Sunday, 10 June 2012
The tutti-frutti loins of Skeletor. On rhetoric, language and the digital landscape
Many, many moons ago when I first decided to take up the virtual pen I decided to blog about my first love - language. Linguistics is and will always be interesting because it is an extension of our identity. All emotions have a tone, every region a lilt, every single syllable indicates education, background, temperament and age. Being shot in the face with that much information just transports me to nerd heaven. The argument that followed was if language is going to be part of your identity you might as well have fun with it - break rules, be inappropriate and talk incongruously about the tutti-frutti loins of Skeletor. Convention is for conservatives and the aged. My frutti-loins are for everyone else. My initial endeavor didn't cover one aspect of the language landscape - we are changing the way we communicate. Since leaving London I have migrated onto Skype as much as possible simply because I find Facebook chat such an abysmal way to relate to other human beings. It's not so much conversation as it is reducing the rich tapestry of my soul to binary code then asking a data analyst to explain it using pie-charts. Telling jokes on messenger feels like self harming at the farmers market for the amount it amuses people. I am now fairly certain Facebook chat has lost me friends. As far as social media goes, that's pretty fucked up. If you are going to commit violent linguaphilia you should probably learn from the best: I personally recommend Cicero. The Roman PR maestro had 3 elements for a good speech: logos, pathos and ethos. Logos (logic) is the basic need for language to make sense. This is important but most communication isn't just about transferring information. We need to give information meaning, depth and personality. If language is part of a person then personality is an essential part of language. This includes all their gripes, needs, emotions and wobbly bits. Strip out the personality in language and we're just left with dead symbols - this invokes the vacant eyed take-me-on-a-cyanide-binge conversations that are getting fast becoming the norm on this text-based, no-frills, Tesco-value online conversation culture. That's where the rhetoric of ethos (character) and pathos (emotion) come in. When we talk to people, in the usual oral tradition, we express ourselves (our ethos) and try to make people laugh or empathise with us (our pathos). It's so natural it's only ever noticeable by its absence. Those conversations we loathe with THAT weird guy probably just lack ethos and pathos. If it feels like you’re talking to a walking excel spreadsheet he's probably just a pathophobe. He may also be a Quantum Leap fan. Or find Katie Melua moving. Maybe all three. Humans tend to do well at loving other humans. Similarly language must have human characteristics for us to love. Language needs humanity as much as humanity needs language. Without it we become as sterile as the black mirrors we type on. As social learning is little more than visual theft therefore the habits of the cybernetic age are beginning to dilute our pleasure of language. Whether it be t3xting, 3/\/\/-\1l or ROFL @ FB convo's - in the cybernetic landscape convenience is king. I may be a language libertarian but my frutti-loins still have standards. It’s just a little hard to see the logos sometimes. I’ve come a long way in three years but the message remains the same - value the pleasure and beauty of language. With one added sci-fi proviso: Don’t let the machines take your humanity.