Photo courtesy of Lifewire
Allow me to introduce a preposterous idea: America is constantly evolving. The Civil Rights Movement placed America on a path toward granting equal rights and treatment for African Americans, a change that required a dramatic shift in the entire culture of America. Beyond just racial relations, music and pop culture have also dramatically shifted: The Beatles or Michael Jackson were society’s idols in the mid to late 20th century, but now hip-hop artists dominate the charts, tabloids, and fashion trends. Over time, popular foods, a direct indicator of culture, have come and gone, again reflecting a society’s natural tendency to change. Is it any surprise, then, that the English language has evolved along with the rest of society?
While it seems natural for English to evolve, this has been a constant point of criticism from older generations: that younger generations are degrading the English Language. They often mock the use of shortened words, new phrases, the clarification of the difference between sex and gender, or, *gasp*, texting abbreviations. While these changes seem like inconsequential differences and the natural result of the advent of new technology, older generations treat them as though they are obstructing the ability for us to express ourselves and are somehow representing a regression from the perfectly articulate, eloquent, and supreme language of the 20th century.
Whether they feel left out of the new phrases, or just lament that their childhood dialect is being spoken less, they are quick to point out the destruction of the English language by young people. But can a language really be destroyed?
For something to be destroyed, it needs to start perfectly. However, following the line of reasoning that younger generations destroy language, we can see that when these older generations were young, whatever dialect they spoke was supposedly also “destroyed” English from before their time. It soon becomes clear that it is not possible to destroy a language, only to change it. While older generations may feel as though their dialect was perfect and part of the “good old days,” even the first dialect of English wasn’t “invented,” and therefore not perfect, it was simply adapted from another similar language. People may think that the history of English starts with whatever dialect they grew up speaking, but the English language does not care when they were born for it does not start with them: it began developing more than 1,500 years ago.
What, then, is “correct” English? Well, a standardized, seemingly “correct,” form of English does not really exist; English is whatever is being spoken and written in the present. Correct English is not dictated by a set of grammar rules listed out in your fourth-grade classroom, nor is it static. Are both the dialects currently spoken by older generations and younger generations correct? Of course. Why? Because they both are being spoken. This concept seems simple, and yet the natural creation of a dialect among younger generations is depicted as single-handedly stunting the intelligence of young people.
Instead of being something to despise, the creation of a new dialect can be seen as an exciting new development.
With the advent of texting, instant, text-based conversations between two remote people have opened up opportunities for unprecedented changes. We are pioneering a method for conveying the emotion and structure of in-person conversations without the use of inflections or body language. And yet, we are not the final arbitrators of this digital dialect. Future generations will inevitably expand upon it, alter it, or completely upend it. Instead of being met with immediate disdain, these natural processes should be regarded with intrigue and fascination.
Over the past 10 months, both young and old have had to collectively change the English of the past. Phrases like social distancing, super-spreader, and flatten the curve were largely foreign to us at this same time last year. Did we destroy the English language with these new terms? No. Instead, we strengthened it by providing rhetoric that all generations could understand, rhetoric that has helped us unite ourselves against a truly destructive force that has transcended age. Allow us to embrace this moment of unity, when both young and old generations can understand what it’s like to see English change. In a time when the world is hurting, we can seek to improve our struggles by accepting our differences, and that starts with communication.