For my Multimedia writing class this week our professor assigned us a reading excerpt from Dennis Baron’s “A Better Pencil”. It made me think of a quip I use on my friends all the time: the #1 rule of the English language is sh** always changes. I usually use it as a joke to defend myself after I do something stupid like spell an easy word wrong (happens more often than you think), but it does have a kernel of truth to it. English is a living, breathing and evolving language. Proper grammar, punctuation and spelling are not the same today as they will be tomorrow. Even looking at the evolution of the word tomorrow shows this, Shakespeare (or should I call him Shakspere? Shakspeare?) spelled it “to-morrow” and he technically spelled it correctly in Modern English. Real Old English, for anyone who as looked at an untranslated version of Beowulf (you have my sympathies) is essentially a separate language. (check some of the videos of people reading Beowulf — Old English sounds crazy too). Yet somehow through the gradation of time (usually involving the English having their butts kicked), one language turned into the other. In large part Baron seems to be saying the same thing occurred in terms of communication. From oral traditions, to clay tablets, to paper and ink, to printing press, to computers, “invading” technologies have changed not only how we communicate but what we communicate. Conversely we also have an impact on these technologies. As he notes, writing may have evolved as a means to remember and track inventory, not send messages; it was us who made it into a message device (Baron, xi). I don’t know it must be the English major in me, but I think of these writing technologies as similar to words; we create them and then by the determination of time and other factors in our lives they become obsolete and abandoned, or they become adapted and changed for our new purposes. The clay tablets go from use as a memory device to use as a way to write and send messages, a word has its spelling or meaning changed, both are for our convenience.
Everything Changes January 27, 2012