You will hear part of a discussion between two language experts, George Steadman and Angela Conti, who are talking about how advances in communication are affecting English usage.
- What point is made about the effect of the internet on language?
- When discussing the main criticism of text messaging, George reveals
- What view is stated about abbreviations in texting?
- When discussing the new genre of text-poetry, both researchers agree that
- What final conclusion do both the researchers reach about the state of English today?
M1: It’s great to welcome two researchers from the university linguistics department, Angela and George, to lead our discussion of what’s happening to our language today. Folks are pointing to communication on the internet as evidence of a language collapse. Are they right, Angela? F: Well, traditionally we’ve had two mediums – speech and writing. Now we have a third – electronic communication – producing a fundamental difference in the way language is communicated. The internet’s many things: emails, chat rooms and so on. In each you see a new form of language – an amalgam of writing and speech, if you like, with its own conventions. What do you think, George?
M2: Throughout history, technology has allowed us to do new things with language, starting with printing in the 15th century, via the telephone to broadcasting. Just think of all the varieties of usage on radio and television that have come into existence. But with each advance there have been people who’ve prophesised doom. Now naysayers are proclaiming that the net is allowing the language structures to fall apart. But we’re in a transitional period, so the jury’s still out. F: Another thing that people are moaning about is the language in text messaging.
M2: There’s a difference, in my view. All the usual stuff people worry about with language, has some basis. If somebody says, ‘Splitting infinitives is making the language go down the drain,’ it’s because people do actually split infinitives. With text messaging though, it’s people fantasising. Their main criticism is, ‘Texts are full of strange made-up words and misspellings.’ They firmly believe that, although they’ve probably never texted. And one of the first planks of my research was to examine large quantities of texts, to find that more than 90% of words have standard spelling. So it’s a myth.
F: But texts do contain some abbreviations and they’re what people find salient about them.
M2: That’s a fair point, but there are other aspects of the myth too. Some people believe that the culprits are teenagers who are forcing the language into unknown directions. Though if you look into it, as I have, you find virtually every commonly used abbreviation has roots that go way, way back.
F: And interestingly, if we did a survey of texting, we’d find the amount kids generate is probably under 20%. Adults of all ages text now, and institutions text more than everyone put together – that’s texts sent by companies and the stock market, or universities and broadcasters. When you consider the etiquette, most of these organisations bar abbreviations, because they’re concerned they cause ambiguity.
M2: Well, what about this new ‘literary’ genre – text-poetry? What’s your take on it?
F: Its supporters say the length constraint in text-poetry fosters economy of expression, just as other tightly constrained forms of poetry do. To say a text-poem must be written within 160 characters at first seems just as pointless as to say a poem must be 14 lines, but put the form into the hands of a master, and the result can be magic. Of course, text-poetry has some way to go before it matches traditional forms, but they’ve had quite a head-start!
M2: There’s something unparalleled about it. This is nothing to do with the use of texting language or length. It’s more the way the short lines have an individual force. With a textpoem you stay focused on each line as it appears on the tiny illuminated screen. It can be very powerful, though, of course, most are nauseating rubbish. So what’s new?
F: So, what conclusion can we reach?
M2: As far as linguistics is concerned, we need to observe the rapid changes and do research. There are still an extraordinary number of doom-laden prophecies about damage to the language that things like texting are unleashing. But research has begun to dispel these notions. The most important finding is that texting doesn’t erode children’s language. In fact, it improves it in certain aspects. The latest studies have found strong links between text language and the skills underlying success in standard English in pre-teenage children. The more short forms in their messages, the higher they scored on reading and vocabulary. And the younger they received their first phone, the better.
F: People assume that children are learning poor spelling and non-standard grammatical structures. They fail to realise that before you can write and play with short forms, you need a sense of how the sounds of your language relate to the letters. If you’re aware that your texting behaviour is different, you must have already intuited that there’s such a thing as a standard.