Saturday, October 4, 2008

wts ths wld cmg t

A year or so ago, I was a volunteer tutor at the local literacy council, trying to help a middle-aged man learn to read. It was an eye-opening, humbling and infuriating experience which deserves greater discussion, but I will save that for another time. The context in which I bring it up now revolves around the new language emerging from the technology of text messaging, which I find as indecipherable as the sentence "Bob and Pam got eggs at the store" was to my reading student.

This week, a friend at work discovered the following comment posted on a blog as part of a discussion about downloaded music:

thr's nthr ptn fr hnst flks wh wnt t spprt thr fvrt rtsts clld cds. ts nt d- y cn by th prdcts y ctlly lk nd ppl tht crt ths prdcts cn mk lvng.

Anyone who reads web forums or peruses comments posted in response to online news articles is aware of the sad state of spelling and grammar in America today. And after trying to explain to a man who can't read why the "e" in the sentence about going to the store for eggs is pronounced three different ways (one of them being not at all), I can appreciate attempts to simplify English, which has to be one of the most confounding languages around. I before E except after C or pronounced A as in neighbor and weigh, or any of a hundred other exceptions....

Add unintended typographical errors, and it's a wonder any of us can read anything.

But "thr's nthr ptn fr hnst flks wh wnt t spprt thr fvrt rtsts"? Have vowels been rendered irrelevant in this brave new world of online communication? Is Vanna soon to be out of a job?

Is this progress?

Between the two of us, my colleague and I interpreted this sentence to be as follows: There's another option for honest folks who want to support their favorite artists, called CDs. It's not downloading (still not sure that's what the d is for) - you can buy the products you actually like and people that create these products can make a living.

I hope the person who posted this "simplified" statement used the time he or she saved for some noble purpose, because it sure took a chunk of my day trying to figure it out, and I'm still not sure we got it right.

I find it interesting that the truncated spelling of what I presume to be "support" and "actually" retained the double consonants, which would have been my first choice to cut; clearly, I don't know the rules of this language.

I will happily grant you "donut" rather than "doughnut" and "catalog" over "catalogue," and I'm willing to let the ancient sport of diagramming sentences recede into history. But I'll go to my grave believing vowels and punctuation still have a worthy place in our language.

I guess that means next time I'm at the literacy council office, I'd better ask them to find a tutor for me, because if ths s th w v th wld m gg t hv t st vr.

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