“Texting complaints come from stereotypes” printed in Gulf News

A newspaper out of the United Arab Emirates, Gulf News, printed a brief article by me on texting and attitudes toward it. You can check it out here or I’ve posted the original text (before their edits) here:

Many of the world’s languages are in danger of becoming extinct, but none of them are in this unfortunate predicament due to texting or any other technology-aided communication. In fact, all of those languages would be better off if people were texting in them.

Other linguists have already eloquently defended texting. I recommend John McWhorter’s TED talk titled, “Txtng is killing language. JK!!!”. I won’t rehash his ideas, but suffice it to say that texting language (for example, abbreviated spellings like ‘u’ or ‘gr8’) is efficient and purposeful and does not prevent users from mastering other types of language for different purposes, especially spellings like ‘you’ and ‘great’ used in academic or published writing.

One aspect of this debate that is overlooked and under-appreciated, however, is the reason why many people are insistent that texting is killing English. The explanation I offer is that their complaints stem from stereotypes. Rather than different spellings like ‘u’ and ‘you’ having any intrinsic value, they have social value in the same way that clothing choices have social value. The choice to wear a certain type of shoes is in part a matter of showing others that you are a certain type of person.

The same considerations of social value exist for different language choices (like ‘you’ versus ‘u’) and the social groups that use them. Texting language is associated with young people. Thus, many people associate ‘u’ with the same attributes they unfairly assign to young people: laziness, vapidness, and shallowness. We could just as easily associate ‘u’ with the same things texters associate it with: efficiency and being young and cool (if ‘cool’ is still cool).

Therefore, to say that texting is killing English is to repeat the same tired mantra of every aging generation angry at youth culture: “kids these days”.

If you’re interested in hearing more about texting from linguists’ point of view, check out John McWhorter’s TED Talk “Txtng is killing language. JK!!!” or Anne Curzan’s blog post “Txtng rules“.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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Posted in Prescriptivism and language prejudice, Technology and language

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