Back in 1996 when internet chatrooms were fairly new, an asocial geek in my honors English class wrote a paper on the validity of an exciting new type of language that was cropping up in chatrooms where people were regularly using abbreviated phrases like LOL (laugh out loud), ROFL (rolling on floor laughing) , and TTFN (ta ta for now). Our antiquated teacher didn't seem to know enough about what the guy was talking about to pass any judgement on it one way or the other. Half the class didn't even own a computer. And I wasn't going to admit to spending time in chat rooms.
Since then, this type of abbreviated language has made its way to text messaging on cell phones in an even larger way because of the 180-character text limitations of sending text messages via SMS (short messaging service). When you're limited to only 180 characters and you're being charged by the message, you often have to find creative ways to use the limited typing space available to you.
Many people find the abbreviated writing of text messages to be foreboding of a generation that will become unable to use English properly. Others find the abbreviations used in text messaging to be a bastardization and degradation of the language.
In the book Txting: The Gr8 Db8
, linguist David Crystal attempts to show that abbreviations in language is nothing new, that the abbreviated language of text messages is creative word play, that texters know when to use proper English, and that our youngsters around the world are not taking our languages to hell in a hand basket by their alternate spellings in text messages.
The author starts out by showcasing several award-winning poems that were confined to the 180-character limitation of a text message. My very favorite was this one:
14: a txt msg pom. (14: a text message poem)
his is r bunsn brnr bl%, (his eyes are bunsen burner blue,)
his hair lyk fe filings (his hair like iron filings)
W/ac/dc going thru. (with electricity going through.)
I sit by him in kemistry, (I sit by him in chemistry,)
it splits my @oms (it splits my atoms)
wen he :-)s @ me. (when he smiles at me.)
This is clearly not a poem written by someone who doesn't know how to use the language properly. In fact, there has even been a recent phenomenon in many Asian countries of entire books being written in installments by text messaging. The language is very specific and minimalist.
The author gives many examples of how language is already full of abbreviations and plays on words. Text messaging is certainly not the first place we've seen such language usage. Previous text language and text-like language usages include:
* THE REBUS -- This is a play on words where pictures, numbers, and letters are combined to form phrases: 2 [picture of bee:] [picture of oar:] not 2 [picture of bee:] = to be or not to be
* ACRONYMS -- abbreviations that we have turned into words: NATO, NASA, NAFTA
* ALPHABETISMS -- abbreviations where we say the letters: BBC, GOP, PTA, DC
* LOGOGRAMS -- a symbol represents a word or part of a word: b4, @om, 2day
* EMOTICONS -- keyboard characters are used together to show emotions: :-) :-P (*o*)
* INITIALS -- N=no, GF=girlfriend, OMG=oh my god, PM=post meridian (first used in 1666), IOU=I owe you (first used in 1618), FYI, ASAP, SOS, PB&J
* SEMITIC LANGUAGES --often omit vowels in writing
* ABBREVIATIONS -- dept, sgt, Mrs., cm, kg, ft
* NON-STANDARD SPELLINGS -- ya, thru, nite, luv, gonna, thanx, wassup (many found in the literature of greats like Twain and Dickens)
* SHORTENINGS -- exam, phone, mon, tues, uni, bro, biog, inclu, gov, doc, max, diff, mob (short for "mobile vulgus")
* LANGUAGE PLAY -- LOL, ROFL, ROFLMAO (rolling on floor laughing my ass off
The author insists that users of abbreviated language of all sorts (including texters) consider the appropriateness of using abbreviations based on the audience's familiarity with abbreviations, the age of the audience, and the formality of the writing situation. The author also insists that there is no proof that texting has hurt classroom literacy rates. Students often find it helpful for notetaking but know not to use it for essays or assignments. In fact, a 2006-7 study at Coventry University found that students who used more abbreviations when writing text messages actually scored higher on reading and vocabulary. The reason is that a student has to know how to use the language properly before he or she can play with it and morph it. Converting regular language into an alternate language requires creativity, good visual memory, and good motor skills.
I think that anyone who enjoys linguistics and words would be interested in reading this book. If you find alternate spellings and language play to be annoying, this book might open your eyes to the creative side of it. And if you're afraid language is suffering from language abnormalities in text messages, this book might encourage you to see texting in a more positive light. Also, if you're in need of a text-language dictionary, this book has not only one in English, but also one in Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Welsh.Note: While I critique both purchased and free books in the same way, I'm legally obligated to tell you I received this book free through the Amazon Vine program in return for my review. Blah blah blah.