What’s Wrong with Text Language
Gr8. C u l8tr. Depending on your viewpoint, this set of almost words will either make you scream and put your hands over your eyes, or shrug and get on with texting your buddies. There has been a lot of wailing and wringing of hands about the invasion of text language in recent years, with considerable chunks of the media devoted to decoding the phenomenon.
I should be among the decriers of text language. After all, as I mentioned in a previous blog post (The Rogue Apostrophe), the slightest grammatical error prompts me to launch into an Eats, Shoots and Leaves style rant. But I do think there is a place for text language.
Up to 500 years ago, English words were spelt whatever way the writer imagined they should be spelt. People spelled according to how they pronounced the word and there was a lot of inconsistency. At one stage, according to Melvyn Bragg’s outstanding book, The Adventure of English, there were 50 ways of spelling church.
With the arrival of print, the shape of the language changed. Print was a new medium and in order to work successfully, spellings needed to be standardised, otherwise the workload would have been impossible. Now, the print medium is dying, or at least becoming less central to our lives.
The mediums of web and mobile phone communication are taking centre stage, so it makes sense that the language will bend to fit those mediums. Freed from the restrictions of print, the language can run riot a little. This may amount to butchery for some, but it is also leading to wonderfully inventive phrasing and humorous acronyms.
At one point, the English language was weighed down with rules, particularly in the 18th and 19th century. The creation of dictionaries and grammers was a national obsession. Some of these rules were artificial and were designed to prove how educated the inventors were. This new language is more democratic and accessible. The compressed nature of text and web language means that people must choose their words carefully, removing a lot of the dense language which made older texts so difficult to understand.
The rulebook is still being written on text and web language, as we struggle to come to grips with communicating in a new medium. At the moment, web and text language is still difficult to understand and needs to be refined. Until people become more familiar with this new vocabulary and the situation settles down, there will be a lot of confusion.
When it comes to print texts, it’s still wisest to adhere to conventional grammar rules, because web and text language is still too raw to be easily integrated with traditional print language. There will always be a place for the solid presence of print text; web language is too ephemeral to stand up by itself. Young people will still need a sound grounding in written grammar in order to play with the language and take it to new levels.
The arrival of text and web language does not sound a death knell for the English language. The language is simply evolving and adapting to a new medium. Before print, medieval English was playful and informal. It reflected how the people spoke and lived their lives. In a way, web and text language is a return to that, making English a language of the people.
There have always been protests whenever a new grammatical convention or word has been introduced. But in time, they have become as much part of the background as a favourite chair or a burbling radio. Soon enough, we won’t remember a time when we didn’t end our texts, or even our blogs, with ‘c u nxt wk.’