Books · Creativity · Influences · Writing

Evolution of Language

One of the aspects of reading and writing that I find fascinating is the evolution of language. I’m one of those people who likes to read the occasional classic piece of literature (think Dickens, Tolstoy, Gogol, etc.) and I’m always amazed when I finish an older novel or story collection and then dive into something modern. The difference in how the words are used, how idioms have changed, the way sentences flow is so different. For good or bad, language has evolved over the years and continues to do so.

When it comes to the classics, I love the way those authors wrote, the language they used, the way they described things. It’s so proper and eloquent. I picture them at their writing desks, cup of tea or glass of brandy at hand, dipping their quills into the ink pot and furiously scratching away at the rough paper. Of course, they wear their dress coats, an oil lamp burning at one side, and a maid (or butler) brings them dinner on a covered plate.

Yes, I’m romanticizing, but that is the image their words invoke on my imagination. Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, all struggling at their craft while tied to some antiquated notion of propriety.

Then I read something from the early twentieth century, a Hemingway, London, maybe Dos Passos or Wolfe, and the language changes. There is still a formal note to the words, but it starts to relax, to become more conversational. The rules that kept language on a short leash are beginning to be ignored and this allows writers to have more leeway when it comes to crafting their stories.

Jump ahead to the mid-twentieth century and the rules are completely disregarded. This is where we get Kerouac, Burroughs, Burgess, Vonnegut. Experimentation, which began thirty or forty years earlier, is now in full bloom. There is still some formality to the writing business, authors who work within the confines of what is proper when it comes to grammar and composition, but it is the experimentation that allows language to expand and grow.

Today, all bets are off. The wild experimentation in writing has quieted, but the bloom from last century now allows many writers to feel comfortable with trying something new. Writers still have to learn the rules, but now they don’t have to adhere to them. Language continues to evolve, now through the magic of email and text messaging, and where this may lead us is anyone’s guess. Will stories become a collection of acronyms, abbreviations, and emoticons? Will there be a revolution to return us to a classic state?

I think there is room for a little bit of everything and I think it’ll be interesting to see where the evolution takes us in the next ten years. While I’m not a fan of the current trend to use abbreviations (“u” for “you”, for example), I also believe that writing is an art and experimentation should be encouraged and explored. The results could be interesting and open up new avenues for writers.

Who knows? Maybe there will be a shift to an entirely new form of writing and the words we write today will at some point in the future be considered quaint and classic. It’ll be fun to see where the evolution of language takes us.


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