By: Nicole Capo
You’d think the folks in United Kingdom would be fighting to preserve English vocabulary, given it’s the cradle of their language and all. But British linguistics professor David Crystal, doesn’t much care for silent letters in words and, according to his lecture at the Hay Literary Festival this year, you shouldn’t, either.
Crystal explained that he’s been following the popular spellings of certain words online for ten years, and the usage of silent letters in search engines has dropped more and more frequently in that time. Ten years ago, for example: “I got millions of hits for rhubarb with the “h”, and just one or two without it,” he said in his presentation. Within a few years, “‘rubarb’ got ‘hundreds of hits, and then a few years later hundreds of thousands of hits.”
While the correct spelling of “rhubarb” is currently still being used more than its bastardization, Crystal predicts that within the next 50 years the misspelling may be just as prevalent, if not more so. And, once that happens, it’s likely that the new spelling will become the official one. There’s no sense in crying about it, either, he argues — the silent letter “h” makes no sense, and wasn’t a part of the word’s original spelling.
“The Internet will influence spelling,” Crystal theorizes. “It will get rid of some letters that irritate us, the letters that instinctively we feel shouldn’t be there. But it will take time.”
But, is it really just the Internet’s fault that we’ve become such bad writers? Some also blame the rise of spell-check, which can catch misspelled words, but not always misused words and grammatical errors. The constant need for faster information — such as the fact that texting has essentially replaced phone calls among the younger generations — has caused casual language (the way we speak) to replace formal language (the way you would see a sentence constructed in a book), not only in texting, emails, and social media, but also in academic papers.
So, will this new trend towards misspelling mean we’re more efficient, or just lazier? The debate rages on but, for the grammar Nazis among you, stand strong — they took away our Oxford comma, but there’s no way they’re taking our apostrophes, too.
[Pic via Flickr - Quinn Dombrowski]