In this post, I will raise two issues of grave concern, issues that have implications for our daily lives and our common future. I call them, Stressing the ‘I’, and The Space at the Start.
There was a recent xkcd about the problem of how to end a parenthetical statement with an emoticon in an IM. Poor Randall is clearly a beginner at the game, else he’d have known that the solution is, of course, to use square brackets.
But there are at least two other problems, at least with my favoured IM client Gtalk, which require the immediate attention of linguists and software developers.
1. Stressing the ‘I’
How do you stress ‘I’ (the first person singular pronoun, not the letter) in an IM? The usual convention, which is to use uppercase letters, does not get us anywhere because the ‘I’ is anyway uppercase. You might think that people who otherwise don’t capitalize the ‘I’ (and commit all manner of other punctuation heresies) in IMs can still use an uppercase I for emphasis. But in practice – and I speak after careful study and empirical analysis – the average reader is so primed to seeing the uppercase I that the attempted emphasis passes unnoticed.
If I want to emphasize acronyms, I usually put them in italics. As in, “Your CGPA is more important than our relationship?” Not that I have ever said that to anyone. But even italicization does not work with the ‘I’ because in Arial, the Gtalk default font, the italicized uppercase I, italicized lowercase L and forward slash all look pretty much the same.
I l /
2. The Space at the Start
It is possible to envisage a number of circumstances where it’s imperative to insert a space at the start of a line. The following (actual) conversation is an example. I was trying to give Darshana directions to my place.
Darshana: Thought of half a million witty things to say to this, but hafta settle for...heh, what?
me: i was trying to draw you a map. vertical line being eastbound main road, circle being pond, horizontal line being my street. it failed for two reasons
me: a) i failed to compensate for the rightward shift in the first line caused by my name appearing on the chat window
Darshana: and b) I'm an imbecile.
me: no. b) i did not know that gtalk does not recognise spaces at the beginning of a line
i will now prove to you i am not in fact an imbecile by circumventing these seemingly insurmountable problems
Darshana: *resigns herself*
(several attempts later)
ignore the full stops, and there you have it!
Darshana: *wild applause and wolf whistles*
Folks (here I address the linguists and software programmers): set aside the trivial stuff that usually occupies you. Just for once, open your eyes to things more important than discovering Universal Grammar and solving the P=NP problem,* and address some problems that really matter. The world needs you.
* Hat tip to Tommy for giving me that example.