MLA convention wary of Internet's influence
Web posted on: Tuesday, December 29, 1998 2:55:10 PM
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The Modern Language Association's 114th annual convention, a state-of-language gathering and job fair attended by an estimated 11,000 people involved in the study or teaching of languages and literature, has long been known for proclamations that skip from the pulse of lexicon to sometimes outlandish extremes.
This year, the Internet sits in the hot seat.
In one scheduled discussion, participants consider how English and the way it is communicated is jeopardized by the growing popularity of the Internet and e-mail.
In another discussion that is spilling over into corridors and cafes of the city by the bay, those suffering through the dearth in the language graduate job market have begun pointing the finger of blame at technology.
'Less polite and more rude'
Anyone who communicates via e-mail knows the cyber-lingo associated with it -- an Orwellian blend of techno-speak and traditional language, such as snail mail, browse, multi-task, or log in. Researchers say that subtle changes are being seen in the English language, thanks to this flowing Internet jargon.
Along with cyber-lingo, University of Texas researcher Susan Herring says the faceless Internet also brings out the worst in the way we communicate. Citing the e-mail records of a group of scientists, she says etiquette is one of the first things to fall in cyberspace.
"(We) found a decrease in politeness over time," Herring says. "So after 11 years, these people were less polite and more rude to one another."
Researcher Kenneth River of Lamar University worries that the English language dominance of the Internet threatens the world's other languages and cultures.
"And if American English really does make itself 100 percent dominant, what that will mean is young people in other countries will not see any value to their own language," he says.
'A needle in a haystack'
Meanwhile, the now traditional debate on the state -- or lack thereof -- of the job market for language Ph.D.s continues. Since the 1970s, U.S. universities have been turning out more language and literature doctorates than there are teaching jobs for them.
While the MLA convention offers a Job Information Center and facilities for employment candidates and department administrators, some say the search for a a job is a fruitless one.
"For French candidates, it's basically like finding a needle in a haystack," says Renee Severin, who is employed as a French teacher.
Now, academicians are worrying that technology may even further shrink the liberal arts job market.
"You know, some people say they're going to replace the traditional teacher and we're going to have these electronic classrooms, and students can just get in via the internet," says English teacher Peter Naccarato. "Who needs the teacher anymore?"
Some of the titles for other forums at the convention include: "Feminism and the Changing Face of Shakespeare and Early Modern Studies," and "Historicizing Cognition: Literature and the Cognitive Revolution."
Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report.
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