Today we use an ever-shrinking pool of shorter, simpler words as image-based communication eats up word-based language. Not long from now, we’ll be grunting and sending each other extremely complicated emoticons. Lifeboat writes:
An ongoing “survival of the fittest” may lead to continuing expansion of image-based communications and the extinction of more than half the world’s languages by this century’s end. Not only is the world using fewer languages, but also fewer words. Consider the rich vocabulary and complex sentence constructions in extemporaneous arguments of politicians in earlier centuries against the slick, simplistic sound bites of contemporary times.
The cell phone has become a ubiquitous, all-purpose communications tool. However, its small keyboard and tiny screen limit the complexity, type, and length of written messages. Because no sane person wants to read streams of six-point font on a three-inch video screen, phones today are built with menus of images up to the presentation point of the messages themselves.
The inevitable proliferation and technological improvements of translating devices will mean more plainspeak, more monosyllabic words, and fewer polysyllabic words. As world commerce continues to expand and the need to communicate in several languages becomes a standard expectation, the emphasis will be on functionality — a few, useful words and durable phrases. Again, the universe of words seems destined to shrink.
The move from language to image is perhaps most apparent in advertisements, which increasingly emphasize sound and image to the exclusion of language. A winner of the 2010 CLIO award for the best commercial of the year was Volkswagen, whose commercial featured a series of rapid close-ups of a man and woman intimately dancing to rap music, followed in the last few seconds by a picture of a car and just two words: “Tough. Beautiful.”
The reverberations of the shift from words as the dominant mode of communication to image-based media are becoming apparent. As we click more and write less, the retreat of polysyllabic words, particularly words with complex or subtle meanings, seems inevitable. The rich vocabulary in books occurs in the exposition, not the dialogue. When a book is adapted for film, a video game, or a television series, the exposition is translated into images, so the more complex language never reaches the ears of the audience.
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