14 February 2006

The Evolution of the English Language

I just read a New Paper article dated 11 Feb 06 about the appalling standards of Mathematics and English of many students seeking admissions to top UK universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Many of these students cannot write in proper sentences or think for themselves. The Internet is a great research tool but it also makes it extremely tempting and easy for students to plagiarize other people's literary works (yes and photos too, no offense to Chun See and Chris) by just a few mouse clicks. Unlike my good friend Chris, these students have lost the skills of reading books.

Chris postulates a theory for the declining standard of English which seems to be prevalent amongst Singapore youths too. He attributes it to the frequent use of SMS text messaging. And he may be speaking some sense for once here. Our PM also gave a Korean definition of youth in his 2004 National Day Rally speech: "A young man is somebody who can do an SMS with one hand with the phone in his pocket."

Consider the following SMS text:

tku v m lol. imho altho u oredi hv dat. dis r gr8. rotfl. btw wru nw? bbl ttfn luv.

Laudies (another good example of the bastardization coining of a new term by Chun See to mean oldies or old folks) may not understand the message at all. But to the young recipient it means:

Thank you very much. (Laughing out loud.) In my humble opinion, although you already have that, these are great. (Rolling on the floor laughing.) By the way, where are you now? Be back later. Ta ta for now. Love.

As you can see, the use of abbreviations has shorten a more than 200-character SMS to about 90 characters, achieving a compression ratio of less than half. Not bad, considering that no technology was involved at all, only a little ingenuity.

We can almost always tell that a blog is likely to be written by a youth, typically from 20 to 30-year old. People of this age group tend to make scarce use of punctuations, especially capitalization. See for example the passage below. How easy is it for one to read it?

yes boba milk tea is the best! when i lived in l.a. i used to go over to a place called "volcano tea house" in the japantown section of west l.a. for one when i wanted a treat, or to monetery park, where you could get them in just about any chinese bakery. i have been disappointed with the "bubble teas" you can get in beantown (chewy, dry tapioca pearls and oddly flavorless tea), but lately my favorite bakery in chinatown here was replaced by a place called "bao bao tea" that served up a boba milk tea that reminded me of the good old days--rich tea flavor, sweet and milky with nice soft tapioca pearls. a friend of mine who did field research on formosan macaques on taiwan was very familiar with them and turned me on to this, one of my favorite beverages. all hail boba milk tea!

Then there are shop signs that don't make good English sense. This one seems more appropriate for a psychiatry clinic:

And this one is not even pronounceable. I tried but I sounded like I was spitting:

So how can our youths learn good English when our environment is not conducive for them to do so?


Chris Sim said...

Well Victor, one way to get our kids to write good English is through your Blog. You write clearly, precisely, funnily, cleverly and you make sense most of the time. A true compliment from the bottom of my heart.

I pity the school teachers these days. Imaging having to mark essays written SMS-style. But thankfully, I think most of our kids know when and when not to use them, the way they do with Singlish.

You really "copy-righted" your pics ah? Dun care, I'll still rip them! Sue me lah.

Lam Chun See said...

Congrats on a very good article - written in proper English too.

Some comments:

1) I think Htoo Htoo is a common Myanmarese name.

2) You shd charge that Shylock friend of yours $10 for every foto he uses.

3) The term 'laudie' was coined by my teenage daughter, not me; to refer to over-the-hill actors and singers.

4) Laudies like you and I shd blog more as a favour to the MOE a favour.

Sorry for the lengthy comments. Have to make up for the past couple of weeks when I was shut out of your blog.

Chris Sim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Sim said...

A story was told
Not so long ago
Of a man named SHYLOCK
Lurking in Victor's blog

Nobody's aware
What SHYLOCK'S doing there
But delighted the Bard'll be
With this new-found mystery

Merchant of Venice's the book
That I read in school
Why do I see TWO?

Victor said...

Look what you have done, Chun See. Never mess around with the poetic wordsmith. Now you'll be hard put to retort with some appropriate old song's lyrics. (I don't think there are any old songs about Shylock and Merchant of Venice.)

This is getting interesting. And it's all happening on my blog. :)

Victor said...

Oh I nearly forgot, thanks Chun See for the info that Htoo Htoo is probably a Myanmese name. I sort of knew that htoo. You see, I took the photos of the shop signs in Peninsula Plaza. There are many Myanmese shops which have Myanmese shop signs. Myanmese writing looks like earthworms to me but I can recognise it. Peninsula Plaza is getting to be like a mini-Myanmar, just as Golden Mile Complex is like a mini-Thailand.

Anyway, I just wanted to poke fun (as always). By the way, do you happen to know what dialect/language is SSEOWW? Hokkien? :)

Lam Chun See said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lam Chun See said...

Wah lau. The kids who read your blog ah, their English sure improve one. Not only proper sentences but also got poems to read some more.

Anonymous said...


kids? me? haha!

one thing... uncle victor, i had problem reading the "shortened" sms..

generation gap? oh no! im too old for youngsters nowadays! =.="

- EteL

fr said...

Here is the opposite - an eg of 'very high standard english'? :-

I just read today's ST's article 'Brazen display of disrepect for life.' There are many long complex sentences and there was one paragraph with only one sentence consisting of about 50 words.

I think many people need to read some sentences more than once to grasp its meaning.

Victor said...

Etel, you are certainly not a kid but you must be kidding me when you said that you didn't understand that condensed sms in my post, right? Ok, maybe your standard of English is higher. :)

So do you understand this sentence which I believe is what Frannxis was referring to in his comment:

"The consistent pattern of readiness to inflict civilian casualties - often when striking targets that are not of vital military significance - suggests that Mr Bush and other pro-life American leaders have less concern for the lives of innocent human beings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, than they have for human embryos."

Incidentally that article was written by a Professor (no wonder right?). It was about America's 'excesses' in its war against terrorism.

Chris Sim said...

Makes you realise how those journalists and reporters could get away with "murder"when they wrote sentences that are more than 40 words long, while we could only get away with "manslaughter" when we did so in school, doesn't it? ROTFL.