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Cyber-Syntactic Ambiguity

Communication in any type of relationship is paramount.  As a matter of fact, it is the basis of the relationship itself, as the definition of a relationship is a communicated agreement between two or more parties or organizations stipulating how these entities will interact – loosely defined. Being that communication is this important, it’s fascinating that most of our communication today is done digitally. Interestingly, and in my opinion, the affects that it’s having on our young, and also society as a whole, is an astounding recourse in understanding and emotional connectedness.  Communicatively, people are now more disconnected than when we didn’t have all of these digital forms of communicating – because we had to actually speak to each other.

Many would argue that digital communication brings the world together, connects people from all walks of life, and expands business beyond shores to “worlds unknown”, globalizing and bringing together the people from all countries and opening the world of business and social interaction to new possibilities…you know, global expansion and all. I don’t refute that. But are we really bringing people from all walks of life together? Are we really communicating effectively? Can one really understand what I’m saying through simple text without context, punctuation or proper grammar?

I call it Cyber-Syntactic Ambiguity – the misinterpretation of a message stemming from the inability to observe emotion or expression through digital media and textual forms of communication, (my definition; possibly a misnomer, we’ll call it CSA for short).  I know that the definition is Syntactic Ambiguity is the misconstruction and possible misunderstanding of a sentence or a statement due to the ambiguous structure of the sentence, but don’t we see this happen in cyber communications all the time? Text messages and emails loosely written are very ambiguous and often misconstrued. A close friend of mine said he was going to “kill his brother for doing whatever he did”, of course he meant that very loosely, but he did get a visit from the authorities questioning him in regards to his statement because it was posted on a social media site. And that’s a drastic example, but it actually happened. What I’m saying is, if we cannot effectively and correctly interpret what one is saying through textual format, because of lack of emotional definition, sentence structure and grammar, are we really effectively communicating? Are we gaining understanding, and more importantly, are we learning to exist with appreciation and compassion for other cultures and people from different walks of life? It’s easy to sit behind your keyboard and type messages to people you know…and possibly are just getting to meet. But can they really read the emotion behind your words, or are you just the “entity” on the other side of the message?

Communication, in this form is being reduced to words and the random formation of sentences that may convey any concrete meaning, but no emotional stance, so this leaves the reader to try and interpret it themselves, often misconstruing the message and misunderstanding the actual meaning thereof. Add to that the gratuitous job of translating all of the acronyms that have come out of the textual and email communication: the LOLs for “Laughing out loud”, ROFL for “rolling on the floor laughing”, and OMGs for “Oh my God”, or the WYD for “What are you doing?” – a virtual culture of new language that was born out of texting and emailing – which further exacerbates the process of reading and comprehending the message when you need a virtual text message dictionary to translate what is being said. I try and urge my children to text to me in complete sentences, so that I can at least fully understand what they are saying in text message (their preferred form of communication), and have since found myself using some of those terms as well…namely LOL.

In my opinion, and in a lot of ways, these forms of communication are diminishing the English language…a sort of dumbing down if you will. As communication becomes more lenient, many aren’t even writing in complete sentences, using correct expressions or diction, and forgetting basic but integral language techniques such as proper spelling, grammar and proper punctuation. As an instructor, I’m also starting to notice these flaws sneak their ways into term papers and writing assignments where people are forgetting, or are not observing the different “knows and No’s” and “their, there, they’re”, the correct usage of commas and periods, etc. – totally abandoning the necessary rules of the English language.

Nevertheless, there are subcultures everywhere and in most areas in life. There is a proper way, and an improper (but useful) way – an orthodox and unorthodox way (for lack of a better way to term it…bear with me, sometimes I struggle with words). These subcultures in communication are necessary; there is so much validity in slang, as it lends “personality” to a somewhat dry English language. I’m sure you’d agree, compared to other languages, English is pretty boring. It relaxes communication and offers different perspectives and definitions, and expands the language far beyond the traditional usage, meanings and vernacular. However, in business and in educational settings, there is little place for this. There is the need for language to be concise, and the decorum should always be one of good diction, grammar and punctuation. After all, these are the fundamentals that must be withheld and not “lost in translation” or interpretation through lack of respect for the “Rules of Language”.

There always has to be some clarity in communication. Otherwise, are we reduced to mere mammals and Neanderthals, grunting and using subtext to speak to each other? That’s a bit drastic. lol – see there I go with it – but definitely something to think about.


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