In Bladerunner, the diverse ethnic mix of inhabitants of the Los Angeles of the future gives birth to ‘cityspeak‘: a mish-mash of different languages, slang and jargon which helps add to the movie’s unique atmosphere.
Although Philip K Dick and Ridley Scott may have had Esperanto more in mind when they chose that device, reality has now caught up with their vision. But it’s not a physical melting pot which has served as a linguistic petri dish: it’s a virtual, online one.
The internet has made the world a smaller place. Skype, Facebook, instant messaging, mobile web: all of these and more have created a place where information, contacts and friends are moments away.
In the fringes of this always-on world lurk the memes and the virals.
They have given us LOLCATS.
They have created phrases like “om nom nom“; and replaced already perfectly efficient words like ‘cat’ with alternatives such as ‘kitteh‘ (why, I wonder, are so many associated with cats? Or, to paraphrase a meme itself, our new kitteh overlords).
The rise of text messaging – and then of Twitter – has also created the banes of many a traditionalist: the acronyms and the truncations. The OMGs and ROFLMAOs; the BRBs and the L8Rs.
The necessities born from a world where time and characters are precious.
Verily, we are all doomed
It is tempting to react to all of these things negatively. To view them as abominations against the (usually) English language.
But consider this: language is not a static, fossilised creature. It is a living, breathing and evolving one. Look back at the language of the past (anywhere from Elizabethan England to 1970s America) and the words and patterns seem archaic and uncomfortable.
Odd. Quaint. Unusable.
I for one welcome our new kitteh overlords
Like it or not, online trends and communication is changing the language yet again. And as an indication of our own evolution, we should view this as a positive rather than something to scold our children about.
I’m not naive enough to think we’ll all be speaking in memes and acronyms in the next few decades, nor would I want that to happen; but the influence of current trends will certainly ruffle the pages of the dictionary like a wind of change.
Words like ‘kitteh’ do indeed stand a very good chance of becoming commonly accepted; and the acronyms are most definitely here to stay (even giving rise to candidate phonetic ‘words’ like ‘ohemgee‘).
Trends will come and go; things currently viewed as achingly hip will seem outdated in years to come; but one thing’s certain.
Our language will evolve – and be richer for it.