As I discussed in this previous post, English is an 'open-door' language that freely cherry-picks from other languages and adds several hundred brand new words to its lexicon every year. It is constantly evolving - it is evocabulary in action. There are many sub-species of the original tongue; American English and Indian English and Australian English are all equally valid but different from British English. There are pidgins and creoles, regional dialects, patois and registers. And there are role-specific or cultural sub-languages within English. From personal experience, I can tell you that police officers have an entire vocabulary of words and phrases that are not commonly used outside of the workplace and it differs from force to force. In London, arrested people are called 'bodies' and lunch breaks are 'refs'. In Cardiff or Plymouth or Dundee or Wolverhampton I'm sure they have their own unique terminology. English is the tool with which we communicate and as long as the words we use retain meaning and clarity, all will be well despite whatever wringer the language is put through. Evolution is progress and adaptation. The opposite is stagnation and extinction.
However, I do have a real problem with any form of words that debases the function of language. While I am not a grammar puritan, I believe that syntax and punctuation are important. They exist to aid clarity. A single misplaced apostrophe, comma or full stop can alter the meaning of an entire sentence:
- The price was £300 more than I expected.
- The price was £300, more than I expected.
- Hide the cows outside.
- Hide! The cow's outside.
- Hide - The cow's outside.
Textspeak is, I suppose, a quick and convenient way to communicate short, snappy messages. However, its use for longer, more complex transmission of concepts and ideas is surely fraught with danger. For a start, it requires that the recipient understands the same abbreviated word forms as the sender. I've received many a text message that has had me momentarily stumped by some curious agglomeration of letters and numbers that looks more like a number plate than a word. HPPY NW YR I can cope with. T8MDRN took me a while longer. The rendezvous location was, of course, Tate Modern and not Todmorden, which is how my addled brain read it at first. Thankfully I figured it out before setting off up the M65. Therefore, it was with some small degree of horror and concern that I recently discovered Lolcatz.
Lolcatz - a name derived from Txtspk laughing out loud and, well, cat - is an ugly, grammar-crunching form of English popularised by websites featuring photographs of cats in humorous situations. The general form is that a caption (which usually comes across as something being said by the cat) is added to the photo in a bold sans serif font and is deliberately misspelled and mangled into a kind of naive baby-talk.
At first, the pictures themselves were called lolcats, or lolcatz (naturally). But their popularity soon caused them to spread across the Internet like some ghastly, fluffy, illiterate plague and soon it had jumped species to infect photos of cutesy puppies and iguanas and finches and rabbits and gerbils. There is now an entire menagerie of doe-eyed creatures swarming about the ether pleading 'I can has cheezburger?' As the result, the name once used to describe the photos has been elevated to become the name of the language itself.
Now you may be wondering why I sound like some end-of-the world doomsayer. Or, at least, why it sounds like my face has taken on a ghastly pallor. Isn't Lolcatz just a bit of geeky fun? Well, yes of course it is ... but people are now starting to use Lolcatz instead of standard Txtspk. And that's a scary prospect for me. I've seen a few already and it surely won't be long before this insidious viral meme of a language spreads its nescient tentacles across the UK. Soon my text messages will be saying things like 'I is at Tat Modun'. The day that happens I may just have to stop acknowledging my bleeping and vibrating breast pocket. Why answer? I won't understand it.
I am of an age and sensibility that forces me to properly punctuate any text message before I send it. It may take me a little longer but I can be pretty sure that the person I'm sending it to will be able to understand it instantly and after a single reading. Or, more frequently, I simply give up and call them. Having a chat has always been the better option and always will be.
Want to know more about Lolcatz? Well, more fool you. You can learn to speak Lolcatz here or look at lots of insanely cute lolcats here and here. The Wikipedia entry is here and, believe it or not, there is even an on-line translation project to re-write The Bible in Lolcatz. Here are the first five paragraphs from Genesis I:
1. Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.
2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.
3 At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz.
4 An Ceiling Cat sawed teh lite, to seez stuffs, An splitted teh lite from dark but taht wuz ok cuz kittehs can see in teh dark An not tripz over nethin.
5 An Ceiling Cat sayed light Day An dark no Day. It were FURST!!!
Good cocking grief.