MG Communications

Language Translation, Interpretation, and Writing Services
Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota

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the demise of the capital letter

Posted by Mary on November 19, 2011 at 3:55 PM

I typed this entire blog without capital letters. However, my Microsoft word document automatically puts the upper case letters in. I had to consciously stay away from pressing the shift key, resisting the urge to automatically put that capital letter at the begining of each sentence. This is because I was raised and attended school before the texting days and was thoroughly taught about capital letter usage. I knew that all sentences must begin with a capital letter-- as well as names and places. This probably helps immensely for the present path I have taken as an editor and proofreader. But I have seen changes on the horizon, and truly fear for the younger generation and their capital letter usage.

Well, the world is probably not going to fall apart because people under 20 are deciding that capital letters are not important. In fact, I watched a frontline (should have a capital f !) special in which they discussed how technology was changing the world. The reporters talked about whether these changes were beneficial and what impact they would have on society. An interesting fact was that when the printed word replaced oral tradition, all sorts of things changed. No longer did a person have to remember long oral traditions and histories, as was common in the American indian culture as well as greek society. But according to the researchers, something good came from this. Memory was finished, or diminished, but people were able to absorb and take in so much more information, as well as develop the ability to read, process and write that information.

Will there be some benefits also from the demise of capitalization? Now we are at another crossroads where the written word is being replaced by images, where texting automatically fills in the words, anticipating for us how to finish our sentences. The general feeling seems among the younger crowd is - who cares if the sentence starts with a capital letter? We know what it means anyway.

This is true that comprehensibility is not diminished, but I still believe in standards. I believe that a language should have a set of standards and capital letters are part of that. I teach at an on-line school and tell my students that if their sentences do not start with a capital letter, they are never going to get 100%. Add to that the accent marks and tildes in the Spanish language in which I teach, and the texting generation has to put in a little more effort and hit that shift key. This admonition comes fairly frequently. I would estimate that 75% of my students do not start their sentences with a capital letter. The one-third that is left tend to be very meticulous in their use of capital letters, as well as the accents and tildes. What will become of the one-third versus the three-fourths? Is this the future of the country and what are the implications? And by the way, Microsoft did a pretty good job of capitalizing all these things in this blog (even the word Microsoft, of course.) I’ll try a few more -- google, yahoo, Microsoft, Microsoft windows, Microsoft xp….. well I think even Microsoft could use a lesson in capitalization.

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