The software which is helping compile this edition of the 3L&3S just turned 40. The ubiquitous Microsoft Word is the dominant word processing software globally. This article in the BBC looks at how this ubiquity with hundreds of millions if not over a billion users, might have influenced our use of language.

The author shows the effect of tools like spell check and grammar check:
“Word’s spell-checker and grammar features have become subtle arbiters of language, too. Although seemingly trivial, these tools “promote a sense of consistency and correctness”, says Wolf, and this uniformity comes at the cost of writing diversity.  “Writers, when prompted by the software’s automated norms, might unintentionally forsake their unique voices and expressions.”

This becomes even more invasive when you look at the role and impact of autocorrect and predictive text. Today, when typing on Word, the software can automatically correct your spelling, and make suggestions for what to write next. These suggestions aren’t (yet) based on your personal writing style and tone – they’re rule-based. The suggestions you see will be the same as millions of others. Again, this may feel innocuous but it’s another example of how Word standardises language by loosely guiding everyone down the same path.

“Without auto-completion, a person might check a thesaurus when searching for a word,” says Mark. “With auto-completion, it can lead to more rote use of language and may not encourage original writing.””
Microsoft’s American origins might have driven the Americanisation of English as well:

“Because Word defaults to US-English, so too do its spellchecking features. Write a word ending in “-ise” and it will suggest changing it to “-ize”, unless you’ve taken the time to change the default settings.

…Take the word “trialing/trialling” for instance. “Trialing” is considered the US-English spelling. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) doesn’t even recognise “trialing” as a word, instead, opting for the use of the double-L common in British-English. Despite such a clear distinction by the OED, the American spelling regularly makes its way into British-English publications and style guides. There’s an argument that this is because of increasingly global audiences and would again be an overstatement to lay the increasing Americanisation of English entirely at the feet of a piece of word processing software, but as part of influence of American culture has had on language more generally, it may have played a role.”

But the author notes the massive benefits that Word has brought to the world as well.

“…word processing has taken some of the cognitive load out of writing, which allows more space for creativity. For example, while spell-check may not promote spelling retention, “when used mindfully, spell-checkers serve as valuable aids by enhancing language proficiency and communication”, says Wolf. “They enable users to focus on word choice and strategy of communication rather than spending time and energy pinning down the correct spelling.””

And for the third time in this edition, an article references AI, showing how pervading it has become in our lives:

“This has the potential to become even more impactful as artificial intelligence (AI) is integrated into word processing. But opinion is divided. On one hand, by removing technical aspects of spelling, sentence construction and so on, AI may free people up to be even more creative. Its ability to learn and understand a person’s unique writing style could lead to an era of highly personal, unencumbered imagination. “[Generative AI] cannot be entirely relied upon to produce accurate prose every time, but it can reduce the process of creating text to editing,” according to Ed Challis, head of AI strategy at UiPath, which develops robotic automation software. He believes this will “lead to innovations across all areas of content creation and communication”.”

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