Monday, September 29, 2008

txtng (the gr8 db8)

Moral panic
A bijou book by a Professor of Linguistics that takes a serious look at texting in readable prose. He shows that almost everything we think we know about texting is wrong and that the Boomer hacks are little more than ‘angry from Tunbridge Wells’ amateurs. It’s good to see some sound, academic sense in a field that’s dominated
by amateur newspaper hacks like John Humphries (in the Daily Mail), John Sutherland (in the Guardian) and Lynn Truss, who see texting as some sort of illegitimate attack on language. Disgruntled Boomers, who know little or nothing about either texting or liguistics love to crow on about how it’s debasing the language and producing generation of illiterate idiots. A widely distributed newspaper story in 2003 stated that a student had written an entire essay in textspeak. Turns out this was made up and the essay has never been found.

Crystal shows, through solid figures, that texting has emerged through use and demand and exploded across the globe. It’s estimated that over a trillion (million million) text messages were sent in 2005. Boredom, flirting, gossip, insults, jokes, greetings, organising, sports results, neighbourhood watch, stock prices, voting, visa expiry, political demonstrations, flash mobbing, parents/kids and just keeping in touch; these are just a few uses for texting. Yet this has produced little more than ‘moral panic’ among commentators.

Txt me Ishmael

But the true worth of the book is in tearing down popular misconceptions. Texting, according to Crystal is:

  • Not new
  • Not restricted to the young
  • Doesn’t abbreviate as much as you think it does
  • Helps rather than hinders literacy
  • Produces wonderful forms of language

Serious poets have marveled at the subtlety of text poetry and I particularly love, ‘They phone you up your mum and dad’. Text poet Norma Silver has writte Ten Txt Commandments’ such as ‘u shall abbraeva8 & rite words like theyr sed’. There’s the wonderful emergence of texting novels, especially in Japan, and books written wholly in text messages.

Nothing new

Crystal shows that six linguistic features of texting are not novel. With an original limit of 160 characters, it makes perfect sense to use consonants to convey meaning. Many languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, rely largely on this phenomenon. Crystal lamblasts Humphries for accepting abbreviations such as the OK, PS, QC, VIP, BBC, RSVP etc, yet abhorring text messaging. Acronyms have been used for centuries. Missig letters are also common as in Mr, Mrs, Sgt, Ltn, Kg etc. Straight shortenings such as bus, fridge, exam are also common. Yet abbreviations are not as common as you would imagine. In some trials only 6% of texts used abbreviations.

Pictograms and logograms are features of many languages (notably Chinese). Deliberate non-standard spellings are also common, and often included in standard dictionaries. Crystal openly admires the novel forms of expression such as a3 (anytime, anywhere, anyplace’) or prw (parents are watching).

Sticklers on punctuation may be surprised to find that apostrophes are often used in used in texting. In fact the apostrophe, along with standardized spelling, is a recent invention in writing. Younger adults are MORE LIKELY to use standard capitalization and punctuation in tests. Women are more enthusiastic testers, write longer messages and use more emoticons/abbreviations.

Good or bad?

The final chapter is the most fascinating. Young people are well aware of the difference between texting and schoolwork. Examination experts report that it is not a significant problem d, as we have seen, few actually abbreviate much anyway. All of the reported illiteracy problem predate texting, yet it is a handy scapegoat. Annoyingly, just as complaints about literacy multiply, along comes a technology that has promoted a renaissance in reading and writing, yet it is treated with contempt by the ‘pen and paper’ brigade. Children don’t keep diaries any more – oh yeah! Haven’t you see MySpace, facebook and blogs. They’re obsessed by diary keeping.

Furthermore, research is showing that texting actually improves literacy skills. Crystal quotes three studies from City University, London, Coventry University and Finland, that purport to show positive links between texting and literacy. It motivates, especially young boys, into being creative with their writing. In an interesting twist, the Coventry group found that the younger the child received a phone, the higher their literacy scores. As one would expect there’s also evidence that it helps with communications and social skills. It has also hugely empowered the deaf.

A murkier area is the growth in court cases around adultery, fraud and even murder being prove through the analysis of text messages. It turns out that we unwittingly put a personal style signature in out texts.

Txtng rcks

Its strengths are that it’s cheap, immediate, direct, personal, not in real time and unobtrusive. I think every company and organization that has staff using mobile phones should be forced to do a course on texting, then forced to text more often than talk on the phone. Texting cuts to the quick. It would save them all an absolute fortune.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful Donald! I wonder who will not be convinced after reading this article. I agree fun makes learning a cake walk. I really wish people with your kind of understanding created the educational strategies. Even though the Indian educational system is obsolete, I am amazed how my son is excelling and sailing through the tough syllabus so playfully. Imagine what bright kids would achieve if they had an opportunity to learn playfully! Thanks for the post.

David Sugden said...

Thank you for this.

Texting is a modern phenomana and has been speedy in its spread/uptake. I agree with your sentiments entirely - yet I'm grey haired and involved in Education.

My converstion to the potential for texting and the wider uses of mobile devices came early in 2002, having heard from a (now friend) presenter just how she was enthusing and enabling learners with text. My own experiments all those years ago convinced me wholeheartedly.

Thank you for your post.