My Granddad, I would say is a fairly youthful chap at heart. He’s 70, enjoys his horse racing, taking the dog for a walk, plays for his local crown green bowling team, and generally just enjoying well deserved retirement. Oh, I almost forgot, he also loves to play the Xbox! Despite this unusual hobby for a Granddad, he, like many others believe the mobile phone to be a step backwards in our society. Now that’s not to say that he doesn’t appreciate the positives of such a device. Of course, he has a mobile phone in case something happens while he walks the dog (The dog is called Sam for those who are wondering!). But his ownership of the phone is one of contempt. My Granddads’ views of the mobile phone are shared by a large number of people who believe mobile phones, particularly text messaging are eroding the social skills, social development and literacy ability of younger members of society (I would probably be included in this bracket as I was 12/13 when mobile phones became incredibly popular).
John McWhorter’s recent TED talk “Txting is killing language. JK!!!” argues against these beliefs. At the core of McWhorter’s talk is the notion that “texting isn’t writing at all” he goes in to detail to explain what he means by this.
“texting isn’t writing at all”
Mobile phone text messaging has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other on a constant daily basis. It was designed as a text based message system similar to voicemail or answer phone, as it was once known. Text messaging is a popular form of communication with 1000’s of text messages sent each day. I ponder one reason for their popularity is due to its pragmatism. One can send a message at their convenience and it’s read at the recipient’s convenience and usually it’s straight to the point. Eg: “Where are you?” actually written “Whr r u?”
The common fear among people like my Granddad is that text messaging is the systematic cold blooded murder of the the English tongue and that the youth are destroying it. The decay of the English language seems to be a common fear throughout history as is demonstrated in the talk. The modern fear is born of abbreviations within texts Eg: your = ur. Perhaps this fear may be a little misguided, as McWhorter argues that texting isn’t written in the same way as one would write a letter but more similar to the way one would speak, he says “texting is fingered speech”.
From an evolutionary perspective, language is very interesting. McWhorter suggests that language is around 150,000 years old but at least 80,000 years old. Language in many ways is bit like our hair or bodies. I know what your thinking but let me explain. If I asked you to listen to the way you talk to your friends or family and compared that to how your grandparents talked to their friends or family it would be the same language but there would be slight differences. Now if we were to compare the way we talked to our great-great grandparents spoke to each other that would be completely different again but you would recognise that it’s English. A bit like Shakespeare, we don’t talk like that now but we recognise that it’s the English language. So how is this anyway like our hair or our bodies? Well if you found a picture of yourself from a month ago your hair would probably be shorter then than it is today. If you at a picture from when you were 5 years old and take a picture of how you look today I bet look completely different. Obviously, so what’s my point? The point is that although something may seem the same there are gradual changes like the slow gradual growth of your hair or the slow growth and maturation of your body that you don’t notice the changes, language is exactly the same. Language changes and mutates gradually over time and in most cases we don’t even notice. Text Language is now a branch on the evolutionary tree of language. If somebody said “lol” 15 years ago we wouldn’t have a clue what he or she meant. Of course it is an abbreviation of “Laughing Out Loud” but even today the derivation of the term “lol” has evolved. This is exciting to me, I have witnessed new words enter the English language furthermore I’m also living through the evolutionary transition of their meaning. I’ll continue to use the “lol” as an example to explain. Although it often seems a lazy term to use in texts, it’s now becoming autonomic. Furthermore, it still holds its original definition, a written expression of humour, but it has also developed more uses as is commonly used as a term of acknowledgement or a way to change a subject or a way to empathise with the individual who has text you.
In conclusion, text messaging is shaping elements of the English language and shaping the language in other countries via texting slang. Whether you think this is a good thing or bad thing is now irrelevant, as text language has become far more popular as individuals continue to text, use social media, and private messaging like MSN, Blackberry messenger, Facebook, and Whatsapp. I just think it’s exciting that one day I would be able look back at these blogs lets say in 50 years time, and the language would no doubt be different. To me, I think its incredible that I’m living through the on-going evolution of language and playing a part in shaping it too.