In the past decade the world has experienced a communications boom brought on by an insane amount of increased connectivity; widespread use of the Internet, and of course; cellphones.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’re also probably aware that these devices and methods often fall under considerable scrutiny for somehow helping to undermine the “sacred” laws of the English language, destroying human interaction, and otherwise causing raucous young people to turn into something straight out of The Walking Dead . A veritable battlefield has appeared sporting the tech savvy youth in revolt on one side facing off against the traditionalists, literature nerds and “grammar Nazis”.
It’s getting ugly.
And it’s not just this shorthand that attracts criticism but the manner in which many words are now used. An epic amount of words. I mean literally epic. An awesome, literally epic amount of epically awesome words are literally being used to describe the quality of sandwiches. How ironic! OMG Sacrilege!
So lets shed some light on what’s really going on here.
What is text-speak and why are we bothering to talk about it?
Text speech can refer to any form of lawless, ungrammatical, abbreviated, shorthand communication used between two or more people on the Internet or via texting. It’s this lawlessness and lack of uniformity that seem to have earned the strict condemnation of the prescriptivist old guard and those who had to do their homework by hand, scrawling away on stone tablets
I feel that it is an important topic to bring up because we are confronted with a world that wants to learn English and a community that prides itself on being multilingual. Many of us are linguists, social scientists, polyglots and of course, English teachers, tutors, writers and students. So issues that surround the sanctity of English as a single language are worth examining.
English is far less sacred than some people seem to think.
In fact, when it comes to being sacred, English is probably about as sacred as tossed salad.
After all it pretty much is a tossed salad. Despite being classified as a Germanic language, English is a roiling amalgamation of Greek and Latin vocabulary and grammar interspersed with whatever else it could get its grubby hands on. Over the years it has borrowed so heavily from French that it sometimes seems to challenge its Germanic classification.
As a global language English has a sponge-like way of soaking up the local dialects of the languages around it and incorporating them into itself. It’s kind of scary really, yet also strangely beautiful.
My point is that it’s about as pure as a mud puddle and as homogenized as the people who speak it today. That is to say – not at all.
Who gets to decide anyway?
Who do you entrust to authorize correct or incorrect English? As one of the most vibrant and widespread languages on Earth, that isn’t really an easy question to answer.
English changes every day as new words are added to our lexicon, old words fall almost entirely out of use and existing words have their meanings warped and twisted into something completely different.
Better get used to it, because it isn’t going to stop.
You could use a major dictionary. Some consider these to be the supreme authority on the English language but the Internet suggests otherwise. We all know that pictures of kittens and online gaming have seriously impacted our speech even when we’re offline. We’ve started saying “lol” out loud, like a real word. We add unnecessary Zs to the ends of various words for no real reason other than Z is cooler than S.
I blame cats.
bt i h8 it wen pplz use bd grammar!
Did you struggle to understand that sentence? I doubt it. What you’re seeing is more akin to another language than it is to English – so don’t stress so much about it bastardizing your beloved Shakespearean prose, or reducing the quality of the books you read. It is not cheapening the English classes you slaved away in for most of your young life. It’s a separate entity entirely and should be treated as such.
This shorthand form of writing actually runs parallel to the English language as a sort of subset, and some research, such as that done by linguist John McWhorter, indicates that it is in fact a good thing that could have some cognitive benefits. Check out his fantastic presentation for more information about how texting isn’t the end of the world.
McWhorter notes that this subsystem can actually help to fill the role of a 2nd language when it comes to the cognition and memory enhancements of someone who is otherwise bilingual.
I’m not trying to indicate that the legitimacy of text speech is a get out of jail free card to hand to your English professor for writing a horrible essay. It doesn’t work that way, and solid writing skills are still important to develop. Like any language, text speech has situations to which it is suited and currently it is not suited to academic writing, public speaking, or professional settings.
So why might it bother you so much that someone would use less than perfect English in a message? If you can’t understand them – that’s one thing, but if you can; isn’t that the essence of language itself? If we can claim that language is about understanding one another, about communication, then why would it matter if they used “literally” incorrectly?
Languages change every day, and with every generation become more distinct from the last. This is the natural evolution of language in society.
Why do you hate it when people use text speech? Do you agree or disagree with this article?