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New spoken nature: why do we write as if we inscribe on birchbark manuscripts?

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New spoken nature: why do we write as if we inscribe on birchbark manuscripts?


Svetlana Smetanina

The 5th International Pedagogical Forum will be held in Sochi on December 3 and 4. The Russkiy Mir Foundation is one of its facilitators. At the forum Valeri Efremov, a professor of the Russian Language Department of the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, will share on how the language game becomes a part of the language system, and why it happens.

– Your lecture in the agenda of the pedagogical forum is called “The Language Norms in the Age of Internet.” Apparently, this means that the very concept of the norms has been blurred, doesn’t it?

The main idea is the following: when communicating online, we think that we use written form of speech, but in reality this is a completely different form of language. Nowadays it is called texting. See, for example, at school we write essays, but in reality, we at the same time use something similar to what is called written speech, though actually it is texting.

Such interaction between written speech and the one we use on gadgets and in messengers creates a certain kind of conjugation that changes perception of the norms.

Here is the patent example: students and those younger ones understand a period in rather strange way. In messengers, if a sentence does not end with a smiley-face emoji, but with a period, it is perceived as the categorical one. And that is typical not only for Russian language. In the West, they also started talking about it. In our very presence the most ancient punctuation mark has been endowed with some functions that it did not have before.

Once, being with students in a classroom, I asked them which punctuation mark they used the most often. Obviously we were expecting them to say that it was comma. But students said it was a space. When we do our written exercises at school, we do not consider a space to be a punctuation mark. And typing text on the keyboard gives totally different perception.

And another little point: modern schoolchildren, for example, call ellipsis - three-period ellipsis. Since you have to press a key three times; so it means you do not merely put periods. And this is very different understanding of the common punctuation mark.

- The same provision applies to spelling. Vera Ivanova, the most significant spelling expert of the second half of the 20th century, spoke about so-called portrait writing. What is the idea behind it?

The more literate a person is, the more s/he memorizes words in images. Roughly speaking, there is no need to think about control words s/he is used to write it so often that s/he can do it automatically. But the point is: such portrait writing, as I deeply believe, is connected precisely to handwriting. And often, older people, when they think how to write the word correctly, simply write it - the hand itself automatically displays words in right way.

Speaking of today youth, it is not possible even in theory, because they do not write with hand, but type on keyboard. All letters at the keyboard are just the same. And it turns out that just like that, in a subtle way, our understanding of spelling, punctuation and, surely, of norms, has been changing.

Let us assume that abbreviations have been there both now and always. However, at one professional translators forum I have found a question: how to translate abbreviations or acronyms most commonly used in texting into Russian. In fact we pretty often see some kind of thx instead of thanks or GN instead of good night, or "ILU" instead of "I love you", and so on. Willing or not, it gives impression that such words do exist. That demonstrates the way schoolchildren, as well as all those engaged in texting, imagine the modern vocabulary to be.

I wonder, how do these wordies appear in Internet? They are not only words borrowed from English, are they? Are there any other sources?

Surely, there are. I was talking about abbreviations… Obviously, we have accelerated pace of speech, so in spoken language we can say lab instead of laboratory or bro instead of brother. But we did not use such short forms in writing, as it would have been, let me choose my words carefully, strange. And now what makes texting so unique? Well, formally we have here written language, since it is not the spoken one for sure. But as a matter of fact, it is actually not written language as well, because it is not arranged and it is equivalent to the spoken one to the greatest extent.

As to me, this is what you call new spoken nature. That is writing equivalent to speech to the greatest extent. In some way, it is typologically similar to what was inscribed at birchbark manuscripts. When birchbark manuscripts were in use, there were no any rules of spelling or punctuation people wrote the way they spoke.

It looks like we are going back right there. Obviously, the situations are not exactly the same, but very similar. If people are used to say dis instead of this, they may also write the same way. And the most important point everything will be clear from the context.

Speaking of new words that enter normal speech from Internet, sometimes funny things happen. Recently I was listening to radio, where two reputable experts discussed some serious topic. They used the word hype and immediately started explaining what it meant, since not everyone would understand it. This means that words borrowed from Internet have been actively introduced.

Exactly! This is why we should talk about the language norms; spelling and punctuation, as well as lexical norms have been changing dramatically. The above mentioned hype along with, I beg your pardon, snoozefest popped up for a reason. First of all, we have certain understanding about linguistic fashion. And, for another thing, most of our time we spend online. We will surely find that hype in one post or another. So it gradually shifts into our spoken language.

By the way, have you noticed that people now often pronounce ok instead of okey? Thats the result of how we write the word in Internet. Obviously, it is a language game. But such game may turn into an element of the language system.

In your opinion, is Russian language more open for all kinds of borrowed words than other languages? Or such processes can be observed in all languages?

Yes and no. On one hand, we are in the situation of global scale, because Internet language has been discussed by everybody Germans, British, French, Chinese, and etc. But I believe that such processes advance much further within our Internet environment.

This summer one renown Norwegian researcher published her extensive monography focused on Internet communities. And there she makes an absolutely clear point: Runet has the greatest diversity of Internet-communities in the world. No other language has such phenomena. In this sense we are so unique: weve got Mommys language, there was Padonkaffsky jargon so many things have been happening. And that is the reason I start my lectures for students with a metaphor, which described Vienna of Belle Epoque: they used to say that Vienna was a foothold of Apocalypses. I deeply believe that Runet is a foothold of Apocalypses for Russian language. Whatever is going or is not going to pop up language-wise can be found online.

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