As with most people under 60 living in the world today, texting has become an integral part of my everyday life. This is mainly because I have young adult children who are tethered to their phones but find it easier to text than to call and actually talk to their mother. Even when I call and leave them voicemail, they often respond with a text. If we didn’t have dinner together every week and they didn’t occasionally need a babysitter, I might actually forget what their voices sound like.
I don’t especially enjoy texting because I’m not good at it. I’m not good at texting because I’m particular. After painfully texting my message I have to proofread it, correct all the mistakes the autocorrect made and check the punctuation before I can send it off.
Not so with my children! Their texts are full of prolly, cul8r, nvrmnd and ttys! I think that when they text they forget that commas even exist let alone the rules regarding their uses. When I think of the money I invested in their college educations, I wonder why I bothered. At the rate the language seems to be deteriorating, my grandchildren will have grammar mastered by the time they’re in the fourth grade.
Is this really the case or am I being melodramatic? Is text speak destroying the English language? The debate is raging and there are good parents, educators and employers on both sides of the argument. Research is revealing mixed messages on what the future will bring. One thing everyone agree on is that texting isn’t going to go away because the mobile market is driven by it. It is estimated that text messaging will generate more than 700 billion dollars in the next five years. Since today’s youth, especially those in the United States, are passionate users of text, we should be concerned.
The first text message was sent in December 1992 and already this cultural phenomenon has resulted in a number of texting abbreviations making it into the Oxford English Dictionary. If you don’t know what LOL, FYI or BFF mean, you can now find them there.
Some studies quote teachers as complaining that text speak is making its way into the classroom. Students are using it in their notes, textbooks and sometimes even in their exams. These teachers are concerned that it is destroying their students’ understanding of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Imagine a college student who doesn’t know it’s you and not u. Professors claim that they are showing up in their classrooms. They also claim that the language is even creeping into spoken conversations and is weakening their students’ communication skills. Employers have also raised concerns that text speak is showing up on job applications and in business emails.
Other studies quote teachers as praising texting because it is opening up a new world of writing for some students that the classroom was never able to. Through texting, students are doing more writing and editing and, as S. Kelley Harrell has said, “Editing is the very edge of your knowledge forced to grow – a test you can’t cheat on.” These teachers see a student’s ability to manipulate English as a positive thing because it improves their grasp of it. Some studies claim as well that, though texting may weaken grammar, it actually increases reading skills. In addition, a number of people look at the history of English and the changes that have made drastic differences in it in the past and see this as a natural result of progress. Many employers are also pleased because they think text speak drives brevity and speed of communication; they believe it will help their employees compete in a fast-paced business world.
I’m still concerned. Why do we want to allow our beautiful language to be dumbed down to speed up communication? Since when is faster better than more eloquent? Will some employers be happier still when their employees start grunting and finger pointing?
We have had twenty years to watch the effects of text speak on the younger generation and, though it may strengthen relationships once handicapped by distance, is it worth the risk? Is there anything we can do to lessen or even nullify the consequences of text speak on the English language?
Perhaps there is. Perhaps we can teach students to know and use what is appropriate in which settings. Some seventy percent of schools have banned cell phones from their campuses. Teachers should maintain the standard for banning text speak from their lessons. If we can keep text speak out of education, maybe we can save the English language from being destroyed by text speak and still allow it to speed up and enrich our communications. What do you think?