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15 January 2014

Take part in the evolution of English

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While most New Year’s resolutions seem to entail caring more—about family, health or charitable causes—mine requires caring less, specifically about grammatical mistakes.

That’s right. By 2015, my friends will no longer have to cringe in frightened anticipation of my rage when they let slip an incorrect preposition or mix up the verbs “lay” and “lie.”

I’ve realized that my tiresome habit of pouncing on every misspoken word does more to fuel my own sense of superiority than to make any meaningful contributions to the way English is spoken. No, the language will not crumble over errors that don’t even obscure a sentence’s meaning. And when we spend so much time fixated on these mistakes, we miss the opportunity to help English develop.

Of course, language will change no matter what. For example, nobody initiated the Great Vowel Shift, which took place during the 15th and 18th centuries and affected the pronunciation of certain English vowels.

However, it is possible to exercise a degree of control over the English language. The word “selfie” didn’t arise from a gradual linguistic process. Instead, it directly addresses a popular cultural phenomenon for which there was previously no word. Like sliced bread, its creation filled a void, and “selfie” soon transformed from a mere fad into the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013.

New vocabulary is not the only consequence of linguistic innovation. In 2014, English may stand to gain a new punctuation mark, thanks to a woman named Ellen Susan. Called the ElRey, it looks like an exclamation mark with an extra dot on top, and would act as an alternative to the apparent heartlessness of a period (“It’s fine if you’re running late.”) and the excessive enthusiasm of an exclamation mark (“It’s fine if you’re running late!”).

It has a long way to go before being incorporated onto modern keyboards and in standard font collections, but it seems to make sense – and besides, a few years ago, not many people believed your perky headshot of you in the bathroom mirror deserved its own unique place in English, either.

We have a lot more power than we realize to affect the English language, especially with social media helping fads spread. If you think English needs its own word for “the result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship,” make it happen.

Whether we like it or not, English is going places, and my resolution for 2014 is not to follow it idly, but to take the reins and help steer its passage.

 

Alexa Langen is a sophomore majoring in creative writing.