Have you noticed that people commenting on Facebook, tweeting, texting, and emailing seem awfully excited lately?
A recent Boston Globe piece picked up on an “alarming increase” in the number of exclamation points that show up in our myriad inboxes. “Nearly every e-mail I received ended with an overzealous ‘Thanks!’,” realized writer Christopher Muther. “E-mails and texts cheerfully chimed ‘Can’t wait to see you!,’ and I recall more than a few ‘How are you!’ e-mails.”
I confess to being guilty of this crime of enthusiasm. It all started with a former co-worker, whose very insincere way of adding “thanks” to the end of her terse, emailed requests tainted the way I read the word. So I began to exclaim my gratitude to make the point that I was really, really thanking you. Really!
But, I realize, this is a problem. Once enough people adopt textual over-enthusiasm, everyone else is forced to fall into line (sort of like when everyone you know joins a new social network and it becomes only a matter of time before you hop on board). It happened to Muther: “Without an omnipresent exclamation point, my electronic communication sounded as if it was written by a certain curmudgeonly and crusty green muppet who resides in a trash can.”
An overuse of exclamation marks is something it seems most of us can tolerate. What most people seem to despise, however, is another technology-motivated language change: the explosion of textese. Purists cry out against words like “pls” and “thx,” suggesting that the English language is being ruined by our tiny keyboards and abbreviated attention spans.
But that’s not the case, argues Christian Guilbault, a Simon Fraser University professor whose Text4Science project collects and studies thousands of text messages. “There’s no reason why in the near future we would see term papers written in text-message language,” Guilbault told The Vancouver Sun. “Because people realize that you just don’t do that, there’s different contexts.”
Instead of hurting us, texting is making us more creative, suggests Guilbault. People “are using English in a very specific way, in a constrained environment, which is texting,” he told The Globe and Mail.
His group’s preliminary findings show that contributors used 10 different ways to communicate laughter through a text (including three versions of “LOL,” of course). That’s definitely more creative than blandly stating “he laughed.” Right?
“I think it will make other people see how creative the younger generations can be and how efficient, because that’s what language is all about,” Guilbault explained. “It’s a tool to communicate — the more efficient you are, the better.”
That thought is echoed by Lera Boroditsky, a Stanford University professor who studies language and cognition. Addressing the proliferation of exclamation marks, she explained, “What people do with written language is that they adapt it to meet their needs.”
So whether it’s a quick, vowel-less text or an email full of exclamations, these tech-driven language changes are allowing us to express ourselves more accurately and efficiently.
In other words, according to the experts, the language that we’re adopting in our digital world isn’t detrimental in the least — in fact, it’s gr8!!!