There are two main things that the Internet is good at. Letting people meet other people who share interests/weirdnesses, and creating arguments. Continue reading
So, there was originally going to be a different post here. But then there was a thing on the Internet.
So I figured I’d at least attempt to chip in. It got me excited enough to have a crack.
Let me start this going back a little way. From my posts before, and for those of you who know me IRL, you’ve probably figured that I’m a pretty descriptive grammarian. My basic philosophy is that there are certain situations where Standard English is the best choice (writing essays … though I’ll get onto the topic of plain English some other time.) This is not because it is “more correct” than other forms. It’s mostly because, when you use Standard English, it feels more respectful – it’s like you’re taking the topic more seriously (not arguing that you can’t talk about serious topics in non-Standard English; that would be silly. Just saying it’s a register thing). It’s also what second-language speakers are most likely taught in, so it makes it a little easier there as well.
A little while ago, there was a huge furor over the dictionary definition of “literally”.
You know of what I speak.
I heard arguments that it was going to diminish the language by making it less “specific” and whole diatribes about how language tends towards overstatement and sensationalism nowadays.
Well, now I guess I have the ammo against that. It’s very difficult to argue that curtailing a sentence or explanation to “because NOUN” is sensationalist. All the articles I’ve read about it conclude that it’s laconic, ironic, and open to wider interpretation. So, basically the exact opposite of sensationalist.
The ‘less specific’ thing … now that one we might need to examine a little further. The example given in the Daily Dot article is “the student hijacked the website because Guy Fawkes”. This is explained to mean that the student is a member of the Internet group Anonymous, and the reader is expected to make the jumps through the logic that connects Guy Fawkes to Anonymous. This would certainly imply that this usage makes things less specific.
However. I’m not really a fan of how the Daily Dot article explains this new ‘because’ preposition. I, though I might be lacking some experience here, have never seen, heard, or read it used like this. Usually, the logical connections are very short, one-leap type things: “I failed the test because YouTube” is about as complicated as it gets. The missing link there is failed the text –> because I didn’t study —> Because I was watching YouTube videos.
There’s also a section where the Daily Dot uses headings for some examples: “Intense, yet inarticulate feelings on a subject, because Tumblr” the second involves a similar “because Reddit” construction.
These usages just rub me the wrong way. The author is literally saying that Tumblr is the cause of people expressing intense, yet inarticulate feelings on a given subject. That is a perfectly legitimate thing to say (“All the feels, because Tumblr”, for instance), but it doesn’t fit the context. The preposition they want is “from”. “From Tumblr.”
So … I’m not really sure I agree with that above example. And I don’t think that this construction makes the language less specific. After all, I’d be willing to bet you all knew exactly what I meant when I said above that “I failed the test because YouTube”, and “All the feels, because Tumblr”. I’d be willing to bet that very few of you have come across one of these constructions and legitimately not understood what it meant (barring external circumstances like language barriers, typos and general Internet inarticulacy).
This, I think, must be a very specific form of speech, because, as other articles state, it comes from irony and sarcasm, and there is no room for unintentional ambiguity in those forms of humour. The Atlantic’s article states that a possible origin is the “Because shut up” and “Because fuck you, that’s why” constructions where an insult replaces an actual explanation because the speaker either does not have a good answer or does not want to give that answer to the person who asked the question. From there, it’s easy to see the jump to “I have hair all over my clothes because cat” – it’s a humorous comment on the situation, intended to ascribe the problem represented in the main clause to a trait universally common to the noun in the second clause. In that case, all cats shed. In the case of the exam and YouTube above, YouTube is always a time-sink. There may even be an intermediary step there of the “because no” phrase.
“I didn’t do my homework today because no”
“I hate coffee because no.”
You get the idea.
So what do I think of this new trend of Internet language? Basically the same thing I thought about adding the figurative meaning of ‘literally’ to the dictionary, or the new meaning of ‘slash’. Language evolves. On the Internet, this goes double or triple. It’s not going to ruin the language, anymore than those young whippersnappers in Ancient Greece ruined Greek, or the disrespectful youth in the 1800s ruined English then. If we find that specificity is a problem, if we fail to understand one another using certain constructions, they won’t catch on. If they catch on and problems occur later? Then we’ll come up with workarounds. Because that’s what language does.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to geek out over stuff like this. Because dork.
So, confession time. I say I’ve been learning Irish for a fair while now. I say this.
What I generally really mean is that I’ve been watching things in Irish with subtitles, or I’ve been making my way (at a glacial pace) through Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Irish, comparison reading with the English copy.
Fun fact: The title in Irish is “Harry Potter agus an Órchloch”, which tells me that either the Irish actually have a single word for “Philosopher’s Stone” (not unlikely), or that the title doesn’t mean what I think it means (downright probable).
But back to the point. This brand of learning a new language is one I find works quite well for me. I don’t learn very well with flashcards. It’s just not how I like to do things.
What this means, in the end, is that while I have an OK grasp of the very basic grammar (I can tell things like Irish is an adjective-final language, and that I will never understand their prepositions), and some vocab that normal people don’t really need to put into sentences in order to get by in Irish. What I don’t know how to do is hold a basic conversation with a normal human being.
I’ve attempted to learn languages before (high school French and Mandarin Chinese, primary school Italian, plus some other hare-brained language schemes), so I know the basics of where you begin with a language. Conjugate the verb ‘to be’, learn to say hi and introduce yourself (and then be forced to do so to the person “next to you”, who is usually someone you’ve chosen because you already know them, rendering the exercise both socially unnecessary and socially awkward). Standard stuff.
Having been to two lessons in Irish by now, I’ve realised something else.
The only thing I know how to do in this language is be awkward.
The conversation I know reads like one of those intensely awkward cocktail party conversations, where perhaps you knew someone who was far better at this “peopling” lark than you. Thinking that she’s doing you a favour, she introduces you to someone else she knows, who is probably similarly awkward, in the two-birds-one-stone of social altruism. She then leaves to go talk to someone else, leaving you alone with the other person, and the conversation goes something like this.
“I’m [name],” you say, realising that this is information they already know, and cursing yourself for your idiocy.
“I’m [name],” they reply, possibly because they’re humouring you, and possibly because they’re glad you said anything at all.
“How are you?” That seems a simple enough question.
“I’m fine. And you?”
And then, sensing that this conversation is spiralling downwards rapidly, you use the most vague and multipurpose I’m-going-over-there-now phrase you know.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I can do all of that in Irish now. Probably for exactly those reasons, and in exactly that same tone of voice.
That, or I can shout random words (“OWLS!”) at people.
I have successfully mastered the basics of social suicide in another language.