Choosing brevity over grammaticism

By Wesley Higgins, STAFF WRITER
On April 23, 2014


Only a few decades ago, people took pride in crafting finely written letters, but today distant communication has become so instantaneous that most do not bother with the formality.

But as texting, e-mails and social media have come to favor brevity, resulting in abbreviations and other grammatical shortcuts (e.g., “I will see you later” replaced by “c u l8tr”), Camilla Vasquez, an associate professor of World Languages, said despite the scoffing of older generations, language is not being led to ruin.

“We adapt language creatively for our purposes,” she said. “The fact that we have abbreviations that were not around years ago doesn’t mean we are getting stupider.”

On the contrary, she said, social media may stimulate a critical approach to communication.

“You would have to really think about your message and main point before crafting it into 300 characters or less,” she said.

Vasquez said she once heard a professor ask his students to encapsulate their entire essay into a single tweet.

“If you want to make a convincing argument in a couple sentences, you’ve got to be concise and quite adept and skillful in using language to communicate your point across,” she said.

Amy Thompson, assistant professor of applied linguistics, said the contempt toward shorthand and language seen on social media might be a generational divide — the same contempt seen by someone who grew up listening to Elvis Presley looking down on contemporary rock n’ roll.

“It’s not inherently good or bad, there’s just some mismatch between expectations of different people as a result of social media,” Thompson said.

Vasquez said transformations in language have been natural throughout human history, adapting to the times.

A dramatic change in our language, therefore, is not surprising considering recent technological change.

“If you pick up and read Shakespeare, we don’t talk like that anymore,” she said. “The position of most linguists is that language is going to change regardless, so change is not necessarily a bad thing.”

Thompson said the changes have been apparent over the last few decades, and she has witnessed them manifest at USF.

Students accustomed to social media prefer to communicate by email, and office hours have become less relevant.

“When I was a student, you would have to go to the professor’s office and talk to them,” she said. “I do miss communication between faculty and students. Although we have more options now, we shouldn’t forget the importance of face-to-face communication.

There are advantages and disadvantages to electronic communication, Vasquez and Thompson said.

While emails can be succinct, they lack the details of talking in person.

“The advantage of electronic communication is you ask the question, and the question is answered,” Thompson said. “It’s distinct, it’s concise, it’s efficient, but what you’re missing is a deeper discussion of the topic at hand.”

One of the social difficulties with electronic communication is that a message can be misinterpreted without the context of voice tone and body language, Vasquez said.

“Some of the subtleties and nuance doesn’t appear,” she said. “Hopefully we don’t rely on only one way of communication, but people will talk on the phone, over text and in person to fit the situation.”

Curtailed information over text only becomes an issue if people become lazy and unwilling to delve deeper past only snippets of knowledge.

Thompson said on the whole, technology is beneficial when used to complement our daily professional and social lives.

“It’s the reality that humans are social beings,” she said. “If we get too much involved with all this online interaction, we’re in someway losing a part of our souls.”

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