Friday, March 06, 2009

KMT @ TXTspk*

A report in today's Sun and a longer one in The Scotsman carry findings from a survey by a company which claims that while 76% of us admit to using "text slang" in our SMS messages, 71% dislike receiving it and would prefer a "properly written" message. Like any survey carried out by a company that's promoting its own services (in this case the "text question and answer service AQA 63336" - no relation to our exam board, I hope) the survey should probably be treated with caution, but in the Scotsman they quote a proper linguist, Dr Christian Kay from Glasgow University who has a look at the limitations of texting:

"I think that when texting first appeared young people took it as a new way of conversing which could exclude people who weren't in on the scene," Prof Kay said.

"At the time this was quite interesting, because we were being told that the written language was going to disappear.

"But after an initial burst of enthusiasm we are at the stage where texting either has to develop or fade away."

She added: "It has reduced everything to a very basic language, which doesn't leave room to convey the nuance of a word.

"In many ways it has run out of interesting things to say, which limits interpretation, which leads to misunderstandings," Prof Kay said.

Hmm, I'm not so sure. I doubt that text abbreviations originally sprung up as a means of keeping others out - after all, what goes on between two phones is relatively private - but rather as a means of saving time and money. Yes, texting can be a crude and unsubtle form of communication open to misinterpretation as most distant modes are, but its got a kind of dialogic structure to it that allows a texter to reply and seek further clarification if the first message doesn't make sense.

And of course, given that the company advertising the survey is in the business of making money from sending answers to a range of questions from the general public, they don't have a personal relationship with the other texter, or any knowledge of what that person's text idiolect is like, so will probably use a more standard form.

So is texting dying out and are we getting sick of its abbreviations? Probably not. The numbers speak for themselves: we sent a total of 78.9 billion texts last year, 216 million a day, according to the Mobile Data Association.

* KMT = Kiss/ing My Teeth (Caribbean expression of distaste/ disapproval)
KMFT = Kiss/ing My F***ing Teeth
KMBCT = Kiss/ing My Bloodclart Teeth (Caribbean expression of extreme distaste/ disapproval)

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