Sunday, 17 April 2005

Is texting killing the English language?

* The New Zealand Herald: Teen sends 8,000 texts a month

Interesting story this one... about a 17 year old Christchurch teenager who somehow manages to send 8,000 texts a month on his mobile phone, and still hold down a job as a sales assistant!

His friends think he texts too much (ya think?!), although he's well down on the 15,000 a month when Telecom allowed for unlimited texts. The guy spends around $280 a month on texting, and calls it "the way of the future".

Okay... Rant ahead... ;-) Now, I'll admit it. I'm not a big fan of the whole text thing. I'm a crap texter, even with predictive text (which only tends to result in some strangly worded messages!) I usually get too frustrated trying to tap out a response, that I give up and just call the person who's texting me.

And that's the part I don't get. How can you call it "the way of the future", when what you're essentially doing is sending an electronic telegram... Don't people know you can actually use these phone things to speak to people with your voice? And they don't even have to be in the same town!

PXTing has been pretty much a spectacular failure so far, and Telecom's new 3G "third generation" mobile network, offering video services is likely to face a similarly slow uptake. Apart from the excessive cost for these services (even though they try to lure customers in by offering them for free to begin with), it's obvious that at this stage, people are happy with plain old black and white characters on a screen, and maybe hearing the odd voice in their ear.

Another reason I'm not a big fan of texting or internet "chat/instant messaging", is the new language that's developed... The long list of abbreviations to make it quicker and easier to send your friends messages. The trouble is, people are using them more and more in everyday emails, letters, and advertising. Teenagers who're already appalling spellers are now going through school believing that the likes of "wot" is actually the correct spelling of the word formerly known as "what", and "gr8" is an acceptable replacement for "great".

I work as a TV reporter, and have noticed a major fall in standards in recent years, as far as spelling and vocabulary goes. Many trainees, work experience students, and even full time journalists are unable to string a coherent sentence together, and have no clue about punctuation. A lot rely on spell checkers - a device I hate with a passion - I would prefer to see the occassional word misspelt, than to rely on a computer trying to analyse what you actually meant to type!

The excuse I often get in return is that "in TV you don't have to spell correctly" is a poor crutch. There's still a number of people along the line that have to be able to understand your work - newsreaders, producers, staff compiling stories for the web. The Radio Network station Newstalk ZB posts news stories on their website every day, complete with obligatory spelling and punctuation mistakes, and sentences of 'gobbledygook'.

I'm concerned the English language as we know it will be a shadow of its current self in ten to twenty years time, and we're on a slippery slope to regressing back into caveman communication.

I'm not usually a fan of documentaries on State TV, but a new ITV series hosted by Melvyn Bragg that began this morning is quite interesting. The Adventure of English traces the development of the English language, from an obscure Germanic dialect, to one of the most widely understood languages in the world. It looks to be an interesting and strangely informative series, but unfortunately you'll have to turn over to State TV One to catch it, at 10am on Sunday mornings for the next few weeks.

* The NZ Listener: Review of the book The Adventure of English
* Plain English Campaign: Home Page


Buy Lynne Truss's excellent book,
Eats, Shoots & Leaves:
The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

here now, through Amazon UK or USA...


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  1. Anonymous Says:

    I agree whole-heartedly on this issue. I refuse to use "text" language. While I accept that living languages such as English have to continue to evolve and change, I think this trend is definitely a change for the worse.

  2. moray Says:

    wot u sain txtn iz kewl u r jst borin m8!

    just kidding dave texting is crap what happened to just calling people!