Nu Shortcuts in School R 2 Much 4 Teachers
September 20, 2002 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Nu Shortcuts in School R 2 Much 4 Teachers That's the actual headline from the NY Times. Can you guess what the teachers are concerned about? A point the story doesn't mention: as these kids grow up, will they change what we consider proper English?
posted by smackfu (31 comments total)
The core message being:

"Kids should know the difference," said Ms. Harding, who decided to address this issue head-on this year. "They should know where to draw the line between formal writing and conversational writing."

The written language may change (but it's pretty resilient - pronounced the 'k' in 'knight' lately? Or for that matter, the 'gh'?), and there's nothing wrong with using abbreviations and slang when writing to friends. But the message has to be that not everyone considers texting 'normal', let alone 'formal'. Write that way unconsciously in a job application and you won't get the job. Formal writing requires concentration and effort, and school essays are formal writing.
posted by rory at 8:38 AM on September 20, 2002

I had the same problem when I was in high school in the 80s, only then it was because I was a Prince fan.
posted by eyeballkid at 8:50 AM on September 20, 2002

I'm not gonna cite you for double-posting, but I did already post this in a comment.

Note the byline. The story is by "Jennifer 8. Lee"
posted by jozxyqk at 9:02 AM on September 20, 2002

language changes. old people do not. they still use Caps.
posted by Postroad at 9:10 AM on September 20, 2002

You said..."A point the story doesn't mention: as these kids grow up, will they change what we consider proper English?"

I certainly hope so. If it didn't change then it would be a dead language.
posted by filchyboy at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2002

Jennifer 8. Lee is a tech reporter at NYT she also contribs to the International Herald Tribute and several other online news sources.

I've seen several posts (none attributed to her) saying that her parents gave her the middle name "8." because it's a lucky number in China. Personally, I like Uma Thurmin in the bathtub in the movie of the same name.

I once served in the same Air Force unit as a guy with the middle name "D*", never met him in person though.
posted by m@ at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2002

I remember reading an editorial Jennifer 8. Lee wrote in college on the subject of her middle initial. I believe that what m@ said is correct.
posted by tingley at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2002

Jennifer 8. Lee is a reasonably well-knownonline journo. Her parents gave her the "8" for individuality and luck.

Postroad, you're not fooling us! Kidder!

I think a key point to look at here is that kids are communicating using the written word -- and yes, texting is a kind of pidgin. Also, the fact that students learn to change modes is important; most of us do so unconsciously anyway, but simply being aware that language is subject to social context is an important lesson at this middle-school age.
posted by dhartung at 9:20 AM on September 20, 2002

Is it really a pidgin? I always thought a pidgin was a language made up between groups of people who could otherwise not communicate, combining syntax and vocabulary from several (possibly two) languages. And if this is really a pidgin, will it become a creole in the next generation?

If you look at texting, it adds very little to the language other than some respellings and the occasional smiley. Maybe the future is emoticons. Better learn them all now!
posted by CommaTheWaterseller at 9:43 AM on September 20, 2002

Here's a simple rule to live by:

It isn't english if you wouldn't submit it to your boss.
posted by shepd at 9:44 AM on September 20, 2002

"They would be trying to make a point in a paper, they would put a smiley face in the end,"

Henry the Eighth of England was married six times. :O He chopped off the heads of two of his wives, :( he divorced two wives, :( one died in childbirth, :( and his last wife, Catherine Parr, survived him. :)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:48 AM on September 20, 2002

Maybe the future is emoticons.

I vote for Phonetic Punctuation.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:06 AM on September 20, 2002

Dammit.. I didn't know that "8" was her real middle initial. I thought it was "B", or her last name was "Eightly" or something, and she was trying to go along with the new language in the story.

Now I feel awfully dumb :)
posted by jozxyqk at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2002

Jennifer 8 Lee? That would explain why we haven't seen Lee lately...
posted by dr_dank at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2002

posted by tolkhan at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2002

Yep, text abbreviations are not a pidgin. A more accurate term would be code analogous to the codes used in telegraphic writing, radio codes, prescription code, not to mention old caligraphic shorthand such as "Xmas" and "Mr. Rbrt. Jones esq." and alchemical symbols that had the dual purpose of hiding and compacting information.

Given that this is a phenomena that has existed for as long as there has been literacy, I don't see a major threat of a sudden transformation in standard English codes to include "ru" and "l33t" in the near future. After all, we don't instruct people to "tell the emergency operator your 10-20" nor do we write a vacation letter: "arriv NY 5pm mon stop empire state amazing stop statue liberty tomorow stop love Bobby"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:25 AM on September 20, 2002

high school english is the bane of all existence, the devil's instruments of torture and despair. ;)

I am amazed and very curious as to why people decide to major in English after high school.

It could be AP.. but people say all they do is jack off in that class. (of course no teacher would recommend me)

I am curious.
Just.. what *are* the qualities that make English class enjoyable? And what are the characteristics of a typical student who enjoys English?

Complaints, aside, I am for language evolution. I am for techno lingua franca ;)
posted by firestorm at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2002

I think evolution is a grand thing... but I also think that part of why it works is that it faces some resistance. The impact of the increased use of shorthand will eventually show up outside the chat environment. But it's not going to be tomorrow, or next week. The teachers are correct to insist that students become able to generate formal writing as well.

I'm particularly impressed by those teachers who report encouraging students to go ahead and use shorthand within their drafts.
posted by theRegent at 10:57 AM on September 20, 2002

Just.. what *are* the qualities that make English class enjoyable?

Generally, most English majors enjoy reading, writing about, and discussing great (and sometimes not-so-great) books/essays, etc., not parsing gerunds, or whatever you grammar geeks do. As an English major I never encountered any formal grammar training beyond high school, though having a working knowledge helps in the "writing about" department above.

There's a big difference between most high school and college "English" courses, though you can obviously pursue a grammar-intensive track if that's your thing.
posted by jalexei at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2002

Languages evolve, but should faddish language be acceptable in an english class? I don't think so, unless they're quotes in a piece written in otherwise acceptable academic english. I think this brings up a point, there are differences between academic english and informal english. When conversing with your friends there is a wider range of acceptable language and grammar. This is informal speech and may include local and slang expressions. With most written english the goal is to write in a way that is understandable by the widest possible audience, for that reason there's resistance against evolving the language too quickly.
posted by substrate at 11:09 AM on September 20, 2002

One additional thought on reaching the widest possible audience. This isn't true if you're a lawyer in which case you use the most archaic, obtuse and lengthy phrasing possible.

Out of curiosity, does anybody (perhaps a lawyer in the audience) know why this is? I had originally thought that it was for precision of expression, but from reading some recent patent applications I was involved with I don't believe this to be true. I can understand that there would be a body of english that would not be in common usage by laypersons, but why is the english written actually different from what others would use?
posted by substrate at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2002

It isn't english if you wouldn't submit it to your boss.

I heard something similar about French while in France. Since your not French Thom, just trying is sufficient. So don't worry that you will never be perfect with it. Only worry about it if your mom starts speaking to you in French.

I will say I've learned to enjoy English by learning what the true definitions of words and it's original use. Maybe because of my love for history. Also, I find it sad that we are loosing that, the knowledge of words. But I do find the humor today with the young one's saying, English is sick, man. Now I wonder what replaces sick as in I'm too sick to go to my english class. It's not the young one's fault as they have been shown this use of language through the media. But it makes growing old harder, as your language is now ancient history, eh budd-yyyy.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2002

Why did I become an English major?

Two words: sentence diagrams
I've actually diagrammed entire Dead Milkmen songs, which has to make me about the most non-punk punk fan ever.
posted by Schizogram at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2002

I think that it is a fantastic thing that with technology as it is, kids now learn to express themselves in writing at a very young age. A lot of us grew up in the relatively brief gap between the time when people had to write letters to communicate and the time when people had email available to them -- most of us, if we needed to talk to a friend when we were teenagers, just picked up the phone. Writing was something that we did in English class.

Sure, kids today are not going to spell perfectly, and they are not going to use perfect grammar in their messages to each other. But the vast majority of kids who use email and instant messaging to communicate with their friends are going to develop an ease and a comfort with writing that few of us had at such a young age.

I say :-)!
posted by jennyjenny at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2002

Anyone using 'u' 'r' or other such crap should instantly get a U (fail). This should also apply in every day life...I hate talking to friends who insist on internet shorthand. However, I think some words are 'allowed'..I often find my self using 'tho' and 'thru' in formal writing..much better than any of this 'ough' nonsense :p. Allthough (:D), I've been guilty of saying 'lol' in normal speech, as have other people I know...thats just embarassing..

Basically what I'm saying is, some internet shorthand that is easy to read should be ok, but the impossible to decipher stuff shouldn't.
posted by Orange Goblin at 12:31 PM on September 20, 2002

Is it just me or did the picture of "Eve Brecker, 15" seem... weird? Like it belonged more in People or Cosmo instead of the NY Times?
posted by internal at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2002

I'll wager that this fad will shortly disappear as students master keyboarding at increasingly younger ages. I'm still waiting for people to learn the proper usage for common homophones. If you abbreviate I'll think you were rushed, but if you can't differentiate between their, there and they're, I'll think you spent K-12 eating paste.
posted by roboto at 8:23 PM on September 20, 2002

internal: You won't find me complaining.

Comma, Kirk: I should have said jargon rather than pidgin. And I was thinking earlier that the older one gets, the more real English one knows, and the more enjoyment one gets out of the play-simplifications in chat language. I think this would tend to increase one's desire, at least for a while, to use it.

I know, modally, that I prefer to use lower case and simplified grammar when chatting; my father has discovered AIM and sends me whole paragraphs at a time. Argh! You have to sit there and wait for it, too, because he expects an immediate response or he'll ping you. It's just more natural to send "bursty" and simplified phrases rather than composed sentences. I remember back on Unix systems when you could actually watch the other person's cursor back up and correct mis-spellings you've long since glossed over -- just keep typing already!. (Similarly I grit my teeth every time I see someone post here immediately afterward to insert a word or correct an irrelevant mis-spelling.)

I do wonder what it's like for someone who learns texting very early on. Probably just like users of different languages ... the lexicons end up in different parts of the brain.
posted by dhartung at 12:47 AM on September 21, 2002

You Americans are SO behind. I don't know what the young people of Europe are up to now, but I wonder if text language is dying out as kids start to use the Nokia speed text feature, which actually forces you to spell correctly.
posted by Summer at 2:38 AM on September 23, 2002

If people want to write to each other in lazy, sloppy english, have at it. But turning it in on papers or worse, at work, is inexcusible. English is an "alive" language, but within some bounds. LOL isn't a new word or meaning of an existing word, it's a shortcut. "Wuz" is just stupidity.

It's like "Ebonics" (remember that? It's all I hear in Oakland.) It's fine if you want to talk to your friends using ebonics, but don't expect to ever be hired by anything other than McDonalds unless you remove slang and sloppy ebonics english from your vocabulary at work. It's just the way it is. No one wants a salesperson, teacher, receptionist, CEO, etc. who sounds like the last time they took English was in the second grade.
posted by aacheson at 11:50 AM on September 23, 2002

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