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Are Bloggers and Blogs Ruining the English Language?

Anyone who has had to read Shakespeare in high school knows that the English language is organic. As such, it changes over the decades and centuries. Many words fall into disuse and many new words are added. Back in the late 1980s, researchers suggested that the average adult in North America knew had a vocabulary of at least 100,000 words. Since that time, many thousands of new terms have come into popular use. But fast forward to today and it seems that grammar is rapidly changing too.

A glance at the writing of some bloggers suggests that we might have collectively regressed, or are heading that way. Grammar is rapidly changing online, and not just from bloggers but also journalists writing at the websites of print publications. It goes beyond misspellings and typos, and includes the lack of proper punctuation, resulting sentences that technically say something very different than what was intended. I see more of this in 2008 than I did in 2005, and I read/browse about the same number of articles daily.

At least, that’s my off-the-cuff impression. I’m by no means 100% accurate with my grammar and never will be. My head is filled with the grammars of far too many non-Roman lettered languages, and that perpetual mixes me up when I write in English. But I am only fluent in English, and so I read, write, think and speak mostly in English. The other languages in my head are also-rans, used only infrequently.

As part of my work as a “professional” blogger, I have to consume large quantities of content daily. The music, video, movies and images are easy to consume. But I’m finding it progressively harder to browse online text. Online typography (almost wholly in san serif fonts) is not exactly conducive to speed reading, and persistently poor grammar that makes me stop in my tracks really makes things worse. It doubles my reading time because I have a “what the f**k” reaction, attempt to re-read, then get fed up. Given that I browse/read anywhere from 100-150 blog posts each day, that’s a lot of wasted time that sometimes screws up my schedule for several days.

However, in the vein of “he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone,” I’ve stopped commenting on blogs that repeatedly violate the simplest of grammar rules. I’m not talking about the refusal to follow stale writing style advice, thus creating a quirky voice/writing style that defies a few rules consistently. I’m talking about commas, colons and semicolons that really, really need to be in a sentence but are not, and the repeated lack of such punctuation in the blogs of many otherwise good writers.

As noted above, I’ve stopped saying anything because I’m not 100% in my own grammar. And because most bloggers who’ve been corrected will understandly be upset, offended, or even belligerent about it. Some of them act like they have the right to not be intelligible. Okay, they do, but I also have the right to expect intelligible writing. But since I can’t waste time trying to understand what they’re saying, I’ll simply stop reading such bloggers. These social changes might mean that the English language will change rapidly and for the worse, as a generation of bloggers violate the rules of grammar but somehow manage to still understand each other. Me, I get a headache, and it slows down my necessarily voracious daily browsing.

The real problem, I’m guessing, is that as bloggers, we’re forced to work fast. There’s no time for obsessing over “silly” grammar rules. Unfortunately for me, I do obsess, having come from many years of writing for print.

What about you? How do you feel about the changing “rules” of language, catalyzed by the writing in the blogosphere?

Author: Raj Dash

16 thoughts on “Are Bloggers and Blogs Ruining the English Language?

  1. Raj, I blogged for a year in Portuguese, then I decided to start writing in English (I’m blogging in English for four months now). It’s an entirely different experience. For the exact same niche (information visualization, Excel charts, etc), I was able to get much more traffic and subscribers, and I am getting much more comments per visit (meaning, people are more interested). And, of course, higher profile bloggers in my niche can understand what I write. Finally, I’m selling an How-To kind of e-book and more than 90% of sales come from the English blog. If I say in Portuguese, “you just need a PayPal account” I get that PayPal-what? look.

    There are around 300 million native Portuguese speakers, so I should try again, perhaps using a different approach. But you’re blogging in a niche market you must write in English or at least in both languages.

  2. Oh, oh, i never learned English really good in the school, because i was young in foolish.
    But now i have own blog in English. Of cause you will find same sentences pretty bad I try to get better.

    This “Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers” book is that something for me? Or should i begin with something easier or fundamental?

  3. @JMowery: Employers probably already notice, but can they do anything about it if schools are dropping the ball? (If they are dropping the ball; i’m not saying they are.)

    How long it takes me to write these articles? This one took me less than usual. I tend to be extremely obsessive about not posting anything with poor grammar. I’m the other end of the spectrum. The “7 Lessons From the Blogging Trenches” article took me a bit longer, maybe 2-4 hours, mixed in with other work. This is not good from a blogging point of view, but I feel wrong about posting anything substandard under my criteria. (Though I still slip on typos and some grammar, despite my obsessive editing.)

    @TheCasanovaPeasant: Beautiful words. That is exactly what blogging is. However, if you are professing to be a “professional” blogger, then you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. No? BTW, was the girl impressed?

    @JVH2171: Yes, a very accurate assessment. Though it makes me wonder that people can communicate verbally at all. I’ll be honest. I used to be a teaching assistant in college, and was later a corporate trainer/ technical writer (when I wasn’t programming). I’ve found that in this decade, I have far more arguments with “younger” people than I do with “older” people, and not because of points of view but because I simply have a hard time understanding what they’re saying. It wasn’t like that in college, and I was older than my students by a few years.

    @JMowery. Dragon Naturally Speaking is one example of such software, but a Performancing colleague used it a lot and I wanted to strangle him. That’s simply because he trusted the software to be 100% accurate and didn’t bother to edit the text before emailing/ posting/ whatever. While Dragon is so much better than similar software from years back, it’s still error-prone, which really isn’t surprising. English is a non-phonetic language, and provides many technical challenges for voice recognition algorithms. I was originally going to do a Master’s in Natural Query Languages, but realized what a massive task it would be.

    @Camoesjo: But you don’t necessarily have to write in English. English is NOT in fact the most common language in the blogosphere anymore (according to Technorati, I believe). Thanks for the book tip. I haven’t seen that one. My writer’s “bible” has been William Zinsser’s On Writing Well (non-aff), and to a lesser degree, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (non-aff). Zinsser’s Writing to Learn (non-aff) is also worth a read, especially if your writing is intended to teach something.

    @ShawnHoefer: Excellent idea. If only we had the time to read aloud.

  4. I have a job and chores and a business to run. When that job was as a graphic designer and editor at a newspaper, grammar was important. Now, speed and appropriate use of time are far more important. I prefer to write in my speaking voice. This allows me to write as I think and avoid editing and rewrites. Those steps save time. Additionally, I make it a habit to read each post out loud. This really helps me find errors.

    Oddly enough, even though I am not sch a stickler for grammar, I am disgusted with the number of typos and misspellings out there, what with spell-checkers built into everything.

  5. Thanks. I’ll follow your advice. Let’s call it “an investment”, not “spending”…

  6. @camoesjo

    You should really check out this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0131993844/

    It is just an amazing book to not only sit down and read, but also to refer back time after time as well. It will help you improve your English writing. I think this book has helped me more than anything else in developing my writing skills.

    So, if you have some cash to spend, pick that book up as you will not regret it.

  7. English is not my mother language and I postponed my new blog for a year because I wasn’t sure I could write and be understood. My productivity at writing blog posts is low because I do my best to avoid those stupid writing mistakes. I try to play safe and probably what comes out sounds too linear and basic. I hate it because that’s not my writing style. This will improve over time, I hope.

    Careless writing by English native speakers and the influence of non native English speakers are shaping (I should say unshaping…) English into something very bizarre. I call it Tribal English and you’ll need translators to make tribes understand each other.

  8. You hit the point perfectly. And your explanation of the different “tools” you have by using the spoken language and the written language (sound and choice of words) can be used for almost every language in the world.

    In Germany we face the same thing. But I think there is a certain mislead in the exception, English is to complex. IMHO the modern life changes so fast, we can hardly find spoken expressions for the things that happen (e.g. 20 years ago SMS was only a disease and not the short message service for mobile phones). So this is, what comes into the language that makes the language complex – but this is a result of our social and technical environment. And language is a “living thing” – so it rapidly changes too.

    Nowadays kids have a langauge that is far away from the language is used to speak at the same age – and I suppose I’m not the only one who realizes this.

    And for forein languages there is one important rule: use it as often as you can with native speakers – this is the best training you can get…

  9. @jvh2171

    The difference, in my opinion, between the spoken and written forms of English is that the spoken form tends to use more simple/direct wording to convey the thoughts easily/quickly. The written version, on the other hand, incorporates words that can sometimes be thought of as more complex with varying purposes. You can express emotion with your tone of voice in person, but with writing, the words must sometimes be more specific to reveal the emotion of the writer at any point during the text.

    When all is said and done, it makes sense that the written form of the English language would get more simplistic in nature. It is already a very complex language. I only know English fluently, but from what I know with three years of Spanish classes in high school, I believe the differences in complexity are drastic. English tends to be overly complex from my experience of the two languages.

    While talking to a German exchange student back in high school, he explained how difficult it was for him to learn English simply because of how rapidly it changes. There is no doubt that the explosion of the internet within the past decade has changes the English language drastically.

    My question is, what ever happened to that amazing voice recognition software that was going to allow us all to write documents without ever touching a keyboard back several years ago? They seem to have made great strides with the new Sync technology in Ford vehicles. Still waiting for that to happen though. Sounds like a great article that I should write.

  10. …that can be ruined?

    To be honest, I’m german. But my experience with the english language is, that the daily common spoken langauge in the USA has more often nothing to do with the written english…

    So since there are more and more people going to blog about their daily stuff, the english language in written form will more and more convert to the spoken version… in written form.

  11. Raj, I have to give you credit for speaking out on this issue. Anytime someone starts to complain about the state of grammar, I usually get distracted hunting for grammar mistakes in their rant. I did spot a few, but your point stood out stronger. My take is a bit more optimistic.

    Blogging is not destroying the English language, it is breathing life into a society of people without letters. Grammar is not a rule that is followed from birth, and punished like a crime for ignoring. It is a skill that allows your readers to glide effortlessly through your posts without having to hit their head on the “What the [email protected]#*” moments. Anyone can be a blogger, but the ones who hone their craft are the ones that will survive.

    Personally, I started writing an “online journal” to impress a girl. By writing things down online, and experiencing feedback from people I’d never met, it only made me want to get better at what I was doing… to make things more enjoyable for the reader. I’m sure I’m not perfect, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, but overall I consider blogs to be the healthiest thing to happen to the English language in a long time. Give it time.

  12. @Raj

    How long does it take you to write an article like the one above? How about another article like your “7 Lessons From the Blogging Trenches”?

    I was once interested in seeing how long other bloggers took to write articles. I saw numbers from a few minutes to several hours listed by other bloggers. Just curious as to how long it takes you.

  13. Kids that are growing up using the internet might feel it is fine to take shortcuts with words.

    They think that it is fine to use “cuz” instead of “because” as an example. It is an issue that is just going to progressively get worse with time.

    It is not an issue with bloggers. It is an issue with people in general. Computers are indirectly promoting bad habits.

    It is an issue that can not be rectified in any direct manner. The only thing we can hope is that schools make more efforts to ensure that students can write proper English. State testing is a joke. Especially here in Virginia. The federal government should take control to ensure proper education is being provided.

    Hopefully employers are taking notice.

  14. @JMowery: Ooops, I did it again! I edited four times and still missed that. And therein lies part of the reason I wrote this post. That sort of typo is common in blogging, and there’s a point of diminishing returns, since blog posts don’t pay anywhere near what a similar-length print article might. While my typo was bad, it was a typo, as opposed to poor grammar due to … I don’t know. Are they not teaching grammar in school anymore?

    @Shane: Exactly, and as JMowery pointed out, I made a typo with an extra “is”. You’re so right. And we haven’t even considered the literacy lvl of ths kids who txt msg all day lng. Will we even understand them in a few years?

  15. My time is precious. If the style of writing doesn’t conform to my personal views of what good writing is, I will stop reading/delete the feed/not renew my subscription (standards in the print world are dropping, too).

    I don’t play grammar nazi because that is just an invitation to be attacked next time I make a mistake (and I will make a mistake – it’s inevitable). I just move on.

    My wife used to be a high school teacher and I would get horrified looking at some of the papers she marked. The English language is changing at an incredible rate right now, and it’s not restricted to blogs. It’s happening everywhere and the kids coming through the system are just plain different. I’m not even 30 and I feel the huge gulf between my generation and the one coming after me.

    Times are changing, Raj. We might not be able to read it but the kids sure can. We may well have to learn to adapt (or at least endure) lest we get left behind.

  16. “…the English is language is organic.”

    I’m just messing with you. Had to do it! 😀 Or as my English professor would have said, “Don’t you read what you write?” Edit it fast! Especially before anyone else reads!

    ———–

    I take great pride in making sure that everything I write is quality. I actually have a book by my side at all times. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers by Troyka, Seventh Edition, is the writers bible in my opinion.

    I take pride in knowing that I am writing articles that, hopefully, an English professor could respect. I believe all bloggers owe it to themselves to learn proper usage of the language. There are many articles online that help with things like commas, apostrophes, and other elements of the English language. Some great blogs are out there which take the time to help fellow bloggers with writing as well.

    I even read highly regarded magazines where the writer will use “it’s” instead of “its,” and the sentence itself would make no sense.

    Please take the time to learn the art of writing. It is something that your readers and people in general will appreciate in the long run.

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