Archive for July 2008

Text Language

July 9, 2008

There was a very interesting article on Book Square not that long ago arguing that, contrary to the popular belief, text messaging and the abbreviations that come with it are nothing new and are not making the big waves that critics and pessimists would have you believe. It’s a long article, but there are several very interesting points it mentions.

First, it lays out the criticism.

Texters are “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.” and that “it is “bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk … Linguistically it’s all pig’s ear … it masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness. Texting is penmanship for illiterates.”

Then it refutes it, by showing the foundation our abbreviations and shortcuts actually reach back, in some cases, hundreds of years.

It even gives examples of text message poetry, including the winners of T-mobile’s text poetry contest.

One topic the article doesn’t broach, although it does mention it briefly is text etiquette. While abbreviations and txt msg short cuts have been around for a long time and are unlikely to bring an end to English as we know it, young professionals still have to be careful.

To emphasize this point, I’m going to recount a story Lindsey Pollak shared with my college graduating class when she came to our Backpack to Briefcase event last fall.

She says that she had been sending back and forth emails with a male colleague; they were close enough to be friendly, but was very upset when he sent here an email with the abbreviation “lol.” She knew what the abbreviation meant, because she signed her emails to family members that way, and she wasn’t sure how to react to this from a colleague. It was obviously inappropriate.

The problem here is that while Lindsey used “lol” to mean “lots of love,” her colleague was using it to mean “laugh out loud.” There are no real standards when it comes to these types of abbreviations; young professionals in particular need to be careful – you wouldn’t want that great contact you made at a conference last month thinking you were in love with him, when really you were just appreciating his joke.

So, although text abbreviations are not new, nor are they destroying the language, we do still need to be careful how often we abbreviate and in what context.