Having quite the day of blogging today.
Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day a month or so ago was ‘nuncupative’, meaning ‘spoken rather than written’. Before reading this beauty of a qualitative adjective , I’d never heard it in my evidently skimmy life before. Now it pops into my thoughts like a badger debating what to have for tea (yes, I know. Sorry).
Today I stumbled across it again when reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (after I learned that he penned a new phonetic alphabet) and was reminded of the fact that so much, nowadays, is written rather than spoken. Facebook Chat and BBM seem to have replaced the need to leave the house to meet up with people just to hang out: they are the agoraphobic loner’s dream, surely? The awkward time when people get bored of each other’s company face-to-face; the ‘right, yes, sorry, well, must be off’ point in the conversation has been obliterated by the ‘gtg’ or ‘brb’ (then disappearing and ‘forgetting’ to return) initialism. Or for those cooler hipsters, a simple ‘bye’ seems to do the trick. No more waffling, no more awkward penguin sidling sideways to leave the room whilst still partaking in half a conversation.
So then, now we’re in a weird, complicated age, especially for those people who grew up without mobile phones and computers. From spoken language being less formal fewer than twenty years ago, we have moved into an era where some forms of written language have assimilated some features of spoken language, and, what is more, children who grow up with this are able to distinguish between spoken mode, written mode and this new ‘technological mode’, rarely mixing up the conventions of each (see Crystal, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7WSzxQ0nX4). Even the purist and mini-prescriptivist in me is forced to agree that our English language is only being enriched by this new addition, not destroyed. And for the prescriptivists among you: if wills were nuncupative now, the state wouldn’t accept their validity; verbal promises are no longer trusted. People are no longer trusted to keep their word; the world has changed. Is it no wonder, then, that our language changes to meet the demands of this era? And is this really such a bad thing?