It turns out texting might not be the end of language and/or the world

There’s a good piece on the web site, “2b or not 2b?” about how texting is not destroying language as we know it. Just the opposite. I’m just skimming this morning, but here’s my favorite paragraphs so far:

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.


Research has made it clear that the early media hysteria about the novelty (and thus the dangers) of text messaging was misplaced. In one American study, less than 20% of the text messages looked at showed abbreviated forms of any kind – about three per message. And in a Norwegian study, the proportion was even lower, with just 6% using abbreviations. In my own text collection, the figure is about 10%.

People seem to have swallowed whole the stories that youngsters use nothing else but abbreviations when they text, such as the reports in 2003 that a teenager had written an essay so full of textspeak that her teacher was unable to understand it. An extract was posted online, and quoted incessantly, but as no one was ever able to track down the entire essay, it was probably a hoax.

Okay, that last one was two paragraphs, but still.

This is something I might have students read in English 516. I haven’t done a unit in the past about texting– personally, it just isn’t that interesting to me and it is something I rarely do myself– but maybe I should. Or maybe I should begin the term with a whole bunch of readings for a week I could call “It Turns Out that the Internets and Other Technologies Are Not Ruining the Kids,” and include readings about the myths of pedophiles and online chat, about the dangers of Facebook/MySpace, about texting, etc., etc. Maybe I could track down some articles to include about the dangers of the phone, of television, of rock-n-roll music, the waltz, and so forth.

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