Save Our Language - A Campaign

Chingkheinganba Thangjam *


Hgifdy vd hgugdgd vch :(
Fhvdh cgfj bfhb vf! :)
Gfh jgid jvufbk hgfhvc :p

I don't know about you but I can understand that gibberish quite well. The first one is a sad statement while the second is possibly something expressing achievement with happiness. The third is definitely playful.

These days, I notice, people don't read whole sentences anymore. It is as though their brains simply direct their eyes to the end of a sentence and they expect to find a nice quick summary in the form of an emoticon to which they can express a relevant emotion.

The other day, I was talking to a person using a popular chat program - popular because it has tons of smileys and emoticons. The conversation started off like this:

Chat partner: hey! wassup? :) :p
Me: Oh, not too bad. How are you doing?
Chat partner: wat??? wat happen? Why bad?!! :(

I wondered out loud, "What did I say? Why is she thinking I'm sad?" Then, realisation dawned and I fixed my chat message like so:

Me: Oh, I meant not bad. :D

Now she understood it.

Chat partner: Ohhhhh! I thot u r sick! Lolz :p

Did you notice the emoticon that cleared the whole atmosphere up and had a life altering effect on both participants? Of course, you did. If you are using a computing device to read this article right now, I'll take it for granted that you noticed it. And believe it or not, I smiled too when I typed ':D'. No, wait! I grinned and subconsciously tried to make a face to mimic that emoticon.

The history of emoticons dates back to the 1850's when the number 73 was used to represent the phrase 'love and kisses' in Morse Code. It went through several stages of development until, in 1963, an artist named Harvey Ball created the 'smiley face' as we know it today. The first documented person to use ':-)' and ':-(' was, however, Scot Fahlman who, on September 19, 1982, sent out a proposal to adopt these keyboard character combinations to express joy or sadness while communicating over the Internet using instant messages and emails - and there's been no looking back. (Source:

Just like language, emoticons have evolved into an almost full-fledged method of communication and they have not only conquered the SMS, IM, social networking and casual email world, they have now found their way into official and professional correspondence too. This worries me.

Language is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It is an artistic tool. It is a carrier of human emotions, thoughts and ideologies. It is a medium through which collective human knowledge is transmitted and received. Nothing, in my opinion, is more precious than the gift of language, written or spoken. From the first grunts and growls of our cave dwelling ancestors to today's finely articulated combinations of hundreds and thousands of sounds, from the first stick and twig shaped characters on cave walls to today's beautifully crafted letters and words on paper, fabric and computer screens, human language has come a very long way. It is now an intricately designed system. It is a legacy - a priceless gift, a heirloom handed down through thousands of generations.

For me it's a very emotional matter - even personal. I still remember how my parents taught me how to say my first few words. I recall how I tried so very hard to manipulate my baby mouth and vocal muscles to form those bi-syllable words - my first words: 'Mama' and 'Papa'. Funny words indeed if you look at them but with such great significance. They represent the two human individuals who created me, who ushered me into this world, who showed me life and who taught me - language. Nothing gives me more joy than the feeling of my lips touching each other twice in rapid succession to form those lovely words and the vibration created by the sound still rocks my heart and soul. If I had a means to look at the sound waves travelling through the air, I'm sure they would look like two heart-shaped clouds following each other. I can't even imagine the joy my parents must have felt when they heard me call them 'Mama' and 'Papa' for the first time. I must have made them cry. Such is the power of language.

We were sent to school to learn the necessary skills and receive the required knowledge to participate in life. The transfer of that knowledge and set of skills happened through language. Language was the medium of instruction - not gestures, not visual or physical stimuli and not telepathy, religious chants or magic. There we were taught not only new words and how to pronounce them but to put them together to create and convey meaningful streams of thought. We might not have realise then that we were being given a gift. When I look back now, I realise it was a juvenile romantic relationship that I had with language. It intrigued me, I found it mystifying, inspiring, overwhelming and highly attractive. I didn't know why then but today I know I fell in love with it and I still and will always love it because it's all I have.

Language has made international relationships between countries and peoples possible. Western philosophy is today studied and understood with nothing lost in translation. Eastern philosophy, similarly, is examined, studied and admired by the West today. Fair business is now made possible because we have common languages to interact through. Scientific knowledge and expertise is, at this very moment, being exchanged between individuals, groups and countries using language.

Foreign as it may be, today, I've written a full-length article to express my love for true language in English. Does it bother me that I did not write this in my native language? No, it doesn't. Language is language. It will always be beautiful. It will always be meaningful.

In this entire article, did I ever need a single emoticon to express myself or to enhance and enrich the meaning of my sentences? No, I did not, except in the example when I needed to use ':D'.

Would I want emoticons to replace expressions, phrases, words and feelings? Would I allow them to diminish the grandeur of human language? No, definitely not. I would fight very fiercely to ensure that never happens! I'm not stupid to flush the gift my ancestors and parents gave me down the drain.

* Chingkheinganba Thangjam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at chingkheinganba(dot)thangjam(at)gmail(dot)com or his blog at
This article was posted on April 08, 2013

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