Is TextSpeak a Different Language?
by Jonathan Emmen
I remember trying to read Beowulf in my English literature class in college. Canterbury Tales was somewhat better but not much. I was relieved when those two study units were over and vowed never to pick up either piece of literature again. And I haven’t. My thoughts at the time were how happy I was that the English language had evolved to a much simpler and more easily understandable “place.” And the English language has continued to evolve, with new words and terms being added to our vocabulary and our dictionaries every year.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Anyone who has not taken up texting and who sees something like “my smmr ws CWOT. B4 we used 2go2 NY 2C a ply. BTW, r u cmg ovr tdy?” might as well be reading Beowulf. It certainly does look like some foreign language, or at least some form of code – certainly not the English language. (Want a translation? Read on!) But it is how millennials and Gen Y’ers communicate today, as their thumbs race over keyboards on their phones. The question, then, becomes this: Is textspeak a language in its own right?
Verbal communication is at least 80,000 years old. Writing is about 5,000 years old – an infant of language, actually. Man has come to see a language as verbal and tactile communication. There are, however, many exceptions. Braille is not spoken; sign language is not written.
And over the years, we have established a huge base of acronyms that represent longer terms that we don’t want to spell out. Thus, DVLA = Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (UK), DMD = Department of Motor Vehicles (USA); IRS = U.S. Internal Revenue Service (USA); BA = Bachelor’s Degree, UK, USA, RSPCA, SPCA, RNLI, PETA, etc. No one complains about these acronyms being used in written or spoken language. And no one claims that they constitute a separate language.
Yet older generations complain that the English language is being ruined by texting, and that young people can no longer write properly. Others insist that it is a new language. Neither, actually, is correct. While teachers state that texting language is occasionally creeping into student writing in English composition courses, for the most part, students seem to be able to transition from texting to writing more formally and vice versa. And if textspeak were to be read out loud, it would sound just like “normal” spoken English. The example above, for instance, would be spoken as, “My summer was a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see a play. By the way, are you coming over today?” This, then, is not a new language. It is the use of acronyms for the purpose of writing speed.
Adapting – It’s What We Do
Language has always evolved. And it has always reflected societal needs, usually for more efficiency. Thus American English has taken out many letters that remain in British English. “Flavour” became “flavor;” “colour” became “color.” This was done in the name of efficiency – writing fewer letters but keeping the pronunciation and meaning the same.
Every year, about 150 or so words are added to English language dictionaries. The word “computer” was not in the dictionaries of the 1940’s. And words and terms such as “SMS,” “emoji,” and “LOL” were not in the dictionaries of the early 21st century. All of these additions are the result of societal changes, not a change to a new language. They are the result of people thinking outside of the box of traditional communication and devising faster methods to convey their messages.
Today’s Communication Demands
For senior citizens, communication demands have not changed much. They are no longer in the work force; they may email, write notes on cards they send in the mail, and even text. But they use the language conventions with which they grew up. If they should be the recipients of a text using SMS, they will definitely need a translator.
Those who are among the Baby Boomers and still in the workforce today use the language conventions with which they grew up. They email and they text regularly, but their use of abbreviated text and acronyms is that of their generation. And they continue to engage in formal writing when necessary – for reports, for letters, for memos, etc.
Gen X’ers, aged 36-50, are fully comfortable with their digital devices and use textspeak quite freely and easily. But if you read their emails and texts, they reflect more traditional verbiage than textspeak. They use terms like LOL and TTYL, of course, but they tend to fully spell out their words, for the most part.
Enter Generation “C,” also known as Millennials, aged 18-35. This is the generation that has grown up with a device in their hands. (Thus, the term “C” for “connected”). Here is where the deviation really takes hold. These folks live in a fast-paced world of immediacy. Their emails and texts reflect that immediacy by abbreviating as many words as possible, so that they may communicate faster and on the go. Their cohorts understand everything, though their parents and grandparents may not. But, there are textspeak “dictionaries” to explain it all.
Gen Y, the youngest of which were born in the early 2000’s, is yet another group that has been born “connected,” from toddler years on. The oldest of this generation is now 18. While their teachers and parents may need translators, they understand one another quite well. This generation will continue to modify textspeak, and it is difficult to know all that they may come up with over the next 20 years. Be assured, however, that their textspeak will reflect even more expediency and speed.
A New Language? Far From It
Unless our verbal use of language transforms so significantly that we no longer recognize it as English, we do not have a new language in textspeak. What we have are humans using a new writing system for that verbal language that communicates more efficiently. Just as we changed Ministry of Defense to MOD, so will we use “u” and “r” to mean “you” and “are.”
DO YOU KNOW YOUR TEXT SPEAK?
After - Rfd Oh my god - OMG
Tonight - 2nite
Laugh out loud - LOL
Great - Gr8
Party - PRT
Before - B4
Wait - W8
Tomorrow - 2moro
Wicked - WKD
Cool - kwl
Hang out - cotch
Mate - M8
Home - yard
Pizza - peetsa
About - abwt
True - churoo
Because - bcuz
That - dat
Busy - bzy
Computer - compy
These - deez
face to face - f2f
Hate - H8