Will textese affect our social skills?
First about motherese
Some new research sheds some light onto human ability of learning in utero, claiming that human fetuses are able to memorize sounds from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language. Newborns seem to prefer their mother s voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech (motherese). Their perceptual preference for the surrounding language and their ability to distinguish between different languages and pitch changes are based primarily on melody.
A article published in Psychology Today, said that unborn babies between 37 and 40 weeks gestation were learning how to remember and react to certain sounds and are able to recognize a mother s voice by the third trimester of pregnancy, which can help babies learn and develop their language skills at an early stage.
Fifer (1998) found that fetuses in the third trimester have periods of being alert. During that time, the unborn baby has the ability to learn such things as the sound of his or her mother s voice or habitual responses, like ignoring a loud noise. Another study suggests that infants begin picking up elements of what will be their first language in the womb.
Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate (mirror neurons play a key role) their mother s behavior in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding. Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother s speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age.
The purposes and benefits of infant directed speech include positive effects on the early development of infants and children and aid in the ability of infants to bond with their caregivers. In addition, infants begin the process of speech and language acquisition and development through infant directed speech.Further, infant directed speech may contribute to the modulation of infant attention, assist infants in determining relevant syntactic qualities including phonetic boundaries, and conveys positive emotion to infants. For instance, it has been found that six month olds can discriminate between medial position syllables in words with multiple syllables when infant directed speech is used. Therefore, infant directed speech is a powerful tool in providing a base for language acquisition. Infants are able to apply principles of this practice to larger words and sentences as they learn to process language.
Based on Bogdan s argument, if mothers - parents - begin spending less and less time with their infants, and parenting relation changes, and working mothers go to work two weeks after giving birth and state caregivers don t have the time to personally interact with each child, shall we expect a delay and decrease of language acquisition in the next 10.000-20.000 years? If modern human children are more and more cot confined in estranged nurseries and mothers are forced to keep the fire alive again by working more hours and not spend time one on one with kids, wouldn t that be a natural conclusion?
Building further on this argument we might assume that high technological modern times not only that will modify us physically having receding chins from so much processed easy to chew food, but will transform us into dimwits with half a vocabulary and estranged social relationships. Ten thousands years from now, Oliver Curry (London School Economics) expects a genetic upper class and a less smart underclass. The human race would eventually peak in the year 3000 before a decline due to dependence on technology. They will also live 120 years. In 10.000 years: humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology. They will resemble domesticated animals.
About textese and mentalese
Fodor (1975) offered a bold hypothesis: the medium of thought is an innate language that is distinct from all spoken languages and is semantically expressively complete. So-called Mentalese is supposed to be an inner language that contains all of the conceptual resources necessary for any of the propositions that humans can grasp, think or express--in short, the basis of thought and meaning.
While few have followed Fodor in adopting this hypothesis, some weaker form of a language of thought view, i.e., that there is a mental language that is different from human spoken languages, is held by many philosophers and cognitive scientists. Although it is fairly clear that (some) thought is linguistic, there is no basis for believing in a Mentalese, let alone an innate, semantically complete Mentalese.
Yet, Pinker agrees with Fodor. Before being exposed to words in a language, all humans possess the concepts that these words corresponde to, as part to mentaleseor a language of thought. In his perspective, all language learning is a second language, all that happens is that the child learns the mappings from English (Romanian etc) onto symbols of this prior language of thought.
Social skills, such as communicating and might therefore be impaired if language and thought are. Will the brain shrink to the detriment of emotions like love, sympathy, trust and respect. But intellectual modules of higher mental abilities like decision making, problem solving and reasoning will concentrate.
It might sound a bit too futuristic for us, but a 2009 study that was published in Scientific American Mind claims that usg sms on mob ph dnt infl ppl s abil 2 wrt corr (using SMS texting on a mobile phone does not influence people s ability to write correctly). Is that so?
How could possible affect abbreviations our writing and implictely if Sapir-Whorf were right, our thinking capacity? Such examples as: OMG (oh my god), lol (laughing out loud), brb (be right back), l8r (later), n1 (nice one), np (no problem), asl (age sex location), afk (away from keybord), bbl8r (be back later), cu (see you), g4u (good for you) are eloquent for the hitech newspeak.
So what is going on? Are we such in a hurry to communicate although paradoxically communication is at ease with top notch high tech gadgets that flash in an instant a thought? Newsweek claims that in 2008, people had sent 2.3 trillion text messages, 150% more than in 2000. According to Daily Beast, in the English-speaking world, Britain alone generates well over 6 billion messages every month. Lily Huang, the author of The death of English quotes David Crystal from Oxford who reckons that the language of texting is hardly as deviant as people think, and that texting actually makes young people better communicators, not worse. Crystal spells out the first point by marshaling real linguistic evidence. He breaks down the distinctive elements of texting language-pictograms; initialisms, or acronyms; contractions, and others-and points out similar examples in linguistic practice from the ancient Egyptians to 20th-century broadcasting. Shakespeare freely used elisions, novel syntax and several thousand made-up words (his own name was signed in six different ways).
Hans Kaufmann of the Society for German Language believes it will not be just the handwriting of children that will suffer, but also their cognitive abilities. Not alone is handwriting simplified by opting out of cursive handwriting, believes Kaufmann, but also an apparently easier script also simplifies thoughts.
Already textese abbreviations for laughing out loud, or LOL, best friends forever, or BFF, in my humble opinion, or IMHO and oh my God, or OMG, were included in the Oxford English Dictionary, raising the hackles of purists who believe language is best left the way we found it, unsullied by the vagaries of real life. The inclusion of these terms into the vaunted Oxford lexicon does, however, demonstrate the influence texting now wields on contemporary language usage.
Bushnell et al investigated 10- to 12-year-old Australian children s text-messaging practices and their relationship to traditional spelling ability. Of the 227 children tested, 82% reported sending text messages; a median of 5 per day. Use of predictive and multi-press entry methods was roughly equal. Children produced a wide range of text-message abbreviations (textisms) when asked to rewrite a list of 30 conventionally-spelt words as they would in a text-message to a friend. The proportion of textisms produced was significantly positively correlated with general spelling ability, which fits with
previous findings of positive relationships between children s textism use and literacy.
Although various other research supports the use of SMS language, the popular notion that text messaging is damaging to the linguistic development of young people persists and many view it as a corruption of the standard form of language.
The proliferation of SMS language has been criticized for causing the deterioration of English language proficiency and its rich heritage. Opponents of SMS language feel that it undermines the properties of the English language that have lasted throughout its long history. Furthermore, words within the SMS language that are very similar to their English-language counterparts can be confused by young users as the actual English spelling and can therefore increase the prevalence of spelling mistakes.
However, in textese, punctuation, grammar and capitalization are traded off for riddling abbreviations. Some experts claim that such shortenings of words will lead to linguistic negligence and they often mask dyslexia. Could modern hi tech via texting represent the death of language as we know it? On the one hand we have thousands of minutes offered by mobile phone companies inviting us to talk ourselves to death, letting us vocalize more than new born human babies, and on the other hand we want to transmit as much information as possible in only 120 characters, as a new SMS is a new dime. Talk is money and we are all so cheap at it.
Another proargument could be that there is also the possibility that this new textese or chatspeak is indeed a new language, complex and innovating resembling somehow to computer programming languages, with a syntax and grammar of its own, leading not to the brain s laziness but pushing the latter to gymnastics, applying the new shortening code and deciphering it simultaneously.
Language lovers claim that language is not just a communication tool, it is an alive organism which keeps the rhythm of a society (and sometimes the state of affairs and level of cultural health) that grows and modifies with it and at times takes its cultural pulse. Being an alive organism, language needs to be fed and cared for in order to grow and reach maturity. Neologisms are welcome and somehow show how languages intertwine and what particular culture is supreme at a certain given moment in time. No wonder that most neologisms, especially technologic, are of English origin, with USA being the self titled world leader.
But if language is an organism that needs to be fed, even scarcely, what happens if we starve it by shortening its words? How will an anorexic language survive if it s fed on literary leftovers?
We are aware of what happens to humans that are deprived of using language. If we stop for a second to give some attention to George Orwell s 1984, we ll come to the conclusion that using excessively shorten words will lead to the mind s inability to use its entire capacity. Not a psycholinguist, but nevertheless a brilliant visionary, Orwell foresaw that Newspeak with a reduced vocabulary and grammar will eventually destroy any resistance to the authority. The intent was to prevent any alternative thinking by eliminating concepts as liberty or individualism.
The purpose of the Newspeak was to deplete language of its nuances leaving only simple concepts, further reducing the total number of words. The new language should have been spoken in staccato rhythms with syllables and this would make speech more automatic and unconscious and reduce the likelihood of thought.
It s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. (...) Don t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak, he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now? (1984, p 30).
Another hypothesis that language partially influences thinking is supported by a clever yet simple experiment done by Linda Rogers. What Rogers did was to read a story to a group of bilingual children while she registered their brain waves. First she read the story in English, while observing the left hemisphere and then she read the story in Navaho language while she noticed the right hemisphere.
The result obtained by Rogers underlines that English, as a noun centered language is processed in the left part of the brain, while Navaho as a verb centered language is processed in the right side of the brain. This experiment proved that although the same story was read to the same children, they have processed it differently according to the language it was read in (in Gill, 1997).
The debate, posits Bloom and Keil, is not whether language shapes thought -it is wheter language shapes thought in some way other than through the semantic information that it conveys.
So where will impoverished language lead? Is learning new words or learning in general good? Moreover, when does learning occur for the first time?
Reverting to our premises, are the lack of interaction with modern human infants and shortening of vocabulary an attack to our future language development and implicitly to our cognitive development?
Additionaly to what was said above, if you ever wondered how our brain will look like 10.000 years from now, we can predict based on recent findings that although the human brain increased from 850 to 1100 cc (homo erectus) to 1300 - 1500 cc (homo sapiens sapiens) a new decrease took place.
Recent studies showed explicitly that the human brain shrunk again in the past 30.000 years with 91 cubic inches (the size of a tennis ball), in spite of our enriched environment (Hawks, 2011 via Discover Magazine). What does it mean? If a richer environment make a bigger, better brain, how comes our brains shrunk? Did humans stop in evolution? Is our modern human brain getting more specialized? Is our actual brain an intelligence in a nutshell? If things go on as they do today, in the next 10.000 years will have to squeeze everything into a 1275 cc. Will our smaller brain along with our frequent abbreviation affect how to socially interact or think?
So how will such a tiny brain will perform in the future? What sort of abilities will it have? If we take the Flynn Effect into consideration, the same enriched environment and better nutrition will lead to the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence. According to these calculations, the IQ increases 0.3 points/year and between 3-9 points /ten years.
For one, due to the technological pampering and vocabulary intuitive gadgets and spellcheckers, textese and other new abbreviated languages, we could have less words, less thoughts and maybe less feelings. Our social skills will limp and we shall become estranged. If technology will replace human company, our mirror neurons will no longer be needed, and compasion and empathy will disappear. Love will be replaced by sexual fitness as unique criterion of mating. Choosiness will lead to genetic rich and genetic poor, and equality will be a concept long forgotten. In a genetically divided world, the lack of words might lead to lack of thoughts. But this is only a speculation, of course.