The impact of
Internet Chat argot and texting
On Learners' Writings
Good afternoon everyone. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today. I am here to talk about the impact of internet chat language and short text messaging on writing among the 21st century teens and kids. Many scholars and sociolinguists have tackled the different sides of this topic in detail. Compared to those deep holistic studies, my contribution is humble but worth considering. In my talk, I restrict myself to the connection which logically exists between texting and standard writing, and the implications of this new phenomenon on the reading and the understanding of literature in the future. I will also try to ponder on the role schools, meaning language teachers; can play to bridge the gap.
Had Shakespeare been alive today, on his facebook wall, he would write, “2b or not 2b thts th Qstn”. Amongst his fans, countless are those who would click “like” and many others would comment, “4b iz gr8, hahahaha”. You see what I mean?
Astonishingly, great lots of people applaud the new freaking text messaging (txtng) or chatty language that youngsters are hooked on today, and it is pitilessly invading their daily life. Undoubtedly, most of those applauders are not teachers, and they seem really very enthusiastic when they announce the birth of a new dialect that we have to put up with all of us. Shall we?!
What if they just halt for a short while to ask questions like, “Where has this typical “language” been fabricated ?”, “what is beyond getting used to it?”, and “Can an unstable means of communication like this one last long?”, they would, very probably, postpone their cheers until later on, if there is any “later on”.
If they were kids who invented it, no harm in that, but if they were slothful and low efficient adults thinking that this way they are saving time and space and maybe the alphabets, we all should reconsider the question before we rashly shout for joy. Don’t you smell a cloud of havoc coming up over the field of language battle? Language teachers surely do.
Some say, there is no harm in that as far as communication is taking place. Some others, intellectual people this time, explain that txtng and writing are two completely different things. txtng is rather a sort of “technical” speaking borrowing some writing tools due to the constrains of technological devices used and which urge us to use such abrupt signs to communicate to save time and money.
* “Hey teachers! Leave, us, kids alone!”
Those people, who think that txtng has no effect on school work, have never corrected students’ papers. In fact, Txtng has seriously meddled with students’ writings. Despite all the teachers’ efforts, the students continue writing in txtng and believe this is the way it is.
When language teachers try hard to explain how language functions and operates, and how it should be used formally and elegantly, are they truly tormenting the kids and trying to control their thoughts? (The wall - Pink Floyd) When teachers require from the learners to write standard formal language taking grammar rules, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and diction into consideration, are they torturing them?!
Now what about short text messaging and chat argot that the teens are exchanging believing that they are communicating with each other normally. Nothing is normal about it except for them. Once they absorb it, they reject any formal communication means apart from what they are used to. Obviously old books will soon blow in the wind, including Shakespeare’s legacy. No one will be able to know and read them any more. Wordsworth and William Blake will be football players, and Virginia Wolf a pop singer. Mark Twain and William Faulkner will be rappers and so forth.
We are almost trapped in the twist of cables. Teachers of languages worldwide are complaining about the phenomenal fall of formal language writing among the students, this is not new though. It has always been so throughout history. However, this time, it is real “hell” serious. There must be a virus spreading the epidemics. Most of us think that technology in general and mobile phones in particular are behind the phenomenon. This could still be true if we talked about the beginning of mobile phone messages (1990s) which did not allow more than a given figure of characters (140 bytes) per message. Now that operators can provide MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) able to send even videos, we have no excuse to talk about SMS (Short Message Service) being the cause anymore.
* Texting a language teacher
Nowadays, the hardest of all experience for students is to text an English teacher, that’s why they avoid that. They know for sure that if the teacher didn’t get angry, she would at least correct their grave mistakes, and this is what they ha8 (hate) the most. Short text messaging or chat language is not language for any language teacher, no doubt about that. The students, on the other hand, have their forums and saloons in the cloud where they can enjoy this kind of “weird” communication styles. Here lies the crack in the wall. Take teens’ facebook posts for instance, the so called formal language is almost alien there. All that you can “read” is something like, “PXT” (Please explain that), “BTW” (By the way), “WTF” (What The F-word), when emotions are needed to be displayed, the “emoticons” replace words, and the “creative” process is going on. Can we call this progress for the language which thousands of years ago represented the major means of communication among human beings? Here starts the db8 (debate)
Some would say that language teachers, especially old hats, are angry, this is true. However, it is not because the learners don’t listen to them; or because their students keep “writing” in the way it pleases them using that odd language type, but rather because they cannot understand it, and this is a handicap for someone who is supposed to make students understand the world around them. Teachers send messages themselves, don’t they? But do they use the appropriate texting language? J In the end, it is not the teacher who must get angry, but they are the students just because, according to them, the teachers are so illiterate that they cannot decipher and recognize a short message in the way it should be written these days. Up to here the crack is just getting a little wider. Is it not a case of functional illiteracy that we are talking about when the teacher cannot communicate with the learner and the learner cannot communicate with the teacher properly? Teachers must be open-minded and tolerate change and evolution. It is in the nature of things, and only fools resist progress. Think about it?
Many would argue that writing, like anything else, is subject to development. They remind us of the way Shakespeare used to write “You are”, “Thou art” and they say,” Hey, look! It’s normal that language develops very so often, therefore it is normal that “You are” of today becomes “UR” of tomorrow.” To my mind this is a pure fallacy.
According to “John McWhorter”, Texting is just a kind of “fingered speech” (1). Due to technological Constraints, behind speaking with fingers, there is a great deal of compromises, like no caring about spelling, no concern with the rules, no apostrophes and mechanics, no reflection, no restructuring, lots of abbreviations, dots, dashes, colons, parentheses and so on. The goal is to deliver a message full of information in a very concise way. To do that for the sake of sending a fast economical message in almost no time, this harms the language badly, and it has a fatal impact on students’ academic studies.
On the other hand, when we write, we need to mind our spelling, choose the most expressive words carefully; plan our expressions and structures before delivery. We need also to regard our punctuation and revise the whole text for the final draft. If writing requires all this, therefore txtng has nothing to do with writing at all. While txtng, we don’t normally care about the minimum of those requirements. On this basis, texting is much easier, yet it is an artifice to make us believe we are writing. What we are actually doing is a mere act of drawing signs. When the teens start texting, they don’t bother about punctuation, let alone apostrophes. And most of what they “write” are letters and figures. “Glad 2 C U 2” instead of “I’m glad to see you, too” Worse than that the acronyms and abbreviations they permanently invent, and which can mean anything, like “EOD”, is it “End of discussion” or “End of day”? They even try to imitate life by introducing sounds like, “Haha” for instance. Are they laughing with their fingers or is it just a simulation of an ironical abrupt cackle. “OMGYG2BK!” (Oh my God, you got to be kidding!).
I assume it’s out of fear of making mistakes that the youth express themselves this way. They pretend that this is the fastest and the most economical way to transmit information. They just fool themselves. This way of “writing” does not even respect the basics of writing. It is a disfigured composition. It is void of expressions of emotions, and it is most likely not to be understood or, bitter, it brings about misunderstanding. It is full of vague and ambiguous acronyms and abbreviations. Take “ur”, it is both “your” and “you’re”, How come? These are completely different in meaning. As a result, they are devastating their writing skills with persistence. Yes, thnx.
In short text messaging, the audience is almost always addressed in the same way. There is no consideration for age, gender or intellectual status. The message itself contains no personal features at all; the writer could be anyone; feelings cannot be shown because the message is wobbly, abrupt, very concise and much less reflective. I mean that for a linguist it is hard to say if the speech act type used is directive, commissive, representative, performative, or expressive. Texting may hide various facts about the users, such as “dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness” (2). However, some say that txtng is a sign of the human capability of linguistic novelty. BFF (Best Friends Forever) do not exist only but in short text messaging and in chat argot.
Suppose these infective aspects are transmitted into the pattern of the formal language writing, how can language be language? Alas, it’s no longer a supposition, it’s a fact already.
Once again, if txtng is kept exclusively for short messages and virtual chat rooms, there will be no harm in that. Besides, the school will be sheltered, teachers won’t be burnouts, and creative writing will be immune. The greatest of all calamities; nonetheless, is when this sort of language contaminates literature. Have a look at this poem.
O hart tht sorz,
My luv adorz,
He mAks me liv,
He mAks me giv,
Myslf 2 him,
As my luv porz
The amazing thing about this love poem is that, fortunately, it doesn’t transgress the rules of punctuation and capitalization. In fact, this is not the only astonishing thing about the poem. The “runner-up”, the poet, so to speak, is not a teenager. “The author was Eileen Bridge, revealed to be a grandmother aged 68” (2)
Like poetry, prose is paving its way through accumulating experience. It is just a matter of time. One day someone will publish a book in this chatty language, how many do you think will be able to read it? I guess all of us; meanwhile, only very few of us will be able to read William Golding’s “Lord of the flies”. If things keep going this way, one day communication will all be texting. On the phone, voicemails will repeat one phrase, “Please, hang up, and text me!” In face-to-face communication, the conversation will start and end up with words such as “shut up, and text me”. Most of meetings will take place virtually, not because there is no room for gathering, but because there’ll be no language for communication. So, “Let’s part now and meet in the virtual chat room, at six p.m”. This is a gloomy picture of the human relationships and connections in the near future; all the same, reality, will be gloomier, I’m afraid. We are heading towards isolation for sure. Phones replace face-to-face contacts; then texting replace phone-calls; so, would it be fictitious if we assumed that “surrogates” (3) would one day become true? Whatever!
* The French chat language
In another context, for a more complete picture, check what French has become as a consequence of this new texting habit. I bet few of the French kids can spell the question word “quoi?” (what?) correctly as most of them are used to writing it “koi”, like in “koi 2 9” (Quoi de neuf?” (What’s new?). The same can be said about several other words like “Quelqu’un” (qq1), “c’est bien” (C b1) and so on. The French textos are quite a completely new form of t’chat language, here are few samples:
To choose to write this way “C pa 5pa” (ce n’est pas sympa) - That's not nice, especially when you address a language teacher. Like English and French, almost all the other formal languages in the world have been contaminated. Take “tof” for Moroccan teens, it means “photo”, but I wonder what connects “tof” to “photo”; besides “< 33” which means “heart or love”. Je X, I mean, “Je crois”, I believe things are getting worse with the low efficiency at school. Schools cannot stop this phenomenon, It’s too late, I’m afraid (raf - rien à faire - nothing to be done). BTW / By the way, if you can’t understand this part, it’s OK. It was only language interference. Try it now; this is how communication will be very soon.
Should we admit that this is how things are, and simply accept the fact that it’s good for kids to engage in this fatal game of expression? Language teachers everywhere would refuse to allow this madness to seep into their classes, except for those who are open to novelties, generally the fresher teachers. Old hats will soon become (4NRs) foreigners or aliens among their pupils. Apparently, teachers are becoming illiterate and they have to go back to school! Ooops, sorry which “skul”?
* Technology versus Pen & Paper
The technological devices are responsible for encouraging teenagers to adopt such oddities. Logically, if there were no smart mobile phones, no social networking and no software applications open to teens; there wouldn’t be anything to complain about, who knows? As the kids have easy access to internet, they need to interact with each other, but because they don’t have the basic language skills for communication, they simply create one for them to facilitate the contact. As a result of this transgression of the norms and rules, the standard formal Language, as we knew it, is about to be completely ruined.
Language teachers must be mad. The language is under permanent attacks from outside the walls of schools. The anomalies are pouring over school from the street, television, cinema and technology, the most influential “schools” of all; to the extent that language teachers are about to admit defeat and most of them have already gone burnout. Through their exam papers, the kids are felt not capable of recognizing and reading the words. They seem unable to understand the instructions, not to mention providing answers. There is a deep hole being dug between them and the standard language. In their formal writings, as far as they can use pen and paper, the students are heading from bad to worse: the use of slang first, then the incoherent writing structures, scribbled handwriting and now texting: That’s too speedy for the rapid change they are talking about. The fall is fatal. Whatever!
It is a new hazy culture that is being established worldwide. School doesn’t have any hand in this haze emergence, not because it is absent, but because it is helpless face to this unprecedented ferocious assault. It is almost true that school today is under siege. Therefore a wise compromising solution has to be sought before it is too late to restore. Some say that it is the language of technology that is prevailing and it is compulsory for us all to accept the fact that the teenagers have tendency to learn this way. I believe technology is only an apparatus, not a language. It is true that technology has its own languages or “protocols”, but they are not valid for human “consumption”.
* From “texting for writing” to “writing for texting”
It’s more convenient for students to stop speaking with fingers and start speaking in words. They must have the verbal skills that they were born to learn and master. That’s to say, it’s better for them to stop texting and start writing. If they are afraid of taking risks with formal writing, which requires accuracy along with fluency and the other mechanics, they have to start writing casually, in the least. They need to start writing as they text endeavouring to abide by the minimum basic rules of language, minding their spelling and grammar. Texting is not a fit alternative for writing, though. Texting is like junk food, no one can recommend it because it is harmful. Like junk food, texting is fast, no one can deny that, but has fast food ever been of any good for health? Likewise, we don’t always need to worry about sending the message in almost no time in our daily life at the expense of “healthy” standard language. Texting sickens the language and the interaction with each other. They say it’s the vogue that everybody has to keep up with. I say this is just a kind of justification of the unjustifiable
Writing is not an encoded language so much as an encoded language is not writing. We cannot use a coded language and believe it is the same as we write; so we can in no way take it for granted that short messages are writing. Youngsters prefer texting to writing properly because it’s loose and they don’t bother too much about capitalization, punctuation and so on. Texting or fingered speech is prevailing and it will soon contaminate school if it hasn’t already started to invade it. What we need - as a first aid process - is to help students gradually convert their encoded language moderately into legible written messages. Is it sluggishness or the fear from imperfection that leads to this sort of displaced deficient communicative mode? No matter what the cause may be, we have to S.O.S (Save Ourselves); otherwise we’ll have to use a decoding device to understand each other.
I’m not actually worried about texting as a fashionable way of communicating among teenagers. It is the whole new way of writing that youngsters nowadays are developing which worried me most. I’m worried about the risk they would run if they lost control of it. One day maybe they will use “lol”, for instance, meaning something different from what the receiver might understand, whether it is “Laugh Out Loud” or “Lots of Love” or simply a “marker of empathy” or even like a sneeze whilst someone is engaged in a conversation. The new structures that are developing slowly but steadily are really scaring. I don’t mean to be archaically pessimistic in my approach but as a language teacher, this frightens me a lot. Logically, any language has to respect rules; nevertheless, the structures being developed now show no signs of ordered syntactic and semantic structures which can carry definite and clear meaning. Add to it, no clear sign of any possibility to express authentic feelings, as if a machine is compiling symbols to transmit a rigid command or a soulless piece of information. This situation is leading to chaos in language use. Gradually, txtng is growing into a sort of a diversity of discrete dialects and jargons. Each group will have its own “language” for communication. If a person not belonging to the group intercepted the conversation, he wouldn’t understand what the other guys are talking about.
Well, as a matter of fact, no one can stop the process now because the speed is high; however, the compromising solution we are talking about is dearly needed so as to prevent school, as an academic institution, from imploding. Let’s forget about the rigid language grammar for a moment, and see to what extent texting can be mended and redressed to prevent natural and genuine communication forms from becoming chaotic. My proposal is to help students write in a way that makes texting somehow a real language for writing, I mean lettering, not “speaking” in characters, signs, symbols and figures. What I wish is for students to keep the basic ordinary writing skills for the sake of an uninterrupted cultural past-present-future linkage.
The most appropriate way to mend the crack is to let teenagers have total independence and liberty to express themselves the way it pleases them while texting each other; however, at school, they should maintain the norms of the standard writing rules. If they could not draw a line between the terms “phishing” and fishing, they would not be able to differentiate between mobile phone and social networking free-style argot and the formal language used for scholastic purposes. That’s to say, they would never be able to feed from the old resources to prepare for their future academic life. Allowing the chat language to interfere with academic work is a real disaster for students’ university and college studies. The excessive use of texting will surely make learners shallow and almost outlandish, intellectually speaking.
“u mgt like 2 no tht its e z 4 10s 2 b @ skul 1st 2 c wots nw b4 oders no abt it”. Is this the most appropriate picture we project for our future school? A flea market where the kids gather to exchange ideas about new hi-tech devices, new software, new games and new nothingness?
School is the only location where the future is prepared for. It is there that we can foresee what the future will look like from the intellectual levels of the students. If school stood helpless in front of the awkward situation that is stealthily creeping inside our educational institutions, the common global intellectual and cultural values would go unstable very soon. We don’t need people who say it’s a good thing that the kids are developing their personal means of communication, and we don’t need people who say that we have to stop them from using their gadgets and texting devices to communicate with each other. All that we need are a few rare “mad” people capable of finding a solution not to burst out our collective history and patrimony, as well as not to bar the road and prevent the kids from building their own future life in the way they envisage comfortable for them. We have to let them pave their own ways towards the unseen future but wisely. I mean with a little guidance from the grown-ups. Case closed.
1. McWhorter, John – Txting is killing language. JK!!! (TED Talk - April 2013)
2. Crystal, David - Txtng: The Gr8 db8 - Oxford university press - New York - 2008
3. “Surrogates” - Movie (2009) Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Starring Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell,