Created to accommodate the original 160 character limit for text messages and mimic the speed of conversation, ‘txtspk’ is regularly blamed for butchering the English language. It is particularly stigmatized in academia and in business, with its opponents often painting the image of spelling, grammar and punctuation rules being trampled underfoot by unruly youth. The English language will soon only comprise of an ever-changing crowd of abbreviations, acronyms and emoticons, language purists cry. But is it the problem that text speak does not follow spelling, grammar and punctuation rules – or that it follows a slightly different set of rules?
After all, consistent rules still exist in texts: grammatically, you “lol” or “are lol-ing” in the present, and you “lol-ed” in the past. Spelling exists as well, as “you” is transcribed to “u” and not to random “eif” or “ivoj”. Punctuation rules remain the same – you wouldn’t haphazardly insert emoticons or punctuations unless : ) you were deliberately trying ! to break up your sentence. And words are no less nuanced: “lol” has evolved from its literal meaning of “laugh out loud” into something subtler, used to indicate an informal conversation and to ease potential tension even when nothing is remotely funny.
David Crystal, author of ‘Txting: The Gr8 Db8’ provides evidence that the purported damage to the English language by text speak is much lower than perceived. For instance, only around 10% of the words in a message are abbreviated, which means that most of text speak is actually in standard spelling. And who said texting is only for the young? Messages between adults now constitute about 80 per cent of all text messages.
Furthermore, contrary to popular fears, people (even youths) can clearly distinguish between text speak and other forms of writing. Thus, while British TV presenter John Humphrys wrote an article calling texters “vandals doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago”, at the end of the day, text speak is a much needed adaptation of an old language for a new, modern medium. If it helps businesses save time, then we are all for using text speak – within reason, of course.
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