A while back I mentioned that it is very hard to communicate tone in writing. Tabetha and I have started using smileys and other demi-words to communicate some tones, but sometimes talking in person is the only way to go.
Then, today, Tabetha mentioned that when you call something “junk” you don’t need any tone markers. If you call it stuff, products, or items, then you may also need/want to communicate your attitude toward that stuff. If you call it “junk” though, you have said it all in one word.
Then it hit me. That is what is missing from contemporary* English!
We used to have a huge vocabulary with many words that had very similar meanings, but they each carried a different shade of meaning. As we “simplified” our vocabulary we became more and more reliant on tone to carry the meaning that had previously been carried by a careful choice of words.
Tone makes a decent substitute in spoken English, but lack of tone in written English can be disastrous. And, even though tone makes a decent substitute in speech, it still falls short for people who are tone deaf. ** Although, I am not sure that these same people would be able to distinguish between different shades of meaning anyway.
What do you think? Should we try to save the millions of English words that are skidding on the brink of extinction? Or maybe… should we create a whole new vocabulary where all the words are spelled correctly?
* For those unfamiliar with the post-modern dilemma: The early-to-mid 1900′s were so frequently referred to in print as the modern age, that when those things that were called modern became quite out-of-date, we had to invent a new term to describe fashion, philosophy, art, literature, architecture, and everything else that came after what we had named modern. These “new” things were frequently called post-modern, but now we are about to move even beyond post-modern.
So from the beginning of the post-modern age until now we have used the word contemporary to describe those things that are current at the time of writing, while being careful not to let it suffer the same fate as “modern”.
** Yes, this is a non-standard use of the phrase tone deaf, but hopefully this communicates the idea adequately if also a bit whimsically.