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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Is Texting Ruining the English Language?

Is texting ruining the English language? When texting, we often shorten words (e.g., r u ready?, c u later), use a lot of acronyms (e.g., LOL, IDK, GIGATT), and ignore most rules of grammar, rendering our sentences syntactically incorrect and attracting the ire of the semantic police. The concern is genuine. If in our every day usage of language, we write incorrectly, will we lose the ability to do so when it's needed?

I honestly don't know (predicting the future is tough), but I think there's reason to hope that all will be well in the grammatical world. Consider the following phrases taken from a series of letters written in the early 20th century:
  • I have seen several things wh. have not been very pretty since I have been up here.
  • I know the Buffs wd never have done this.
  • At times, I think I cd conquer everything—& then again I know I am only a weak vain fool. But your love for me is the greatest glory & recognition that has or will ever befall me: & the attachment wh I feel towards you is not capable of being altered by the sort of things that happen in this world.
  • ... actions like Firket in Egypt— wh are cracked up as great battles and wh are commemorated by clasps & medals etc etc... 
  • So far as I am concerned if you find it necessary to make a change here, I shd be glad— assuming it was thought fitting— to be offered a position in the new Government.
  • The youth of Europe— almost a whole generation— will be shorn away. I find it vy painful to be deprived of any direct means of action.
Not exactly pristine examples of written English, but their author, Winston Churchill, could write remarkably well when it was called for (I apologize for the dangling preposition). Churchill, in fact, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. He was also a remarkable orator and, of course, was elected to Parliament several times and Prime Minister twice. Not bad for someone who shortened which to wh, would to wd, could to cd, and apparently disliked commas.

For a slightly different take on texting, check out the TED talk by John McWhorter, who is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, as well as the author of "What Language Is (and What It Isn't and What It Could Be)." He argues that texting is less like writing and more like speaking, and people speak differently from the way they write.

Also see the brief article based on his talk: "Is Texting Killing the English Language?")

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