Saturday, July 05, 2008

Txtl Analysis

David Crystal is renowned as one of the country's top linguists and in an extract from his new book on language, in The Guardian today, he looks at the rise of texting and the arguments about its effect on our wider communication skills.

Some of the background to texting is covered - the number of messages sent each year & the typical abbreviations used - but maybe more interesting from an English Language A Level point of view is the debate over what texting does (or doesn't) do to our language. Some views are particularly strong...

Crystal quotes a 2002 John Sutherland article (which actually featured on an ENA6 paper a few years ago) in which texting is described as "penmanship for illiterates", and a more recent article by John Humphrys which tell us that the "SMS vandals" "are destroying it (English): pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped."

But as Crystal points out, "Ever since the arrival of printing - thought to be the invention of the devil because it would put false opinions into people's minds - people have been arguing that new technology would have disastrous consequences for language. Scares accompanied the introduction of the telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting". He makes the point that texting is just another example of language change in action.

People think that the written language seen on mobile phone screens is new and alien, but all the popular beliefs about texting are wrong. Its graphic distinctiveness is not a new phenomenon, nor is its use restricted to the young. There is increasing evidence that it helps rather than hinders literacy. And only a very tiny part of it uses a distinctive orthography. A trillion text messages might seem a lot, but when we set these alongside the multi-trillion instances of standard orthography in everyday life, they appear as no more than a few ripples on the surface of the sea of language. Texting has added a new dimension to language use, but its long-term impact is negligible. It is not a disaster.

So is texting destroying our language, turning us into a nation of lazy illiterates? Or is it just a form of technology that helps us communicate quickly, a form with its own rules that we can switch into and out of when we choose? Sounds like a language debate to me, so fair game for assessment on ENA6 and the new ENGA3 spec.

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