Txtng is killing language. JK!!! - John McWhorter

Does texting mean the death of good writing skills? John McWhorter posits that there's much more to texting -- linguistically, culturally -- than it seems, a...

Comment by H3xx on September 28, 2013 at 12:54am

If I have to decode every word in your message just to know what you want from the grocery store, then you can do without it.txtspk to me seems more like Newspeak from the Novel 1984, but rather than cutting away meanings and ideas, they're cutting away whole letters so as to make people not think so long about what they're actually saying. Not gonna lie, that thought frightens me a bit.

Comment by Brendan on September 28, 2013 at 7:38am

Language like all things simply evolves over time. Shakespeare changed the english language with his plays in slight ways giving us new words this process has continued and still continues new words come old words go. Language is a living organism that is evolving faster than any other entity. Looking at lol, lmao and such as a negative is similar to the elder generations looking at words like homie, bro, cuz etc.

Comment by SteveInCO on September 28, 2013 at 12:04pm

I'll point out that McWhorter has appeared on Penn and Teller's "Bullshit" and has taught at least two of the Teaching Company's courses.  In fact just recognizing his name is why I bothered to watch the video.

Comment by Pope Beanie on September 28, 2013 at 1:39pm

so i wonder if it was females who started language in the beginning

That's an interesting question. I think that the nature of their different roles in a band/tribal environment probably led to different versions of vocabulary, at least. Females more empathetic and social at home, vs males with time-sensitive commands and actions at times during a hunt.

The most major morphings and creativeness I'm aware of, like in science and technical jargon, and computer programming were almost exclusively male inventions, but only because of the societal roles they were playing.

An important point to all of this is that it takes years of consistent study and practice to become a proficient writer. It is far from a "natural" skill, compared to vocal speech. Writing could only use speech as a model, at first, immensely inadequate in its ability to convey emotional tone and accent. The interactive, empathetic, emotional information in written comms is quite naturally the primary kind of writing adaptations to expect, in addition to the use of abbreviations as an attempt to catch up to the speed of vocal conversation.

Comment by kris feenstra on September 28, 2013 at 10:12pm

I don't have any issue with the premise. I'm not anti-texting and do not see it as a degradation of language. It's a different mode of communication, so it seems natural that it has its own conventions. My only issue is when people try to apply it universally, or lose tolerance for other forms of communication*. Texting has both it's assets and its limitations.

*To clarify, I'd wager a fair number of people never had it to begin with. They were not big on reading and writing from the start, yet find text tolerable. As such, I'm not particularly concerned about texting and its influence.

Comment by SteveInCO on September 29, 2013 at 10:36am

I think I understand where Kris is coming from on this issue.

Textspeak (that's probably a good name for it given McWhorter's premise of writing like we speak) also affects the broader language; some textspeak conventions have become slang in "regular English"  As such they shouldn't be too irritating outside of the activity of texting, but I get irritated when someone texts (pure Textspeak) on a forum or even in chat here on T|A.

Even here though there are conventions that would be foreign to people in 1990, such as emoticons (which mostly get translated into little smileys), those evolve too, we've gone from :-) (where you look at it sideways) to ones today I often cannot decipher like ^__^.  And of course LOL actually predated texting. They serve as added emotional subtext.  (We've got one member here who spells those sorts of things out--claiming a strong dislike of such bastardizations--but doesn't do anything to distinguish her descriptions of her responses from what she is actually "verbalizing" so you see "cackles I agree."  It takes some getting used to for me because chats for years have had a convention for that, putting asterisks around the action e.g., "*cackles* I agree."  Some chat software (but not ours) even lets the user italicize described actions.  I've used undescores and asterisks around words to indicate _italics_ and *bold* (Microshaft outlook, when you type that, actually italicizes or bolds the words).

In a chat speed is often of the essence--especially when everyone is talking at once--so a lot of abbreviations tend to happen, again to the dismay of some linguistic consevatives.  I personally don't mind the occasional abbreviation but try to remain grammatical otherwise.

Comment by Strega on September 29, 2013 at 11:18am

Is it my cackles?  laughs - oops I mean *laughs*

Comment by Pope Beanie on September 29, 2013 at 12:54pm

LOL Strega, I *heart* your cackles! </lingo>

Comment by Strega on September 29, 2013 at 1:24pm

I *heart* is also written as I <3, i.e. I "less than three" you.  Here's a 'nerdy love song' that uses it brilliantly.

Comment by Unseen on April 28, 2014 at 9:11pm

Text speak is fine until it starts leaking out of texting. Like into term papers and other formal writing.

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