Byron's Babbles

Bringing Nuance To Our Language

L. David Marquet taught us that Leadership Is Language. He argued there is power in what we say as well as what we don’t say. Additionally, how we allow others to join the collaborative conversation matters. I’ve been continuing to learn about how language matters and how we are evolving and adapting while reading Because Internet: Understanding The New Rules Of Language by Gretchen McCullough. McCulloch pointed out, “While English students can generally just about understand the 400-year-old plays of Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written 600 years ago, is almost indecipherable without university-level language courses. The foundations are there, but it’s an entirely new structure” (Because Internet Summary and Review). Proof that we can’t stop the language evolution.

When I was receiving my k-16 education, and into the first two decades of my professional career, the rules of language were handed down from figures of authority. These were my teachers, professors, peer review, and mentors. With the internet and especially social media sources, society (all of us) have been crafting a new language and forms of expression. This blog post is a perfect example. I can reach thousands of you without needing to make it past the scrutiny of an editor. Granted there are pluses and deltas to all this but I like people being able to speak more informally and organically.

I’m not sure I would qualify as a linguist, like McCulloch, but I do find it interesting how people communicate differently. For example, this past month, while facilitating Teacher Ambassador training for the National FFA Organization, we used the question of what one calls the apparatus pushed around a grocery store collecting the items for purchase – grocery cart or buggy? This becomes an interesting, sometimes heated, and comical discussion. Regardless of where we land on the topic, where we live or came from matters. What I found was that more from the south call it a buggy. Think about the “pop” versus “soda” versus “coke” question as another example.

It turns out we are also deeply influenced by groups we have weak ties with, like those on the web. Think about it, as McCullough points out, the internet is a bundle of weak ties, with social networks, live programming, forums, blogs, and chat rooms all facilitating contact with people outside your core networks. Twitter, my favorite, is a primary driver of linguistic change because it encourages you to follow people you don’t already know. And…I can reach out to, speak to, and listen to people I could never meet in person or “real life.”

Now we have “Lol,” invented by Wayne Pearson in a chatroom in the 1980s, originally indicating laughter. Now, “lol” had evolved, becoming part of our language to signify appreciation of a joke, to defuse an awkward situation or to indicate irony. Also emojis have become an indispensable part of our language. Our predominate communication by writing (texting) removes the body from language, many of our communicative tools are lost. Emoji helps us to fill this void. If you’re a person who talks with your hands and facial expressions, you love emojis. Emojis give us the power to flip someone off (🖕), wave (👋), wish luck (🤞) and roll our eyes (🙄). Emojis give us colorful and fun representations of our physical world. They bring nuance to our language, and a bit of flair to our messages.

Starbucks has capitalized on the term, sociologist Ray Oldenburg, coined in 1989, “third place.” Our “first place” is home and our “second place” is work. He argued we all needed a social place as our “third place.” Oldenburg believed these third places were crucial to our social and emotional well-being, civic engagement and the democratic process. Bars, lodges, coffee shops, clubs, circles, card groups, et cetera, all fill the bill. But, Oldenburg had no way of knowing that social media would become a third place to. Social media is shaping how we communicate and what language we use.

I wonder… will kids be able to understand our language 400 or 600 years from now?