This is a claim that texting should be its own language and not simply abbreviations.
|R txt msgs gr8 for today’s society and pedagogies in composition, rhetorical, and linguistic courses? Or r troubled linguists correct in worrying “that the proliferation of text messaging…will enforce sloppy, undisciplined habits”? (“Linguists”). 2 b able 2 answer this with ne sort of accurate social comprehension of the language of txt spk and a luv for not only linguistics but also rhetoric and new techniques that lead to an increase in the vivid and significant variety in language, 1 must b able to accept txt spk as a legitimate language. Txt msgs hv recently been used n forensic linguistic research as a way 2 identify stylistic points btwn victims and criminals. Dr. Tim Grant, Deputy Director of the Centre for Forensic Linguistics at England’s Aston University, believes that “…new technologies have created an anti-social phenomenon of mass anonymity and the ability to identify the writer can only be beneficial for society”; this acceptance of txts as appropriate for language analysis and acknowledged legal and investigatory evidence hints at the fact that txt spk has moved beyond a teenage trend in communication and n2 the full-blown realm of legitimized language (“Txt Crimes”).
While “the prophets of doom emerge every time a new technology influences language,” according to linguistics professor Dr. David Crystal, txt spk is believed by many, including myself, to b a gr8 language innovation (“SMS”). Carolyn Adger, director of the Language in Society Division of the Center for Applied Linguistics, believes that txt spk is something “really wonderful…it’s expanding the writing skills of people” (“R ur txt msgs”).
As a daily user of txt spk, I contend that txt spk indeed has a place in society as a form of legitimate language and should be accepted as such; I will use Harvey Daniels’ article “Nine Ideas About Language” as a lens to analyze my contention.
Children learn their native language swiftly, efficiently, and
largely without instruction” (Daniels 4).
To give this idea the broadest applicability as possible, I would like to redefine the word “children.” Daniels clearly defines “children” as new learners of language; he establishes their learning processes by stating they use “other speakers as testing devices for their own emerging ideas about language” (4). I believe that to properly analyze texting as a legitimate language under this lens, we must all be considered “children,” or new learners, of this technology, as texting is a relatively new form of communication and we as a society are learning to use it together. Daniels’ focus on children learning language through their own hypotheses more so than through imitating the language they hear and the structure of what they hear is in direct correlation with my contention that we as a society learn text speak by sending and receiving texts and advancing our own ideas and definitions of acceptable syntax and grammar more so than mere imitation; we discover “the underlying rules which make up the language,” as it is our job as users of text speak (4).
A poignant and applicable concept relating to my contention is Daniels’ belief that “the main growth…will not so much be in acquiring new rules as in using new combinations of them to express increasingly sophisticated ideas, and in learning how to use language effectively in a widening variety of social settings” (5). It is clear that from the sheer number of text messages sent annually, which the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association found to be almost one billion in 2002 and growing by the millions every year, that we have adopted text speak as one of our native languages and have learned to use it swiftly and efficiently (“R ur txt msgs”). Though no amount of research may ever convert die-hard conventional linguists into advocates of text speak as a legitimate language, they cannot ignore that society has entered a new era of technological expression.
“Language operates by rules” (Daniels 5).
I agree with Daniels that language’s foundation is based on a set of rules, and that is explicitly applicable in reference to text speak as it “observes grammatical patterns to convey messages” much like the language Daniels discusses (6). But there is a distinct difference in the rules of text speak and the rules of formal English. How can the rules of text speak benefit society and our communication? I contend that linguistics and educators can use the debate on text speak as a legitimate language and its grammar and syntax to spark academic discussion of all variations of language and our ideas about them to promote the art of writing. Sali Tagliamonte, professor of linguistics in Toronto, believes that users of text speak, specifically teenagers, “demonstrate very clearly that their grammatical skills are intact and they very effectively mix it with other types of language” (MacLeod). Daniels cites linguists’ belief that by learning the rules of language we accomplished “the most complex cognitive task of our lives”; it is clear to me that by learning and using text speak we accomplish yet another complex cognitive task, and by doing so add to our repertoire of knowledge, comprehension, and capabilities (6).
Idea #3: “All languages have three major components:
a sound system, a vocabulary, and system of grammar” (Daniels 6).
One could argue that because text speak exists as a written language, there can be no sound system, disqualifying it from being considered a legitimate language under Daniels’ components. But I contend that text speak finds its way into spoken language, utilizing the vocal noises as implied in written text speak. Take for instance the word “IDK” in text speak; in formal English it would mean “I don’t know,” and it is quite common to hear “IDK” spoken aloud as an answer to a question. The same goes for such text speak words as: “TMI” (meaning “too much information); “TTYL” (meaning “talk to you later”); and “BRB” (meaning “be right back”).
In reference to the second element of Daniels’ components of language, one cannot deny that text speak has its own vocabulary. In fact, the vocabulary is so distinct that “there are even dictionaries to sort out the meaning of, say ‘AFAIK’ (meaning ‘as far as I know’) (“R ur txt msgs”). Other examples of basic commonly used vocabulary words in text speak include:
“BTW”—by the way
“GTG”—got to go/gotta go
“LMAO”—laughing my ass off
“OMG”—oh my God!
But as a frequent user of text speak, I know that not only conversations via text speak but also the people I converse with and the familiarity in which we converse become so established and ingrained that any formal English word can evolve into text speak. The language has been “rendered uneducated and therefore unacceptable” by many linguists, but still other linguists, myself included, see it as a relaxed and often times informal mode of communication (Thurlow). And doesn’t the fact that text speak has evolved from formal English and other languages articulate the idea that users of text speak can properly use formal grammar and syntax and have used that ability to create a new form of communication? The acceptance of more formal English words into text speak shows innovation with language, and according to Adger “…innovating with language isn’t dangerous” (“R ur txt msgs”).
As for Daniels final element, text speak most certainly has its own system of grammar; that system is at the heart of the debate over text speak triggering the death of formal language. Linguistic research at the University of Toronto concluded that abbreviated formal language words found in the language of text speak “made up only a tiny fraction of the community and that even younger users were getting most of their grammar right” (MacLeod). Besides being a modern communication technique, text speak provides a broader definition to the word “grammar”; it progresses as a language through Aristotle’s five canons of rhetoric, specifically invention, as text speak users discover new ways to overcome limited space and construct innovative and syntactic sentences.
“Everyone speaks a dialect” (Daniels 7).
The issue of dialect in text speak is similar to dialect in formal languages; while geography dictates a variety of dialects, there is a standard dialect that is considered superior and one must master the art of code-switching to be understood bilingually. Daniels states that “there is a good deal of natural pressure to keep the language relatively uniform,” but in addition to spatial isolation, “social, economic, occupational, educational, and political” isolation contribute to the maintenance of dialects (7, 8).
But how do those factors affect text speak? Pressure to maintain dialect is pressure to maintain identity, and in the informal and familiar world of text speak, the aforementioned factors are key in preserving both. Consider the case of the 13-year-old Scottish student who composed an entire narrative on her summer activities in text speak. The British Daily Telegraph broke the news and quoted the student’s teacher as saying, “I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not understand” (Thurlow). The student obviously felt it was easier to write in text speak and she was clutching her identity as a frequent text user who found the language easier to use and express herself through than formal English. While the teacher seemed to consider the use of text speak as an impediment to the student’s literacy and expression, she should have embraced the fact that the student’s use of and dialect in Scottish-English text speak was a specific rhetorical move to convey a true identity.
Idea #5: “Speakers of all languages employ a range of styles and a set of subdialects or jargons” (Daniels 9).
Code switching is a learned behavior, and Daniels states that because we “range between formal and informal styles of speech” that such an adjustment is something “speakers of all language constantly make” (9). He goes on to state that “learning the sociolinguistic rules which tell us what sort of speech is appropriate in differing social situations is as much a part of language acquisition as learning how to produce the sound of /b/ or /t/” (9). Text speak users are no different; the dialects, subdialects, and jargon we may use with our parents or relatives is certainly not the same we would use with our friends or classmates.
The rhetorical move of assessing and acknowledging one’s audience is a move text users make with every text message sent. Text speak users not only choose their words carefully, but also choose our response time, our message length, and our overall tone with much thought and consideration for the audience at hand. For instance, I respond the quickest to text messages from my boyfriend and best friends. I send them well-constructed text messages, and I exercise the most congenial tone possible as to convey my affection for them and their status in my life. Because there is not body language, facial gestures, or vocal noises associated with written text speak, users must consider other factors in ensuring our message is conveyed as we intend it.
On the other hand, when I receive a text message from a classmate I am not close with or a family member simply saying “hello,” I am not apt to respond as quickly or as thoroughly. When I receive a forwarded text, usually in the form of a joke, a silly picture, or a chain curse, I rarely respond to the sender; if I do forward it on I consider who in my phone’s address book would enjoy the forward or find it applicable, respectful, and/or relevant before I send it. I would never forward a chain curse about finding someone to love to my boyfriend, nor would I send him a text without saying “I love you.” And I would never forward my sister a crude joke, nor would I send my brother a lengthy description about my weekend social events. I have learned the social regulations needed to code-switch, and I abide by them.
Idea #6: “Language change is normal” (Daniels 13).
The mere existence of text speak as a language is change in language. As I referred to before, many linguists believe that innovation in language is simply a natural progression, and one cannot deny that a language that has developed through short messages using alphanumeric keypads on cellular devices is innovation and progression.
Daniels states that there is “plenty of language change which seems to happen spontaneously, sporadically, and without apparent purpose”; text speak seems to adhere perfectly to that statement (13). Granted, we can understand that text speak originated from a need for convenience in communication, but will we ever understand why the language seems to have had such an influence in the worlds of linguistics and rhetoric? Why has it caused such a stir and such a rift between those who supposedly share common goals in the study of language philosophy? “Much text messaging lingo was first used in instant-messaging programs on personal computers, and some phrases, such as ‘SWAK’ for ‘sealed with a kiss,’ have been used for decades,” according to Jesse Sheidlower of the Oxford English Dictionary (“R ur txts”). But if we as a society have had so much exposure to the lingo, why does Crystal believe text speak to be “the greatest opportunity for the development of the English language since the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages”? (“SMS”).
The fact that today’s society has become an instant-minded culture, one that is bothered by downloads taking over one minute to process and that doesn’t have time to wait for dial-up Internet connections, is a key factor in understanding not only the origin of text speak, but also the elements of the language itself. The undemanding and unassuming language and syntax rules are ideal for our rushed pace of life. It’s just a matter of looking beyond some linguists’ belief that text speak is made up of mere abbreviations and persuading them to see the value of the vernacular.
Idea #7: “Languages are intimately related to the societies and individuals who use them” (Daniels 15).
This idea seems to go hand-in-hand with Idea #5; both ideas suggest that cultures have their own identities and that maintaining those identities is important to all speech communities. Yet this idea seems to value our personal code over our academic code; it takes the stand that “the code we use to communicate in the most powerful and intimate experiences of our lives” with those closest to us is “as personal and as integral to each of us as our bodies and our brains” (Daniels 16). This opens the door to consider text speak a language. Typically text speak is used among close members of a community, though the level of closeness may be different with each member, and in using words and phrases that are personal and relevant to only members of that community, text speak epitomizes itself as the code we use for our intimate experiences.
Idea #8: “Value judgments about different languages or dialects are matters of taste” (Daniels 16).
“Especially when we consider the question of mutually intelligible American dialects, we are able to see that most ideas about language differences are purely matters of taste,” according to Daniels (17). Be it the stereotype that Southern people are “either cruelly crafty or just plain dumb” based on our slower speech patterns, or that Black English is ghetto and uneducated, one cannot deny that judgments are made based on how we speak (Daniels 17). Never is that more true than in text speak, specifically the written form.
As I said before, because written text speak differs from region to region and because there is no body language, facial gestures, or vocal noises associated with it, only the written words and the tone they set serve as the elements of judgment. The “ya’ll” people from the South may use in text speak and the “you guys” people from New York may write will be judged due to the “history of experiences with each other” and the prejudices that arise from that (Daniels 17). While we may like to believe that all languages are equal, we as a society do not adhere to that belief, as we relentlessly judge others. Users of text speak know this all too well; in addition to our constant analysis of audience and tone, we are keenly aware that due to the lack of face-to-face interaction in written text speak every word we choose to text matters. The words we choose are yet another way we maintain our cultural identities as well as switch between the voices we want to use (i.e. academic vs. personal).
Idea #9: “Writing is derivative of speech” (Daniels 18).
Text speak originated from the language and grammar of instant messaging. Instant messaging originated from the need to communicate without wait. Sheidlower says that text speak “will likely spill over into speech,” but I contend that the basic vernacular of text speak and instant messaging stems from commonly understood abbreviations in speech (“R ur txt msgs”).
Daniels states that specifically in the classroom, “we find ourselves feeling that only in the nineteenth or sixteenth century could writers ‘really use the language’ correctly…we teach this notion in our schools, encouraging students to see the language of written literature as the only true and correct style of English” (19). But by encouraging such a notion, we are ignoring the need for progress in language. Text speak would never exist if we ignored that need, and though I am sure some linguists would be more than satisfied with that, I contend that text speak has provided us with yet another outlet to teach not only expressive rhetoric, but also Aristotle’s five canons of rhetoric, audience analysis, and code-switching.
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October 2008. USATODAY.com
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Construction and Popular Exaggeration of New Media Language in the Print Media.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue3
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