The web is killing English

A Welsh researcher warns that sloppy spelling and grammar is dumbing down the language.


Professor David Crystal, a linguist at the University of Wales in Bangor, claims that the growing use of txt spk, linked to the fact that the bulk of the written English on the Interwebs is just banged out without a thought for grammar, spelling or syntax, means that accepted spellings could be killed off within a few decades.

Crystal says that, for the first time in centuries, printed words are widely distributed without having been edited or proofread. As a result, writers spell words differently and the new versions could enter common usage. Crystal adds that spelling became standardized in the 18th century when the first dictionaries were published, but that the spellings favored by internet users could replace the correct, more complex versions.

Vile barbarisms such as 2moro or thx could enter mainstream publications, says Crystal, adding that many accepted spellings bore little relation to meaning or pronunciation. ”The vast majority of spelling rules in English are irrelevant,” he said. ”[But] they don’t stop you understanding the word in question.

”If I spell the word rhubarb without an ‘h’ you have no trouble understanding it. Why do we spell it with an ‘h’? Because some guy in the 16th century said it was good to put an ‘h’ in to remind us of the history of the word.”

Crystal points out that before the internet, nobody could write something in print without an editor or a proof-reader checking it. But now phonetically-spelt words were likely to enter the language.

”There’s been a huge movement over hundreds of years to simplify English spelling because it is complex for historical reasons,” he said.

”What you consider to be atrocious now may be standard in 50 years. ”There are people* around who would treat what I said to be the voice of the devil, but one has to remember that spelling was only standardised in the 18th century. In Shakespeare’s time you could spell more or less as you liked.”

But Crystal says schools should not abandon the teaching of traditional spelling. ”Kids have got to realise that in this day and age, Standard English spelling is an absolute criterion of an educated background,” he said.

That’s what we keep trying to tell you, but do you listen?

*Me, for example.