ABBREVIATION IS GR8LY CHANGING OUR WORLD
April 16, 2012 5 Comments
“Why is abbreviation such a long word ?” Steven Wright
With the popularity and rise in real-time text-based communications, such as Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, e-mail, Internet, chat rooms, discussion boards and mobile phone text messaging (SMS), has come the emergence of a new language tailored to the immediacy and compactness of these new communication media. It is changing our language dramatically and questioning our traditional views of literacy.
Today, in England, the home of the English language (as Americans have always abbreviated, simplified and sanitised it whenever and wherever possible, Australians have always felt that being able to spell was about as much use as “an ashtray on a bike”, and Kiwis believe that their “Englush duction is pretty shut-hot”), recent studies have shown that 20% of adults fail to attain the literacy levels appropriate for 11 year olds, and that nearly half (43%) of 11 year olds cannot read or write properly when they leave primary school.
And yet these same “illiterate” individuals seem to have no problem with sending text messages.
Life may not be “2EZ” (too easy) for them, and it may not seem “6Y” (sexy) to read anything, as that is “2MI” (too much information), but they can communicate with their peers “A3” (anytime, anywhere, anyplace).
Even for those with some well-developed literary skills, the explosion of blogging as a major information source tends to have minimised their attention spans down to blog size which, while varying with industry, has settled at between 800-1600 words (see http://www.viperchill.com/blog-post-length/).
This is considerably less than a short story which is officially pegged at about 7500 words and significantly less than a standard novel, which “The Writers Association of America” has specified as over 40,000 words, or even for a novella at 17,500-40,000. There are also recent indications that the rise in volume in newly published novellas is far outstripping novels, as publishers adjust to meet changing demands for brevity.
Facebook has taught us to post micro-comments on people’s walls, and why read anyway when there is a really good chance that you will be able to save time by watching a 60 second clip of anything important on You Tube.
Twitter claims to have signed up nearly 200 million people who have come to be able to express every trivial part of their life in 140 characters or less, and have also come to expect that they will get a large part of their information in similar small chunks. Even if one cuts this back to a more realistic 50 million active accounts, it still represents a large part of the so-called literate world.
Does all this mean that as well as general literacy issues in our communities, our attention spans are also getting shorter ?
There are some indications that this is the case. For example the average political sound bites have dropped from about 43 seconds in 1968 to about 8 seconds today, and a 2010 study showed that university students in the UK have an average attention span of about 10 minutes. Attention spans for those that still read newspapers have been shown to be measurable in seconds, unless the article has particular personal significance. Readers just skim over everything else, and anyway, why bother reading a long article when you can keep current by getting an alert on your mobile saying “Tsunami hits Japan. Thousands dead”
Recent research has also suggested that the internet has “taken the learning out of information”. Today, when someone needs to find out something they just google it and their query is answered. Beforehand one would have had to consult various books and actually do some reading and research to work out the answer to their question, thereby doing some broader learning along the way. While there is no question that this immediate access to information has significant benefits (and is also a lot of fun), there are many who believe that the internet is actually making us significantly dumber.
However we view it, we are living in a world that is much more dependent on, and much more reliant on immediacy and as a result it is driving us to abbreviate how we communicate, how we access information and learning, and even how we manage our relationships. It is having a serious impact on every aspect of our lives and will change our language forever.
I have decided to not be left out of this language revolution, and to make a contribution to this new world by condensing some of my favourite Shakespearean plays into tweets. This then makes them short enough for today’s need for brevity, and will hopefully make some of the most wonderful literature the world has ever known available to the masses, and able to survive the coming generations.
I know that William would approve, as it was he who wrote:
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet
So herewith my Shakespeare for Twitter:
ROMEO AND JULIET
X-feud love causes her cousin’s death and his banishment. Girl fakes death, boy believes real and kills self, girl wakes then suicides.
Ambitious Scot takes throne. Meets and believes witches. Wife’s mind goes. Forest moves and caesarean born takes him down.
Confused prince with dead father gains haunted killer uncle for stepdad. Love interest drowns. Most characters die.
Old king believes flattery of two ambitious children. 3rd is ok but not articulate. Main characters die. One gets blinded.
TAMING OF THE SHREW
Battle of the sexes with ending improbable for today as man wins by treating wife badly, but doesn’t lose house.
Noblemen shipwrecked on magical island. Control of Naples and Milan is settled. Everyone set free. No-one dies.