C U L8R M8: Social Media and the English Language

Okay, so that was an exaggeration. No one actually texts like that… do they? According to Linguistics professor David Crystal, only 10% of words in text messages are abbreviated into the LOL’s and BRB’s we’ve come to know so well. What does this mean for our dear olde English language? Need we be concerned about protecting the pulchritudinous language we’re using less and less every day?

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Most people believe so. I know my high school English teacher complained lots about how ‘texting language’ would appear in essays and projects. Parents, too, are concerned. In a 2013 study, 89% of parents said that the new texting language was causing a language barrier between themselves and their children! It’s almost as if these abbreviations are actually a language in and of themselves, meaning that people no longer have to be proficient in English to exist in the technological world: they also have to be fluent in text-speak.

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I, on the other hand, am not convinced that text-speak is going to ruin the language we know and love. I think there are some actual benefits to using text language that people don’t actively see every day. The biggest thing for me, is the structure of the language: whereas English is based off of grammatical rules, text-speak is based on clarity. In essence, anything that makes aural sense can be used in a text message. The example that Aaron Parson uses is the word ‘love’. It can be texted as ‘lov’, ‘lv’, ‘luv’, or even just a simple ‘<3’, and the message is still clear. We have to keep in mind that text-speak isn’t English—it’s something else entirely which means it doesn’t have to follow the pre-existing rules.

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The second important detail is that it isn’t actually what’s causing us to be a less literate generation. In fact, like a 2012 UK study discovered, texting isn’t decreasing the literacy of children. In fact, with new(ish) technology (including the internet), children are exposed to reading and writing at a far earlier age! The difference is, they are able to apply text-speak more often than they are actual, proper, academic English, because the popular media of the day is the same media that encourages text-speech and “C U L8R’s” instead of media that requires 1500 words APA style. It would seem that if we want to increase English literacy, we would need to abolish text-speak, yet with language being the way it is, I have a feeling that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

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