November 27, 2008

A solution for two crises...

First, there is the financial crisis. Money, that wondrous grease that lubricates our economy, has stopped flowing and our massive global economic engine is grinding to a halt. With so much uncertainty (just how bad will it get?), everybody wants to hang on to their money - which only makes things worse which only makes people want to hang on to their money even more which only makes things... Well, you get the idea.

Dubious measures are being taken with dubious effect, and dubious plans are being made for new dubious measures. Flood the market with cash to ease restrictions on credit? Well, credit is what got us into trouble in the first place. Increase the cash supply through government infrastructure spending and go into a deficit situation (and/or increase the national debt)? Focus more on free trade efforts? Nationalize failing banks? Give government bailouts to anyone who wants one?

Does anyone really know how to get the money flowing again?

I might.

But first, a little about that other crisis: Generation Txt. Generation Txt is a name I invented (and, after doing a quick Google search, have realised that a lot of other people invented it before me) to describe the current crop of youngsters who have grown up with spell-check and instant messaging on typing pads, have never learned how to write in cursive, and who disobey even the most basic rules of grammar and spelling. Their efforts at written communication can only be described as a form of inconsistent emotive shorthand.

What will happen when Generation Txt hits the workplace? I'm already envisioning the day when I get a letter from the property assessment folks that reads, "urr lan taxs r gon2 go up^. LOLLLL!!!!!!!!! cu l8r ttfnk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! tnx :$&!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!".

When Generation Txt hits the workplace, the quality and clarity of communication within the workplace, between organizations, and with customers will be disastrous. The generational gap between those who write the "Queen's English" and those who write in LOL-speak is widening by the day.

Is it because of Roman orthography?  Roman orthography is confusing because individual letters can have multiple phonetic sounds, as can the wide variety of letter combinations. There are no hard and fast rules; there are many exceptions and variations. Let's face it though, the English language is messed up! Write? Right? To? Too? Two?Through? Though? Tough? Moose? Mousse? Mouse? With a language so inconsistent, with so many strange and obscure spellings and rules and exceptions, how can the average person really be expected to learn it all and get it right? Maybe there's a reason why illiteracy rates are as high as they are.

Roman orthography is also inefficient (and the instant messaging generation is all about efficiency).  It takes a lot of letters to make even simple sounds and the letters are complex in shape and structure. How much more efficient could we become as a Roman-orthographic-using society if we had a faster way to write?

Reading and writing the English language is frustrating! I pity those who have to struggle with learning it as a second language - and it is, supposedly, the language of international business!

Which brings me to my proposed solution to both crises...

My inspiration came last night, while I was looking through a book that I had picked up at a garage sale a couple of summers ago on Pitman shorthand. I purchased the book because I often need to take written notes when I'm conducting interviews and just can't write quickly enough to keep up to a speaker. As a result, I lug around a laptop because I can type faster than I can write by hand. I don't know why I picked up the book last night. I'd never been able to get to it before but, as I was reading it, something clicked. Here was an efficient, easy way to write.

Pitman shorthand was (and still is) used for dictation; an efficient way to write the speaker's words verbatim, using a series of quick and efficient lines, dots and circles. Except for a few common words that have special symbols, Pitman shorthand is a phonetic system. The way it's said is the way it's written. Other than typographical errors, there is no right or wrong way spell a word.

Phonetic writing systems are not unheard of.  I have long admired the Inuktitut syllabic system. A writing system based on phonetic sounds is both logical and efficient. While the Inuktitut syllabic system was introduced without the legacy of a written standard to overcome (as far as I know), I can't understand why languages that use Roman orthography can't use a phonetic system, too.

Written language reform is not unheard of. As recently as 1996, German-speaking countries adopted reforms for a new German written standard. We could do the same in English-speaking countries, but by eliminating Roman orthography in favour of a syllabic-phonetic shorthand system - which leads to my solution for the economic crisis.

The best way to get people to spend their money is to make them need to spend their money. Remember the Y2K "crisis"? Everyone "needed" to modify their systems and it was good for the economy. Likewise, If every Roman orthographic-using nation in the world adopted a phonetic shorthand standard, everyone would need to adapt. The economic effect would be huge.

Educators and teachers would need to learn the system and, in turn, teach everyone else the new "alphabet". While this may seem impossible, it's not. The transition period would be tough for some, but the phonetic-syllabic system is both simple and logical and is, therefore, easy to learn. A new industry geared towards educating adults on the system would arise.

Software would need to be adapted. Keyboards would need to be redesigned. Books and brochures and websites and other reading material would need to be "translated", which would spur books sales and see the rise of a new "translation" industry. (Writers could write with a British, Texan or other accent, if they so chose. Wouldn't that make novels more interesting and engaging?) Packages would need to be redesigned.  The spin-off benefits would be huge.

It would be a massive multi-national initiative with massive, positive, economic impacts. It would certainly get the money flowing again and, in the end, we would have a more efficient, logical writing system that uses less paper, takes less time to write, and is easier to learn.

So, come on, governments of the world!  Change our alphabet and save the global economy!  I know this idea might be crazy, but it's no crazier than a lot of the other stuff that's being done to save the global economy...


Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

Very interesting theory!

The txt speak is driving me insane. Yes, I know, I can't write cursive and my spelling is horrible, but I am not of the txt generation. I don't even own a cell phone yet!! What is crazy is my mother in law who is in her 50's insists on using it in every email that she sends to us. I have told her I will stop replying if she doesn't use full words or sentences! I am such a meanie.

So, on another note. I read in a magazine that you were going to use the name Laird for your next kid. Does that mean you have to have another one now?

Meandering Michael said...

I still haven't seen that magazine! Yes, Liard is on reserve for the next one. We still managed to get a northern place name in there, though. You've seen the Rose River along the South Canol...

Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

I camped on the Rose River! Beautiful.

I can bring in the magazine when we are in town next for you. I still have it!

Plus I am hoping that my prize for guessing the info on your new girl is a nice new vehicle...

Meandering Michael said...

I'd love to see the mag, yeah!

A shiny new vehicle as you prize? I'll see what I can do...

Anonymous said...

Not to mention Cyrillic. Diana still occasionally gets confused about when to use 's' and 'c'.


1234567890 said...

Well, I'll be a bit of a devil's advocate here and say that while our generation aches and moans over the loss of proper English, "generation txt" are getting along just fine in their lives and will surely change the world.

I mean, the guy who wrote this would probably think little of present-day writing:

We, as a people, are becoming idle, living in luxury and ease, and in the gratification of artificial wants. Some indulge in the use of food rendered unwholesome by bad cookery, and think more of gratifying a morbid appetite than of supplying the body with proper nourishment. Others devote unnecessary attention to the display of dress and a genteel figure, yielding themselves completely to the sway of fashion. Such intemperance in diet and dress manifests itself in the general appearance of the unfortunate transgressor, and exposes his folly to the world, with little less precision than certain vices signify their presence by a tobacco-tainted breath, beer-bloated body, rum-emblazoned nose, and kindred manifestations. They coddle themselves instead of practicing self-denial, and appear to think that the chief end of life is gratification, rather than useful endeavor.

Meandering Michael said...

Uncle Al, nice to see you commenting again! It's been a while!

Anthony, I was hoping for someone to play devil's advocate! I believe you're right about Generation Txt. My suggestion to move to a phonetic-syllabic system is to help the poor "old folks" who can't make any sense of lol-speak. Without some form of assistance, I think there are going to be some serious (and humorous) generational clashes in the next ten years.

Whose quote is that, by the way?

Anonymous said...

Don't want to confuse you further Michael, but I wonder if you know of Esperanto?

An interesting video can be seen at or

Meandering Michael said...

Thanks, Brian. I HAVE heard of Esperanto (and Chinook if you want to get into another cross-cultural language). However, I think that alphabet reform is an easier sell than language reform (especially in Canada where there are concerns about the loss of the French and aboriginal languages), but you've got me thinking...

Meandering Michael said...

Oh, and I changed the quote at the bottom of my page to one in Esperanto. Who will be the first to figure it out?!

Anonymous said...

Neniam pisu en la venton.
Never pee into the wind.

Nice. Especially in light of Jade's newly-found potty skills.