Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Illiterate Generation

Is this the stage we've come to?

Recently we heard through the media that the current younger generation (and I guess they're talking about Y and Z) is the first generation since Australian settlement that is more illiterate than their parents! That's a concern but when I thought about it, I had to admit that I was not all that surprised for several reasons.

These are days of fast text talk and fashionable abbreviations. Sadly, I've seen billboards and magazine adverts with terms such as LOL and ROFL indicating that their writers assume everybody can understand them. When sentences can be shortened to C U L8R, who even needs to be literate in the 21st century? Not long ago, I made the mistake of not noticing that I was reading Face Book news feed on my daughter's profile. Assuming it was my profile, I made a few comments. Emma got really cranky and started scolding me. "Mum, can't you just LOOK! This is so embarrassing if people think it's me commenting."

As everything I'd written was quite pleasant and innocuous, I asked her why it would be such a disaster. Her answer spoke volumes. "Because you use full-stops and commas. You spell properly and put all those little wriggly things around sentences when people talk. I don't want people to think I'm a dork."

So it's become trendy and fashionable to use no grammar and punctuation! In that case, we may be up against a thicker brick wall than we ever expected. If you follow internet forums, you'll bang your head against it all the time. We have to turn a blind eye or we're called "Grammar Nazis." Lynne Truss quotes this film review example in her book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves."

I watched this film (About a Boy) a few days ago expecting the usual hugh Grant bumbling.. character Ive come to loathe/expect over the years. I was thoroughly suprised. This film was great, one of the best films i have seen in a long time. The film focuses around one man who starts going to a single parents meeting to meet women, one problem He doesnt have a child.

Truss goes on to express her sadness when people who have been taught nothing about their own language spend their leisure hours trying to string sentences together for the edification of others. (And I have to add that this example from Lynne Truss is one of the better ones I've seen.)

I'll always remember when an editor of mine commented that I've done remarkably well with my proper English expression considering that I belong to what she called, "The Deprived Generation." She wasn't talking about Generations Y and Z but Generation X! People who, like me, were schooled in the 1970s and 1980s when schools were beginning to drop grammar and punctuation of the English syllabus to focus solely on literary critiquing. I can remember being taught about nouns and verbs in Year 3 (1978) but nothing after that.

I have suffered for the lack. I find myself turning to grammar guides, thesauruses, dictionaries and the internet when I'm editing work, while I'm sure many older friends and family who belong to Baby Boomers and Builders would not need to. This takes time that I wish I didn't have to use, but hey, at least I'm making the effort, unlike some younger folk from Y and Z who believe that trying to use their mother tongue correctly is corny and uncool.

It makes me very sad. We now see Baby Boomer teachers retiring leaving clueless Gen X counterparts (who don't have much idea) to teach even more clueless Gens Y, Z and Alpha (who have even less of an idea and don't want to know, thanks very much). Is this a case of the blind leading the blind? Where is it all going to end?

I want to finish with this hilarious letter which proves just what a huge difference seemingly tiny grammar changes can make.

Version 1
Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy-will you let me be yours?


Version 2
Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?


PS - I've been making generalizations throughout this post and apologize if I offend any individual who none of this applies to.


  1. Great blog to read.
    I agree completely.
    I hate it when people from my generation (Y) cannot spell or offer correct grammar.
    Drives me crazy to read. lol i am gd lol u lol
    Since when has that become a proper speech pattern?
    When I read comments or messages like that on facebook, I have to stop and attempt to translate it into English.

  2. I didn't learn much grammar in school during the 70s and 80s either Paula. I get a really good email newsletter Daily Writing Tips and I've downloaded their free E-book on basic English grammar which helps. My daughter and I talked a lot about what forms of English and grammar were suitable for what environments and circumstances - written and verbal, and I think she got the message. She speaks well to customers and workmates in the workplace and I happened to see a formal letter she wrote to her boss (helped her with spelling and capitalisation) which was quite good and she got a promotion from it so don't despair too much about your own children, they will pick up your good habits!!!
    Kylie :-)

  3. but her Facebook and texting is atrocious :-)

  4. I like Kylie's comment and agree with her and her daughter. There's a place to use correct grammar and english. Reading bad grammar in a book really irritates me, but I'm happy to get the abbreviations in texts and Facebook. I don't like getting business communication with bad grammar either. Great post, Paula. I'm glad I found your blog. At last!

  5. I have been having this conversation today with people. It is sad how our language is deteriorating through the shortened version used by texters and FBers.
    A few years back, my daughter's teacher corrected her spelling with more incorrect spelling. Couldn't believe it!

  6. such a good post... my 10 year can spell better than me! I must have gone thru school in the spelling isn't important era... one day we might get curriculum right... or perhaps Jesus will return first... hmmm

  7. Thanks ladies. Your comments made me smile. And Laura, I'm glad you've discovered my blog too. Hope you'll enjoy it, as I do yours.

  8. You really made me think. I'm reasonably sure I had grammar. In fact, I remember hating diagramming sentences in seventh grade.

    I've come to rely on Marina for editing my work. She's read through "Elements of Style" three times and in spite of what she says, she is an excellent writer. In our area, I would blame the lack of grammar skills on the high stakes testing environment and the fear of teaching kids because they might feel inferior. I don't know how else to put it. All I know is that one of my homeschooling friends, from when Marina was five or six, told horrifying stories about her son's school. They insisted he couldn't bring his own books to school to read during free time because it might make the other students feel bad. Needless to say, she started homeschooling because she got tired of checking his backpack for books before he got on the school bus.

    Scary, isn't it.

    Peace and Laughter,

  9. Well, I guess I shouldn't say LOL then :)) (I am only joking)

    I think the thing is that in this day and age people are texting and replying to so many blogs, facebook twitter etc etc that having a short way to communicate is an absolute time saver. Not only that but twitter limits you to 140 characters anyway so I often shorten my text so I can fit in what I want to say. Among my writer friends we all do this. Yet all of us have a great command of english. We write and many of us are published. I wonder if this is like most new things that take off and are seen as in someone breaking down society or our language? Eventually most new fads either die out or they are embraced and no one can remember what the fuss was about :))

  10. Good point, Tabitha. Perhaps terms like LOL and ROFL will be totally outdated and lame in the opinions of our grandchildren.

  11. Even after being taught grammar at home, some of my children have chosen not to embrace it since they prefer slang. It has been a source of irritation and conflict, but I think at least one child has been faced with needing to edit her first novel (98,000 words) and now sees a need for better grammar in the first draft. :)

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