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The Role, Importance, and Power of Words




One of the aims of this blog is to help teachers use new technology in the classroom by staying ahead of the digital learning curve and using technology to improve writing activities. But not everyone is in favour of abandoning the traditional grammar guide for the emerging language conventions favoured on user-generated sites like Twitter. This post by Alexa Russell, a writer at OnlineEnglishDegree, discusses the struggle faced by contemporary academics who want to preserve established writing conventions whilst remaining relevant in the 21st century.

The written word is inflating the size of the Internet at an incredible pace. WordPress, one of the more popular blog hosting websites, estimates that its users create 500,000 new posts each day. Even at only 100 words per post, that’s more than 50 million original words of content every 24 hours. And that doesn’t include other popular blog hosting services such as LiveJournal.

This increase in publication among writers who don’t have a professional editing process has led to some interesting developments in the use of the English language. The rules of grammar, like proper punctuation use and spelling, are being used fast and loose in the Internet realm. Texting and other forms of short content publication, like Twitter, are further pushing the envelope. Users continually have to learn how to condense their language to maximize the amount of information they can post.

Some developments in Internet speak have become almost mainstream in their use. Popular acronyms for “laughing out loud” or “be right back” are instantly recognizable by most participants in digital communication. Although the deconstruction of the English language for interpersonal communication is widely embraced, even in verbal conversation, academia has had a difficult time incorporating these changes.

English for academic purposes, or EAP, defines the proper use of English for academic purposes like scholarly writing. Many of the rules mandated by EAP are in direct conflict with the tendency of heavy Internet users to abbreviate language, which leads to misspelling and improper grammar. This is especially true of young college students, who are among the heaviest users of Twitter, blogs and other digital forms of publishing.

Some college professors have advocated the use of blogs to improve writing style, although the idea has its critics. The New York Times reported a story in January 2012 of Duke English professor Cathy Davidson, who has abolished the quarterly term paper traditionally assigned by the class in favor of regular contribution to a class blog on course topics. She finds the looser writing standards to be a boon for her more talented students. “This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers,” she told the New York Times. “As a writer, it offends me deeply.”

Other academic professionals believe that there’s no substitute for carefully planned, thoroughly researched writing. “Writing term papers is a dying art,” said Douglas Reeves, founder of the Learning and Leadership Center, “but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking.” Reeves argues that this type of serious expression is crucial in both academia and the job market.

Although many bemoan the ‘mangling’ of the English language, few believe that Internet speak is a phenomenon that will die out any day soon. Sis Bowman, a writer for Ohio’s Zanesville Times Recorder, is discouraged by the casual nature of written conversation online but believes that we need to accept it rather than enforce stringent language rules. “I am trying to face that times have changed and will continue to progress long after I am gone,” Bowman writes.

College professors should start to see the wisdom of statements like this. Reeves is correct that there is no way to replace rational, clear writing as a means of presenting your ideas seriously. But much of the real world communication taking place today follows rules that are ignored by academia. Learning how to communicate effectively by somebody else’s rules is just as important as enforcing the strict grammatical rules used for EAP.

[Photo by urlesque via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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  1. What an interesting blog and something I hadn’t thought about explicitly before. Language has always been evolving of course so I suppose it’s just a speeding up and condensing of the process now.

    Although I am going to miss the traditional papers I (and graduates of my era) researched and wrote at university where we didn’t even have computers – a few shelves of books on linguistics and hours spent going through them!

  2. Adherence to prescriptive grammar and spelling rules is an inherent characteristic of royal English. When the subjects of the colonial past faced the need to be subservient to their English speaking masters who were loyal and faithful followers of the King and the Queen, they adhered to the grammatical rules in their expressions. But today, monarchy is an outdated concept. In a democratic set-up, the post colonial non-native speakers have inherited the rights to express their ideas in Englishes of their own. This is inevitable. In those countries where English was looked upon just as a library language, till four or five decades ago, English to day has more utility value. Today, they have greater needs to interact, spontaneously, in speech as well as in writing, and are forced ignore the cumbersome grammatical rues. They are not at fault. The rule framers only have to look back at the illogical way the English language has evolved all through the centuries.

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