Whr Hv All th Vwls Gn?

John Williams writes:

‘Time was that you had to be an experimental weirdo to ditch vowels. In “Finnegans Wake,” James Joyce used the word “disemvowelled” in a section thatincludes this exchange of crystal-clear dialogue:

— Nnn ttt wrd?

— Dmn ttt thg.

Before we are all Joyce — God bless him — I would suggest that we take a deep breath, a mndfl one even, and consider the culling of our five (maybe six) friends. After all, there are words that can hardly do without them: muumuu, audio and oboe, just to queue up a few. One cannot text someone “b” and expect them to know one is referring to an oboe.

And what about that old Scrabble lifesaver “euoi” — “a cry of impassioned rapture in ancient Bacchic revels?” If you know of another way to identify a cry of impassioned rapture in ancient Bacchic revels, I’d like to hear it. Really. I’ll wait.

Panicked that we might be sliding (even more quickly) toward a fully emoticon-based pictographic language, I called the linguist, Columbia professor and prolific author John McWhorter to ease my mind. First, he assured me I wasn’t crazy to suggest an uptick in this trend.

“There is a fashion in American language culture right now to be playful in a way that is often childlike,” Mr. McWhorter said. “This business of leaving out the vowels and leaving you to wonder how to pronounce something, it channels this kid-ness in a way — like saying ‘because science,’ or the way we’re using -y, when we say something like, ‘well, it got a little yell-y.’ ”

Mr. McWhorter acknowledges that the more often vowels are dropped, the more people get used to it and make adjustments to rapidly understand implied meanings. “You can imagine someone naming a band MGMT in 1976, and everyone would just be baffled,” he said. But he doesn’t see disemvowelling creeping into more formal areas, and expects the trend won’t move “beyond the realm of that which is ironic or iconic.” …’

Source: New York Times

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