Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The texting myth

One of the most prolific urban myths in recent years is that teenagers' cellphone texting is seriously damaging their writing skills. Tales of students handing in school assignments full of text abbreviations are passed around the net but is there any truth behind them?

It's refreshing to get the answer from one of the most respected authorities in language and communication, David Crystal in his new book; the aptly named Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. There's an interview with him in Visual Thesaurus, David Crystal on the myth of texting where he states that the texted assignment was really a hoax put out on the net to stir up feelings and then became a truth that people were only too willing to believe. Internet myths are much stronger than myths of the past since they can become global "truths" in a matter of hours.

Abbreviations are used in SMS-texting and, indeed, in the more adult arena of Twitter due to space restrictions. We're forced to cut out all embellishments and focus on the bare bones. Teenagers, argues Crystal, are able to cope easily with different registers of language and realize clearly when texting language is appropriate. Interviews with many teenagers reveal that they can't believe how anyone would use texting abbreviations in school work. It simply doesn't belong there and they all realise that. In addition, by analysing large amounts of text messages Crystal found that only around 10% of words were abbreviated at all, thereby deflating the whole debate.

There's nothing new with abbreviated forms of course. I certainly used them in my note-taking at lectures at university and they certainly didn't get reproduced in my essays. Property terms like des res, all mod cons (desirable residence, all modern conveniences) have been with us for many tears without any fears for estate agents' literacy skills. Somehow the use of devices that many adults still feel uncomfortable with makes old habits suddenly seem threatening.

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