The Library has recently acquired David Crystal’s new book on the phenomenon of texting ‘Txting: the Gr8 Deb8’
A lot of opinion makers think that texting is ruining the English language, the BBC Radio 4 presenter John Humphreys has argued that those who text are “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped”
Crystal argues that since the invention of printing – said to be an instrument of the devil because it filled people’s minds with false notions – pundits have been scaremongering about the consequences new technology will have on language. Texting has caused the most controversy. A lot of stories in the press have given the impression that young people write in abbreviations all the time. In 2003 a teenager was supposed to have written an essay entirely in text which her teacher could not decipher. Parts of it appeared on the Internet and it was used in many tabloid articles on texting but since no one was ever able to find a source for the whole essay, it was decided that it was likely to be a hoax.
A number of researchers have produced reports on text messaging from many points of view – sociological, psychological and linguistic. The evidence shows that the ability to write well is not adversely affected by the texting habit.
Texters like to break grammatical rules, use phonetic spellings (wot instead of what) and abbreviations but they know that they must be understood so are careful not to use forms that will render their messages incomprehensible. An American study found that only 20% of messages studied included abbreviations and a Norwegian study found there were even fewer – 6%.
There are elements of text messages which are thought to be innovatory but in fact date back a hundred years or more. One of the most obvious is the use of single letters, numbers and symbols to stand for words or parts of words e.g. c for “see” and 4 instead of “for”. These are known as rebuses; in the
Oxford English Dictionary the first recorded use of the word was in 1605. A favourite pastime in the 1700s was to write rebus letters in which people drew as many symbols to represent parts of words as they could think of.
The use of abbreviations has existed since phonetic script came into being and, paradoxically, increased with the growth of literacy between the 15th and 17th centuries. Children of military men often talk of how their fathers used to speak almost entirely in abbreviations when talking to the colleagues – AWOL (absent without leave, 2IC (second in command)and NTR (Nothing to report).
The linguistic innovation in texting is to conflate rebuses and abbreviations as in LtsGt2gthr (lets get together) and T+ (think positive). Texters use letters, symbols and words without any spaces, a practice which was unknown before in the use of alternative writing systems.
Crystal says that many texts are linguistically complex and that texting enables people to have fun with language.
In 2007 T-Mobile set up a competition to find the first “Txt laureate” and offered a prize for the best romantic text poem.
The runner up, Eileen Bridge, a 68 year old grandmother from Accrington dedicated her poem to her husband: “O hart tht sorz, My luv adorz, He mAks meliv, He mAks me giv, Myslf 2 him, As my love porz”.
Five years of research is underway hoping to contradict the belief that texting stops children learning to read and write. Beverley Plester and Clare Wood of Coventry University undertook some research to find if the habit of texting adversely affected children’s literacy. They tested thirty five eleven year olds and found that the children who were the best at using textisms were also found to be better writers and spellers.