A while ago, in a sympathetic attempt to dampen the fire of my zealousness for grammatical exactitude, Meg recommended I look at Language Log. I’ve looked now, and I find it is indeed rife with assurances that there is no problem, grammar is alive and well, and technology does not make people stupid. Two cheers!
The language loggers care about some things more than others. One post argues that it doesn’t matter that the distinction between its and it’s is being eroded by text messaging, because that distinction is not important. Another post takes very seriously the distinction between contemptuous and contemptible. So we know where the loggers draw the line, and can take some comfort from the fact that they do indeed draw one. But nothing is going to convince me that text messaging teens, even as they scorn the difference between its and it’s, understand the difference between contemptuous and contemptible. If either of those words has ever been text messaged, I’ll eat my hat.
I don’t care much about its and it’s. (Actually I do, but let’s pretend that I don’t.) But I am pretty sure that many aspects of grammar and diction are suffering erosion, and I don’t think texting, with its demand for short forms and clichés, is helping. I’m interested and delighted by the finer points of grammar discussed at the Log, but in my everyday life I’m deeply distressed at the increased number of emails I get asking me to “respond to Professor A or myself,” or “come to dinner with B and I,” or agree that “none of us have ever done C”–and of course I could go on forever. Is all this a matter of linguistic evolution? Am I wrong to regard these errors as contemptible?