"Is textspeak killing English?" asks William Morris-inspired artist

By William Axtell | 08 July 2015

Artist Adam Hogarth evokes William Morris and asks whether modern textspeak is damaging the English language

A picture of a floral art exhibit
One of the floral tributes in the tearoom© Adam Hogarth (2015)
An artwork spelling “FAKE LULZ” and a clever reduction of William Morris’s poetic quote “Give me love and work – these two only” to “GIVE ME LUV N WORK” are not what one might expect to encounter at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

But the two large floral tributes in the William Morris Gallery’s Tea Rooms are part of an exhibition called Language Cannot Be Dead, which is the creation of artist Adam Hogarth.

Taking words and phrases found in textspeak and on the internet, Hogarth has transformed them into series of artworks using William Morris’s own wallpaper and textile designs as backgrounds.

“I use William Morris as a point of reference because of his belief in preserving and protecting traditional craft techniques,” says Hogarth.

“I believe that his attitude towards the preservation of a creative legacy can be applied to language within the modern age.”

Hogath's ironic memorials support his belief that English is a dying language.

A photograph of an artwork
One of the etchings from the exhibition© Adam Hogarth (2015)
The exhibition is particularly topical as the new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the effective guardian of the English language in Britain, contains the slang words “meh” and “twerk”.

Some might argue Hogarth's concerns are unnecessary. They might point out language is a constantly evolving tool of expression, adapting to the needs of the time, and trying to hold back change is pointless.

Literary greats such as Shakespeare and Milton invented words to suit their purpose and, from a certain perspective, English has been in decay since the time of Beowulf's inflected Old English.

Yet Hogarth’s argument is less about general linguistic change than the increased abbreviation of language forced on us by phone tariffs and Twitter character limits.

“The exhibition explores my concern that the condensing of language online is reducing the potential for expression,” adds Hogarth. “The works invite the viewer to consider what we might be losing as the English language becomes ever more abbreviated.”

  • Language cannot be dead is at the William Morris Gallery until August 30 2015. Admission free.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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