Since the first web browser appeared on computer screens in 1994, the Internet has radically changed global communication.  With instant access to messaging and email, the ability to circulate commentary and opinion has revolutionized the way people communicate.  This has had an affect on language and writing, but people still debate the scope of these changes, and whether or not they’re for the better.

Eleanor Johnson is a professor in the English and Comparative literature department at Columbia University who attributes a growing misuse of language to the explosion of electronic communication.

“I think that text messaging has made students believe that it’s far more acceptable than it actually is to just make screamingly atrocious spelling and grammatical errors,” she said.

Johnson says that her students, over the past several years, have increasingly used a more informal English vocabulary in formal assignments.  University-level research papers, she says, are now being peppered with casual phrases like “you know” and words like “guy” informal usages that were absent almost a decade ago.  She attributes the change to instant and casual communication.  She’s also seen an increase in incorrect word use, with students reaching for a word that sounds correct, whose proper meaning is just a bit off from what they intend to say.

Read more:


10. I think of you as a brother. Translation: You remind me of that inbred banjo-playing geek in ‘Deliverance.’

9. There’s a slight difference in our ages. Translation: I don’t want to do my dad.

8. I’m not attracted to you in ‘that’ way. Translation: You are the ugliest dork I’ve ever laid eyes on.

7. My life is too complicated right now. Translation: I don’t want you spending the whole night or else you may hear phone calls from all the other guys I’m seeing.

6. I’ve got a boyfriend. Translation: I prefer my male cat and a half gallon of Ben and Jerry’s.

5. I don’t date men where I work. Translation: I wouldn’t date you if you were in the same solar system, much less the same building.

4. It’s not you, it’s me. Translation: It’s you.

3. I’m concentrating on my career. Translation: Even something as boring and unfulfilling as my job is better than dating you.

2. I’m celibate. Translation: I’ve sworn off only the men like you.

1. Let’s be friends. Translation: I want you to stay around so I can tell you in excruciating detail about all the other men I meet and have sex with. It’s the male perspective thing.


CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA — On a dance floor in a plaza of this many-hued Caribbean city, salsa was oozing from vast speakers. Latin feet were shuffling. Voices were singing along in impassioned Spanish.

And then came a song that electrified the mostly Colombian crowd as few songs had. It was “I Gotta Feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas, which electrifies my generation wherever they live in the world. When historians of culture look back at this wave of globalization, the song’s lyrics may be of use.

They repeat the hope “that tonight’s gonna be a good night” over and over and over. There is little elaboration. And yet, as global anthems go, this is lyrically ambitious. The music that links the global young today is one of thumps and beeps, sounding to older music lovers like a room full of malfunctioning computers.

This is not the only way in which words seem to matter ever less to my generation, and not the only way in which this desertion may be the bitter price of a good thing: a world that talks to itself more easily than ever, by taking the art of talking less seriously.

We are all linguistic utilitarians now. At work and home, in person and on our devices, function rules and form pales. Capitalization, commas, full sentences, the writing of words without numbers in them, the avoidance of jargon and mixed metaphors — these norms are suffering, unable to persuade multitaskers of their worth.

Of course, anxiety about language is very old. When technologies turn, when new social groups rise, when politics change, critics predict the end of literacy. George Orwell, in a seminal essay in 1946, warned that pretentious diction and meaningless words and other bad habits were corroding politics. He criticized the belief “that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light.”

Orwell, writing during the Cold War, was especially worried about the ideological misuse of language. In our own day, the threat would seem to come instead from a new trinity of technology, globalization and business, which seem to exert a pragmatic pressure on language, to undermine the idea of language as an end in itself.

Technology is changing how we read, write and reason, as a growing number of critics suggest. Television has long been accused of making us stupid, but now the Internet, though overflowing with text, is also blamed. In an essay in The Atlantic last year, the technology writer Nicholas Carr argued that the power-skimming, link-hopping and window-toggling that define the Internet experience have eroded the old practice of reading unbroken stretches of prose, with grave implications for our writing.

E-mail, meanwhile, has become a linguistic wasteland — even among language lovers. Cellphone keypads make us promise to “call u back after the mtg.” Twitter coaxes us to misspell to meet the 140-character maximum. Blogs, though they seek to bring out the writer in us, are notable for how little stress they put on the actual writing. How many literary greats has the rise of the blogosphere produced?

Globalization, in bringing cultures together, exerts its own pragmatic pressure. With English the escalator of globalized success, the language’s center of gravity is tilting away from English-speaking lands. A stripped-down English of catchphrases and trite idioms, light on richness, is becoming the true global language.

Read more:

The article “Language barrier adds burdens to police and public” (Page A1, Sunday) is totally misguided. The problem is not that there are too few police officers who speak English. The problem is there are too few residents who speak English. If someone chooses to immigrate to this country, they should also be responsible for learning and using the predominant language — English. If I decided to live in France, I would expect to speak French to survive in that culture. If I decided to live in Mexico, I would expect to speak Spanish the majority of the time. I seriously doubt that outside of the primary tourist areas of the country you would find English-capable civil servants. Saying we need more Spanish-speaking police officers, city and county workers, ballots, notices, etc., only addresses the symptom. The problem would continue to exist, unabated.

For more opinions see:

The race for the Oscars will hot up in the weeks to come, and the one for the foreign language film evokes a keen interest in India. Though the country of a 1000-plus annual movie production has had an abysmally poor record on the Academy awards night year after year, the passion to push a film onto the big international screen remains abstracted from perennial failures.

This year’s Indian entry for a possible shortlist nomination is Paresh Mokashi’s Marathi work, Harishchandrachi Factory. Though this is one of the better Indian movies sent up, the Oscar battle is wide open.  Too wide for anybody’s comfort

The foreign language section is one of the most unpredictable among the Academy honours. While awards such as the Golden Globes provide some clue to what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may decide, they are usually poor indicators when it comes to the foreign language cinema.

Also, the voting procedure is somewhat flawed with nine choices made by the jumbo Academy voting body (six) and a compact foreign language steering committee (up to three). Out of this, five nominees are picked. Often, these and even the winning film are at considerable odds with what critics and festival selectors see as clinchers.

Last year, Japan’s Departures took home the Oscar beating all-round favourites like France’s The Class and Israel’s Waltz with Bashir. The prize shocked many, but it merely proved that prediction was getting harder by the year.

This year, the picture appears even more blurred. A reason for this is that many countries have not nominated their frontrunners.  A master storyteller and craftsman like Pedro Almodovar has been snubbed (once again) by his native Spain. His gripping Broken Embraces, a favourite for the Golden Globes, will not make it to the Oscar short list. Not in the foreign category, though it is eligible to be included in other sections – Best Picture as well – because it had an American release, a precondition for participation in the main Oscar categories. Spain’s hope at LA this season is  The Dancer and the Thief, a heist drama from Fernando Trueba.

Chile has a similar story. Sebastian Silva’s The Maid won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and has got the Golden Globes nod, but was surprisingly not considered Oscar material by the country’s selectors. Instead, Chile has gone with Miguel Littin’s Dawson Isla 10, a 1973 political movie that follows the coup which brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power.

Oliver Assays’ Summer Hours has garnered many trophies and favourable write-ups from critics in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. But France chose Jacques Audiard’s prison drama, A Prophet for its Oscar war.

There are other such examples of a film dazzling international juries and some of the harshest reviewers, but failing to impress the country’s selectors. John Woo’s action epic Red Cliff (China), Chan-wook Park’s blood-thirsting vampire romance, Thirst(South Korea), Cary Fukunaga’s immigrant saga Sin Nombre (Honduras) and Anne Fontaine’s fashion biopic Coco Before Chanel. (France) are some.

In India, excellent works of masters – Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aravindan, John Abraham and Adoor Gopalakrishnan – were never considered Oscar worthy.  What were movies like Jeans and Eklavya: The Royal Guard. If they sank in the ocean of Oscar without so much as a ripple, India should not be disappointed. For, it deserved no better.


It’s an old bromide, but some folks probably couldn’t talk if you tied their hands behind their back. Gesticulating is sort of an international language in that most of us talk with our hands as much as our voices.

And it turns out that’s a good thing, according to new research from Colgate University, published in the current issue of Psychological Science. Psychologist Spencer D. Kelly of Colgate and colleagues at Radboud University in The Netherlands have found that gestures and the spoken word are so mutually interdependent that “gesture and speech are actually part and parcel of language — that is, they together constitute language.”

The research also shows that if the gesture matches the words (as in showing a chopping action while discussing chopping vegetables) the message is more quickly, and more accurately, understood than if the gesture doesn’t match the words (twisting instead of chopping, for example.)

A ‘Bushism’

OK, don’t we always match our words with our gestures? Not always, according to the researchers who cite a much-watched video clip — “number two on David Letterman’s Top 10 George W. Bush moments.” This Bushism, as it has become known, shows the president saying, “The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing.”

Unfortunately, the president raised the right hand when referring to the left hand, and the left hand when referring to the right hand. That “incongruent gesture,” according to this research, should make it more difficult for viewers to understand what the president was saying. However, proving that was beyond the scope of the research.

Seventy college students participated in two studies aimed at showing whether our gestures really matter. Each participant was shown a number of videos depicting specific actions, like chopping vegetables, accompanied by an audible description of the act. Sometimes, though, instead of showing chopping, the video showed twisting, or some other action that did not mimic the sound track, and the participants were asked to determine if the action matched the words.

Talking With Your Hands

As might be expected, the students got the message more quickly if the gesture matched the sound. And if the gesture did not fully match the words, they were far more likely to miss that, thus making more errors than when the gesture matched the words.

“When gesture and speech convey the same information, they are easier to understand — they are faster and produce fewer errors — than when they convey different information, and this effect appears to be driven by mutual interactions,” the researchers write. “This integration is obligatory. People cannot help but consider one modality (gesture) when processing the other (speech.)”

“If you really want to make your point clear and readily understood, let your words and hands do the talking,” they conclude.

Although the researchers say their work suggests that the spoken word is a little more potent than our gestures, we can all think of exceptions.

Thumbs Up

An injured football player being carried off the field cannot speak as loudly with his voice as he can with two raised thumbs, a universal symbol for everything from “I’m OK” to “We shall overcome.”

The former president notwithstanding, our gestures probably do reflect our words nearly all the time, as the research suggests, because the two “modalities” are so interconnected.

But sometimes, even when the two don’t match, the meaning is inescapable.

Quite a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboys were getting trounced during “Monday Night Football,” and the game was so lopsided that the cameramen were searching the crowd for some fitting symbol of defeat. One camera slowly zoomed in on a lone Cowboy fan, way up in the cheap seats, seemingly faithful to the end.

But as the camera closed in, the fan slowly raised one finger in the universal sign of disdain.

Dead silence in the broadcast booth until Don Meredith, the former Cowboy ace and a commentator on the broadcast, drawled, “That’s right, folks. Dallas will always be No. 1 in the eyes of her fans.”

No words necessary. There’s no doubt about what the fan was really saying, Dandy Don notwithstanding.


If asked to name a 12-year-old—any 12-year-old, boy or girl – who created something that is such an important part of people’s lives that it is used every day all over the world, many people would probably shrug their shoulders and give a blank look. Those savvy in the world of social networking might say the two teens who created Others would surely say Mozart, possibly Chopin.

But, although a contemporary of Chopin, this blind young lad’s creation had nothing to do with music, but everything to do with learning and reading when he developed a system of making letters, numbers and words using six raised dots in different patterns. By the time Louis Braille was 15, he published the first ever Braille book in 1929, then went on to add symbols for math and music in 1937, which undoubtedly made those blind students wishing to play Chopin happy.

Braille, who was blinded by accident when three, developed the system because of the way blind students were taught in 1821 Paris: teachers talked and the students listened. He wanted a better way to learn. Although it took until 1868, 16 years after his death, for his system to be accepted, it spread worldwide and is the standard used globally today, with those raised dots recognized by both the blind and sighted.

“New Jersey has approximately 295,000 blind and visually impaired residents,” said Adam Szczepaniak, director of the New Jersey State Library’s Talking Book and Braille Center, which has the state’s largest Braille collection with over 13,500 titles, of which almost 10,000 were circulated last year. “Naturally, Braille books are bigger. The translation of the Three Musketeers takes six large volumes, fortunately they are very light.

“Braille skills are integral for the blind and visually impaired to have full, independent, successful lives,” he continued. “It’s such a necessity and yet it is little recognized for its importance. Seventy percent of blind people without Braille skills are unemployed, while 85 percent of the Braille-literate population holds jobs.

“That’s why we also provide Web-Braille to our customers,” he added. “Our mission at TBBC isn’t just to provide free accessible reading materials, but to provide information, including information on and access to the latest technology. Web-Braille is part of the National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped’s Web site which allows a member to either read a Braille book online with their software or download the book to their computer or Braille output device.”

Output at TBBC is via either audio software or a refreshable Braille display terminal. The Braille terminal receives content displayed on the computer screen and displays it, line-by-line, in Braille on the terminal. The mechanism uses the piezo effect of some crystals, where they expand when a voltage is applied to them. The crystal is connected to a lever which raises the dot. Each Braille dot (eight per character) is controlled by a crystal.

Another software program in use at TBBC is the Duxbury Braille Translator, which converts text on the computer instantly to Braille in a variety of languages. This translation may then be printed out on the Braille printing machine.

And in case you think that Braille is out of step with today’s communication, consider this: “contracted” Braille predates today’s text message abbreviations by many years.

Services at the NJ State Library Talking Book and Braille Center are available without charge to anyone living in New Jersey who, for any physical reason, cannot read printed material.