Sentences long and short

Many, if not most, people write articles and books using a computer. This technological innovation seems to have led to a more frequent use of longer sentences, and longer books. Perhaps this is the case only in academe where some people engage in a game that can be summarized as: I can use bigger words and string up longer sentences than you.

This phenomenon is understandable, or at least explicable. It is much easier to edit and re-write on a computer than writing by hand or using a typewriter. An author has numerous opportunities to think and to improve the text. And it is possible to construct terribly clever, but complicated and almost indigestible, prose. If you think that the world is on a one-way street of decline and degradation to perdition, you can claim with some justification that this new technology has not given us great literature, but The Da Vinci Code.

Yet, this state of affairs may change. The increased use of Twitter (twitterization or twittification?) and social networking sites, where brevity and informality are important, as well as the extensive use of mobile phones and other devices with small screen resolutions may mean that people are going to write and prefer to read shorter sentences in the future.

It is arguable that this had already begun with widespread use of text messages. However there is a huge difference: text messages are mostly a person-to-person, individual means of communication, whereas Twitter and social networks are partially or wholly public.

I believe in a constant evolution of language, and this phenomenon is just another in a long line of changes. Naturally this doesn’t mean you or I have to welcome it as something desirable.

Wrote using my mobile phone.