Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Gratuitous use of Buffy The Vampire Slayer

The story of the tragic but long predicted demise of the printed word has been running for a few days, but, to be honest, I've been trying to ignore it. That's because "life in 5/10/25/50 years" predictions always make me laugh because they are unfailingly wrong! If the things I was told as a child had been accurate we'd all now be wearing stretchy tin foil suits and eating food made from moon-algae. But in terms of language change, it's a really interesting story.

The story comes from a government exercise to find out what people think should be taught in English in the future. Many themes and issues were discussed, but the one the papers have really picked up on is the perceived need for young people to be equipped with language skills that are relevant to modern life and the modern workplace. In these contexts, it is argued, speech is far more important than writing, and online and on-screen forms of writing are far more important than the traditional written word. Hardly any surprises there, but a major issue for teacher training if this sort of language teaching policy is to be pursued.

That's one set of issues, drawing on ideas about language and technology - its plasticity and virtuality - and about language in the workplace - the pluri-lingual nature of global enterprise, the multi-modal nature of occupational discourse. But the other interesting aspect is what this has to tell us about language change. All over the news like a rash every results day are "shock! horror!" stories about young people using text messaging language forms in exams. Well, there's a time and a place for everything, but this is perhaps part of a bigger picture, one in which young people's language use is driving language change so hard and fast that it is now shaping a national discourse about how teaching should respond.

At the risk of becoming a tinfoil suit predictor, I would say that this is a really exciting period of language change. Whether it's good or bad, I don't know, but like Spike in the final episode of Buffy, I just wanna see what happens - so bring it on!

Print is not dead - but it is fast fading away

A national conversation on the future of the subject English


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