An esteemed word boffin has called for an end to the urban myths surrounding the alleged damaging impact texting is having on the English language.

Professor David Crystal argues that such condensed messages enhance and enrich language skills.

An honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University, he said texting was widespread across all age groups and despite having a bad press it was merely another way to use language. Whilst researching his book – Txtng: the Gr8 Db8 – Prof Crystal said the oldest example of texter he had found was an 86-year-old grandmother in the United States.

The Prof suggests that there is a popular misconception that text messages were all made up of abbreviated words.

“If you collected a huge pile of messages and counted all the whole words and the abbreviations, the fact of the matter is that less than 10% would be shortened,” he claims.

“If you ask kids if they use the same style in their work they look at you as if you are mad. This is just a story going around, a huge urban myth.”

I can certainly see some benefits to txt spk, but I take issue with the Prof’s assertion that its use has not filtered into the classroom.

Evidence from teachers themselves seems to suggest otherwise. Indeed, a little over a year ago some teachers were advocating allowing txt spk to be used in exam papers.

So is txt spk a trend that will pass like so many others before it, or is it here to stay?

Prof Crystal regards it as an evolving form of language, one that has only been with us for a decade and which is far from being fully-formed. What form that evolution takes is unclear.

But surely, as this is such a comparatively young language, just as it is too soon to claim it is damaging our language skills then it also far too early to claim txt spk is gr8? 

One response »

  1. David Crystal says:

    Thanks for your interest. The book coming out in July, Txtng: the Gr8 Dbt (OUP), provides the back-up details you’re looking for. Several research reports are now out or in press, all pointing in the same direction – basically, that the more you text the better your literacy skills. And why should we be surprised? Literacy is essentially a matter of exposure to the written language, and here is a highly motivating means of giving them this exposure. The kids are reading more, thanks to texting. And most of what they read is in standard English. Those abbreviations are only there in a small percentage of words, as you point out.

    Nor are the abbreviations new. C U new? Not a bit. These things have been around for hundreds of years. Remember Y Y U R, Y Y U B…? That dates from Victorian times. Why do adults get so upset when kids do what they themselves did a generation ago? I’ve no idea.

    Evidence from teachers suggests otherwise? I bet you haven’t got any! A few casual remarks from teachers a year ago isn’t evidence. For my book I checked with dozens of teachers, examiners, and others, and asked them to show me work which contained a lot of textisms. None of them could. And the occasional inappropriate abbreviation was soon corrected.

    Texting is no longer just for kids. Most texts these days are between adults, and from institutions, from the BBC to the stock market. The oldest texter I know is 86!

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