which the younger generation has actually been evolving this form of speech. Things like “LOL” and “slash” are being used differently now in texting than they were a few years ago. That’s pretty advanced, to be able to start generating a new language–to actually be bilingual to some extent–in both texting and English.
So the next time you find yourself shaking your head disapprovingly at how a different generation does things, be sure to challenge your own assumptions. When problems can be easily blamed on a generation, it’s probably hype. Hype is always negative, and it’s usually used to blame the “other” group. This is natural, to some extent. It’s easier for our brains to conclude that “difference” is “less effective” or “wrong.” It allows us to have a consistent, happy picture of ourselves, and we like that. But that happy place is not where learning happens, so don’t let yourself stay there too long. Don’t fall for the hype. Seek out more data (like from expert linguists) before you jump on the blame bandwagon.