Tomorrow there will be an irrevocable change to the way English is written. It has been seen as an inevitable change for some time but tomorrow an official stamp, acknowledged by our current government and seconded by the Oxford English Dictionary will come into effect. It has been hailed by our leaders as the ultimate form of written communication that will allow the tendrils of business and commerce to be spoken in a new form of English, which can be understood globally. Its arrival has not been marked with ceremony or a huge public event; instead it has quietly crept in and torn away the fabric of the old written English, leaving its richness and variety cold and dead.
Before this happens, I have chosen to indulge in the old style of English for one final time, because I want a chance to express myself in this colourful and varied language we are about to lose. This text is meant for future reflection. If you are fortunate enough to be able to read this then I imagine the main question you are probably asking is: How did our society allow this condensed new English to become the commonly written style? My opinions may be subjective but I am trying to offer a brief insight of the history of our ‘Nu English Mod’.
In 1967 poet and writer, Richard Braughtigan wrote ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, a utopian vision written at a time people were developing the first ever computers and machine networks. Braughtigan saw these early network systems as a way to transcend the baggage of political systems and position all people on the planet as equals. A line in the poem naively envisages:
‘A cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics. Where deer stroll peacefully past computers.’
Personally I remember seeing the beginnings of this new language as a child. The Internet was still in its relative infancy and much of it was unpoliced and free. At the time this was a liberating force that opened up information and allowed for open discussion in an infantile global context. People embraced the Internet and I remember being allowed to use a computer at home for 30 minutes a night and sending messages on some of the earliest mobile devices. Often my messages would contain numbers that could replace letter combinations (gr8) or would be accompanied by the earliest emoticons, combinations of grammatical symbols to form faces, suggesting emotions or feelings attached to statements made by the user (J), which are now commonplace in written language. Although English was the most commonly spoken language in the world, the creation of the Internet set the wheels in motion for the deconstruction and re-assemblage of the condensed form we understand today.
Sticking with my anecdote of the emoticon, it seems its design is the perfect linguistic tool for the modern age. Introducing it meant that we no longer needed words to express a number of meanings. It was like introducing a more subtle vision of George Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’. In the early 2000’s, who would have thought emoticons would be the building blocks of our new written English? In Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ we see Orwell writing a set of rules for the layout of writing, one of them being:
‘Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print’.
In this instance he is referring to the ambiguity of expressions that were once commonplace, but have slowly been filtered out of the English language and been replaced by objects such as emoticons. Think back for example to expressions such as ‘push the boat out’ or ‘the bees knees’. Does anyone actually know what these idioms mean in terms of their origin? They have roundabout meanings but are anything but concise. Well, the emoticon serves this exact function. It prevents individuals to express specific emotions and instead replaces them with a symbol that could mean a number of things. For example, I remember using the same emoticon accompanying a sentence to suggest I was smug, as I was genuinely happy about something. Can you honestly tell me that once the shorthand benefits of emoticons became tired, its only real function was to stop people being truly able to express themselves through written language?
I believe it is true to say that historically, language is in constant flux and has been something that changes through cultural shifts or revolutions. It is within its very nature to destroy itself and go through cycles of death and rebirth. Did you know that between 1350 and 1700 the last major change to English was known as ‘The great vowel shift’, in which the pronunciation of words changed? I suppose you don’t, as people like Shakespeare and Chaucer are no longer studied in schools. It became the fashion to change the sound of vowels within words. In todays society numbers, such as B4 replacing before or 1derful replacing wonderful, replace our vowels. However the latter (1derful) can be simplified further by using the 😀 symbol. It is rumored that in 2003 a student once wrote a whole school essay in one of the earliest forms of our new language. An extract reads as follows:
‘My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :-@ kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc’. 
Now everyone in todays’ society reads this with a complete understanding of what this student attempted to converse. Of course it is quicker to write and the written form can in fact be condensed further, but I question how writing in this way affects the colour of English. I propose that by accepting and teaching this language into mainstream culture, we are in fact dumbing down society and exposing ourselves to exploitation from the ruling classes.
‘Wen Mr Clevver wuz Big Man uv Inland they had evere thing clever. Thay had boats in the ayr & picters on the win and evere thing lyk that’.
Again, this isn’t too far away from our own language, and as with my previous example I suspect that many readers of this do not find the extract so peculiar. Yet one fundamental difference exists between the world of Riddley Walker and our own. That is that we have chosen to destroy language through an embracing of technology progress whilst Riddley Walker’s language occurred through a destruction of technological progress.
My final point before I concede defeat and allow the old lexicon to die, is with regards to the global economic benefits our beloved new language. These abbreviations, changes in vowels and use of emoticons and numbers may make language easier and faster to understand to people whose first language is not English, and it is true that speed and economic growth go hand in hand. However, may I remind you of one previous endeavor to globalize language: Esperanto. This was a language created in 1887 that aimed to be politically neutral. Similarly to Braughtigan’s vision of a Utopian system, Esperanto would transcend nationality and create world peace. Made up of many European languages it failed, as I believe ‘Nu English Mod’ will.
The fact is, language has the beautiful ability to change over small distances. Take dialects and language in this country, and their beautiful little deviations that colour English in the most endearing way. The language which will be embrace tomorrow, will stamp and attempt to crush this. Until we become a selfless unit, mindlessly serving and speaking the exact same words, from the same script, freedom of expression will always reign!!!
 Braughtigan, Richard, ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, 1967, Communication Company, http://allpoetry.com/poem/8508991-All-Watched-Over-By-Machines-Of-Loving-Grace-by-Richard-Brautigan
 Orwell, George, Politics and the English Language, (London: Penguin Books, 2013), p.19.
 Cramb, Auslan, ‘Girl writes English essay in phone text shorthand’, The Telegraph, 03/03/2003, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1423572/Girl-writes-English-essay-in-phone-text-shorthand.html
 Hoban, Russel, Riddley Walker, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002), p.30
Adam Hogarth –
My name is Adam Hogarth and I am an artist. My work is concerned by notions of Auto-destruction and its relationship to languages and dialects. I have exhibited both nationally and internationally including ‘Bloomberg New Contemporaries’ at the ICA, London and Spike Island Bristol, The Finnish Print Triennial and Kobe Sans University, Japan. I graduated from the RCA in 2013 from the Fine Art Printmaking department. Prior to this I studied at Fine Art at Northumbria University. I also work as a Printmaking technician for Camden Working Men’s College and Advanced Graphics, London.
© Adam Hogarth 2014, All Rights Reserved.