If you can read this title, then congrats! You are better than your illiterate peers. Well, as I was given and assignment consisting of answer a few questions about an essay written some time ago by Professor David Crystal for The Guardian. While there are more piratey topics to be written shortly, why not share the homework that’s been distracting me from the blog?
So without further adieu and for the sake of convention, here is
I’m Going to Let You Finish, But Leet Speak is the Best Deviation From Standard Orthography of All Time
In Professor David Crystal’s essay, “2b or Not 2b?”, the author opens by quoting some rather nasty statements made about the widespread adoption of the use of slang, abbreviation and acronyms in text messaging via mobile devices. His position on the matter of whether or not the growing practice of using slang spelling in text messages, or “texting”, is subtly eluded to by his rhetorical examples of how earlier developments in communication technologies were commonly met with fear and slander. The author then places the modern example of texting upon a pedestal high above its technological predecessors by posing a question of whether any new method for communicating has been met with as much resistance as texting. After a brief history of the development of texting, Professor Crystal clearly assumes a position counter to that of the previously quoted statements that text slang is damaging toward the literacy skills of a populace by stating that “all the popular beliefs about texting are wrong”.
In Professor Crystal’s opinion, the perceived threat texting poses toward standard orthography is just that; an imagined phobia. He makes the case that many texters are well aware that they are breaking linguistic rules and that the occurrence of such deviances remains to be far too insignificant a fraction of the total context of written language mediums to seriously encroach upon the conventions of standard orthography. This is supported with data showing that even withing the limited context of texting, where abbreviations and slang are most convenient, the use of such is limited in comparison to proper . The blame placed on the technology is discounted by mention of rebuses and other examples predating the use of texting, sometimes by decades.
Had the author been writing for a less mature audience, the use of a simple story may have been most conducive to getting his point across. Perhaps a story about a young lad who discovers he is the offspring of two very powerful cryptographers who were killed by a very authoritarian grammar nazi. In order to defeat said grammar nazi, the young protagonist must communicate quickly using text slang, abbreviations and acronyms to stay a step ahead of his enemy. However, in the final battle with the dreaded antagonist, the young boy must also best the grammar nazi in a competition of standard orthography, pleading his case before a public forum, thereby displaying that the victor will be the one who has not only the time saving advantage of the new texting lingo, but also great competency in wielding one’s language. In the end, the grammar nazi’s is ousted. His greatest folly was his inability to use the very text lingo he despised.
The author notes that the winner of a text poetry context wrote conventionally, while the runner-up did not. The use of abbreviated, alternatively spelled words along with the use of capital letters to make for faster spelling for the same conveyance of word pronounciation, for example “mAks” as opposed to “makes”, showcases an entire layer of creativity which makes it stand out beyond the poetry itself. While I can appreciate both examples of poetry given, it is this added element that makes the unconventional poem my favorite. Because, what other medium is more appropriate for breaking the rules and confines of literal literacy than poetry?
The Professor’s introduction of research showing that children with the highest aptitude for reading and vocabulary use the most textisms did not come as a surprise. His previous about individuals using textisms must first know what they are intending to say and tailor tailor their message in a way that can still be easily understood by the recipient is one indication of why this is. Reading a fully spelled word requires less attentive scrutiny of that word. On the contrary, reading an acronym such as “ttys” requires that the reader invoke her vocabulary and narrow it down to a phrase in which each word begins with the proper letter and make sense in the given context of the conversation. Far more critical thinking is involved and, with practice, it is done so swiftly that one’s grasp of language becomes a much more intuitive process. If I had been asked prior to reading of this research or Professor Crystal’s opinions on the general matter of whether textisms are leading to illiteracy, I would have assumed opinions which closely resemble those of the author.