It seems to have become almost a matter of course that any subject of general interest will sooner or later be referred to the man now widely known as the UK’s Wrangler-in-Chief, Sir Bertram Utterside, whose credentials surely do not need to be restated here. The latest conundrum dropped onto his forty square feet of oak – a big mind requires a big desk, he says – was that of the alleged mangling of our language, brought about by the current state of literacy, plus the transmission of messages in abbreviated form by texting. Readers are reminded that Sir Bertram is not averse to embroiling himself in controversy. His observations are given below:
By coincidence, this matter was presented to me at the same time as I was immersed in a study of Linears A and B, the supposedly near-lost early Minoan tongue and its successor. It is fortunate that I am something of a linguist, so the question of whether or not English usage is deteriorating reached the right address.
Before getting down to brass tacks, I would like to doff my hat – not a common occurrence – to those pioneers who made noble efforts in this field. I think in particular of the originators of the Oxford English Dictionary, who grasped the need for their work to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. This explains why we find alternative recommendations with respect to spelling and pronunciation. C. K. Ogden made a useful contribution with his Basic English, comprising only 850 words. I also offer a nod to Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, who in my view should be considered a ‘totem Pole’ – another of those little quips I offer now and then to people who still doubt my inclination to jocularity.
Languages are always changing and their strengths and weaknesses vary according to the purpose for which they are used – literary, rhetorical, poetic or merely communicative. With respect to the first three categories, English has no advantage over many other tongues. In the last it is dominant, not because it is outstandingly good, but because it happened to be in the right places at the right times.
As to further progress, I am bound to chuckle at the fossils who contend that, owing to falling standards, all is lost. This is nonsense. I have examined the supposedly deleterious effect of texting and have found that, contrary to the claims of a number of philological backwoodsmen, this phenomenon should be welcomed because it leads to original thinking. I am well-placed to comment on this, as I have produced a hybrid language, based upon a mix of the Roman alphabet, Arabic numbers, quasi-Oriental ideographs, mathematical symbols and direction indicators. My system has the familiar twenty-six letters, ten numerals, the four computer keyboard arrows and sixty icons of my own design, making a total of one hundred characters. I submit that until we master telepathy – I have no doubt that we shall do so – this could replace all other ways of conveying information.
Though I have compiled a guidebook, I do not claim that all English words are encompassed by my technique. For the time being, some will remain as they are. However, let me offer examples based only on the letters and numbers familiar to all of us. ‘Foresee’ and ‘four hundred’ are rendered by 4c and 4C respectively, the upper case indicating that a number is involved. Likewise ‘fork’ and ‘four thousand’ would become 4k and 4K, while ‘form’ and ‘four million’ would be 4m and 4M. Now for something even simpler, using only letters. ‘I see you are too wise’ would become i c u r yy.
Some much-used words are represented by simple symbols, for instance ‘the’ is a bisected circle. The senses of forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards and their connotations are given by the appropriate arrows, while mathematical signs for ‘more than’ and ‘less than’ are used. The proposed system precludes any possibility of misunderstanding. Admittedly, a single spread of a hundred items would be rather large, but any difficulty this presents could be overcome by alternative keyboards, accessed by a single stroke. Indeed, my own machine has a second array, which causes very little inconvenience. One simply has to get used to the idea.
Some filing away of rough edges is still required, but in the interest of giving readers a flavour of the advantages of the proposed method, I engaged a former student of mine to translate a novel from Standard English into my version, adjuring her to ensure that all nuances were preserved. The original book ran to 60,000 words, or about 340,000 characters. I was gratified to note that the young lady, using pencil and paper, did an excellent job in terms of impact and readability, and reduced the work’s volume by about a third. If that is not an improvement, I don’t know what is.
Some readers may think they detect possible flaws in the system outlined above. I assure everyone that I am well aware of all potential anomalies and shall soon file away any rough edges. You will then hear more of my innovation. For the time being, I have nothing further to say about it.
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