By Miriam Chacko
IT’S RARE to find people who put pen to paper to communicate outside of work these days. After all, why write a letter when you can send spurts of messages on WhatsApp at a much faster rate, and receive replies in kind? Forget writing a letter, even wording an email is bothersome when there are faster ways to get in touch.
While English may not be my mother tongue, it is still the language that I am most comfortable with. Texting Language (TL), on the other hand is a form of communication which I have yet to master.
More than understanding TL, it is the very use of it that has me second guessing. TL, in the name of speed, warrants an omission of punctuation, vowels and encourages the use of creative word structures.
Cropping or compounding words, phonetically combining letters and numbers, using initials (eg. ASAP, OTW), acronyms and emoticons are all part of TL. Some would call it clever. Less charitable people might settle for lazy instead. Some of the popular neologisms are even used colloquially, such as 24/7, ASAP and, annoyingly, even LOL.
Where did this truncated form of transmission originate? As history tells, the first SMS ever was a simple “Merry Christmas”, sent by Neil Papworth from his PC in 1992, but the origins trace back even further. Matti Makkonen, known as the reluctant father of SMS, had initially suggested the idea back in 1984 at a telecommunications conference. However, SMS only came to being when engineers incorporated it into their work on the GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) standard.
Texting technology has brought new communication possibilities to both the developed and developing world, and is steadily reshaping social life. In communities where migration is widespread, using mobile phones and the cheaper option of texting allow the migrants to maintain long-distance relationships. In urban settings, most parents do not think twice before giving their teenage children a mobile phone. Parents feel safe knowing they are only a text away from their children at all times.
Texting reduces the urban-rural divide and makes it possible for farmers to contact markets ahead of time to inquire about prices for their produce. In removing a possible middle-man from the equation, the farmer enjoys more transparency in his or her business dealings.
Also, by placing orders and relaying messages via text, travel costs are reduced drastically. The ingenuity of this technology in making the impossible possible is undeniable. But as a medium of communication, one wonders whether TL could affect the development of a Standard Language (SL).
Let’s look at the important points to be considered. The most active texters are between 13 and 17 years of age. Considering they still attend school, parents and educators worry if texting and non-standard forms of spelling affects the students’ writing and communication skills. However, research conducted in schools in the UK, US and Australia discredit claims on the negative relationship between texting and literacy.
David Crystal (2008), a veteran linguist explains that there is in fact a positive relationship between texting and literacy. For one, the child in texting certain words, is increasing his or her exposure to the written words, which is a positive predictor of reading success. Secondly, texting allows the child to play with words, which increases his or her engagement with traditional spelling and reading.
In a study in Australia (Bushnell et al), students made interesting and innovative word choices, while texting:
(1) stick-1 for sick (1 represents a t, which when removed from stick spells sick)
(2) for+ for forgive (the plus sign represents the crossed ribbons of a gift, thus the concept give).
Thirdly, it has also been argued that text messaging is not just writing anything, but that children edit and format their messages into a limited but precise number of words, before sending them. Finally, TL is often based on phonology (eg. D8 for date, B4 for before) and so may enhance the texter’s knowledge of the letter-sound correspondence rules required for traditional spelling and reading skillfulness (Plester & Wood, 2009).
Another school of thought contends that text messaging amongst children between 13 to 17 years has no effect on their English grammar. According to linguists that subscribe to this school of thought, text messaging needs to be studied on its own terms, and not as a variation of the spoken language.
Essentially, in deeming TL and SL as two separate entities, learning one should not affect the other. Therefore, knowing the basics of grammar, syntax and all the skill sets that make for good writing and literacy in SL is essential for students. That way, the distinctions between slang, texting lingo and Standard English are well-defined (Russell, 2010).
With a strong foundation in SL, TL or what they refer to as textese, should not pose a threat to the student’s use of the language outside of texting.
Speed, creativity with words and muscle dexterity are the makings of a good texter. By those criteria, I may fall short of the benchmark, but now that I have made the acquaintance of some creative brevities, I might just use a few while texting.
(Fyi, ‘LUWAMY’ stands for ‘love you with all my heart’)
Miriam Chacko is essentially an environmentalist. After completing her postgraduate degree in Environment and International Development from the University of East Anglia, she got involved in projects promoting environmental awareness. Drawing on her experience, she has written articles on climate change and conservation.
A keen traveller, she has visited many countries in and around Asia and her love of the outdoors and interest in different cultures comes through in her writing.
Miriam has been writing for SEEDS since 2013.