You know, there are some days when I sit down to write this column and have to spend about ten minutes beating down the impulse of “but it would be so much easier to just write a poem and be done with it.” I mean, a free-form poem — while not technically being something that’s usually published in a newspaper — can still be arranged in the form of a column, right? 

Of course, it would probably come off as unintelligible and too personal to publish. Hence the beating down of this particular impulse. 

It’s funny that I have to stop myself from doing it, but there is a reason I write these columns in a politely informal way and not in the style, of, say, Jack Kerouac. Language in itself is complex, but the way we’ve developed specialized forms and variations that only apply in certain circumstances is really another level of convoluted. 

Different tones and levels of formality make sense when you consider that the entire point of language is communication, and we as a species are at the point where we use it to discuss things more along the lines of the nature of the universe and the innermost philosophies of our minds than, say, which of those brightly colored fruits is tasty and which one is poisonous. Of course, this is the same language we use to say “look at this cute cat doing cute things,” so it’s kind of necessary that we develop a way to say “this is miraculous and important” that can carry a set of connotations entirely separate from “omg THIS!! XD XD.” 

In a way, and code-switching between formal academic and intimate casual language does take up less space than saying “I am expressing interest in a professional way” instead of “I am expressing interest in a personal way.” It also makes us sound less like Vulcans. So formal expressions and grammar definitely have their benefits. 

Of course, having what amounts to different dialects has its drawbacks as well. The most glaringly obvious is that any language must be taught. When it comes to slang, or things like “lolspeak,” we often forget that it can take just as much skill to communicate in emoji as in pretension. The difference is often masked in a lack of exposure—spending enough time on Twitter is often sufficient to endorse understanding, where the excessively formal and formulaic prose of “educated” writing is kept closely guarded in advanced classes behind stuffy and incomprehensible terms. 

You could argue that certain kinds of professional writing remain less commonly known because there’s less of a call for them, or less interest. Of course, you could argue right back (and I choose to) that people aren’t interested because they don’t understand — because any kind of “formal” language is made deliberately confusing. 

I could have written on this exact topic as a freeform with convoluted metaphors and space for interpretation, but I think at the end of it, the only one who would understand exactly what I meant to say would be me, if only because of the nature of the medium. So I’ll try to say it clearly, instead. 

A haiku, to prove my point: 

Language is cool, but 

dialect elitism

is just annoying.

— Nina Collay is a student at Thornton Academy, Class of 2017, who can frequently be found listening to music, reading, wrestling with a heavy cello case, or poking at the keyboard of an uncooperative laptop.


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