Is Text-speak Ruining English?


The plethora of mediums that do not require full-on grammatical formality that adheres to academia’s standards of excellence whittles down to the many arenas where we find English, well, kind of lacking. These being of course, and not limited to, social media like Twitter, RSS feeds, SMSs (cel texting), and every day tangibles like menus, signage, or even handwritten notes. Do newer forms of English communication, like texting, impede on the quality of our language?

Ah, but this is the beauty and flexibility of language, and English is well accustomed to bending to the needs of the populace.

I was watching a DVD at a friend’s the other night; two characters in the film rehearsed lines from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Amongst our mini throng of couch potatoes, we commented on how formal sounding his plays were as compared to today’s lingo and did they actually reflect the way people spoke nearly five hundred years ago? We’d like to think so, but surely, even then, the people in the streets hadn’t the vocabulary Shakespeare had pronounced upon the stage. His medium was theatre, so much of the connotations were supported by gestures and actions if any in the audience hadn’t a clue to words like scurrilous or gambol (I’m completely theorizing here). One can safely say that, no, people didn’t talk quite like that, linguists would argue. Conversations not being recorded means linguists are guessing based on few records that survived time. So, that being said, knowing that language lives only by its speakers, and knowing people’s tendency to get lazy, and/or finding shorter and easier ways to say the same thing, we reduce.

For all practical purposes, such reductions are necessary due to space allotment. A billboard is only so big above a movie theatre; hence, shorter movie titles fit. It’s better to have “Titanic” than “The Ship That was Unsinkable Sank”.

Twitter-speak is a practical necessity with its ‘u’ for you, or ‘b/c’ for because; we must remain within 140 characters, and yet isn’t it amazing how much can still be communicated in such short blurbs?

So, the underlying question, then, is whether the truncation of English (‘Know what I mean?’ Instead of ‘Do you know what I mean?’) impairs the quality of English. Let me put out two thoughts on that. One, are messages in Twitter, for example, any less communicative because of the shortening of things? No, communication rises above the level of what we deem necessary grammatically (though I am a proponent of accuracy and clearly understand that within certain contexts, good grammar incites better communication).  Further to that, to be able to say much in few words suggests a mastery of conciseness, and isn’t that what our high school teachers always hounded us on? Two, if there is a fear, amongst parents, that these kinds of shortenings degrade their children’s writing and reading skills because their kids ‘R txng 2 mch’, it means that the fear regards the possible transference of that into the classroom, or worse still, into the workplace (or prevent them from getting there), and then what? All h*** breaks loose. Civilization as we know it completely implodes.

Laugh now.

While it is true that short-speak has its place, it is, perhaps, just the increase in the number of new communication channels that seem to fool us into thinking that English is becoming dominated by truncated or reduced forms, texting being a popular mode. I certainly don’t speak to my family in a robotic manner, omitting necessary prepositions in a conversation because of texting. Teenagers birth new slang, sometimes shorter versions of more formal terms without such a sentenced influence (pun intended) that texting bears, and immigrants are wonderful for introducing new vocabulary to the language and culture they’re entering, English or otherwise, outside of that. Technology has bred necessary changes to our language, but communication hasn’t gotten lost.  Language, English, has adapted based on speakers’ needs. Texting has its niche, and so far, hasn’t infiltrated negatively on how we communicate; it has definitely enriched it, though. Text-speak lives.