A few years back, before bbs’s, tweets, and apps existed, an indisposed student sent her university instructors a collective e-mail. The wording was along the lines of, “I will b hospitalized 2day. I won’t return to university b4 next week. Thank u 4 understanding.” Bear in mind that that was an e-mail sent in a university environment not a text message to one’s buddy.
Her instructors were stymied and horrified, so they quickly congregated to discuss the e-mail and how to react. They decided to first call in the student and let her know that this kind of writing was unacceptable, and two, to ask the communication instructor of that program, me, to emphasize e-mail netiquette as part of the required business writing course of that program.
When the student was called in, she was surprised that this kind of writing wasn’t the norm, and defensively explained, “But this is how I always write.” Again she was told that there is a vast difference between standard, professional English and text messaging your friends.
However, it is really crucial to realize that this student personifies a generation’s way of thinking and writing. This is the writing she sees and is accustomed to. If a generation considers this normal writing, how will it affect our language and its evolvement in the long run?
Since then my opening spiel in my business writing courses every semester has had an add-on. Not only does it focus on the norm—avoid jargon, clichés, slang, gobbledygook, etc.—but steer clear from text messaging in professional or academic writing.
This was on the academic side. On the social side, the instructor in me continued to combat abbreviated messages even when text messaging—I write my message in full, despite the consequence of being considered boring and old fashioned. Needless to say, I seem to be the only one doing so, leaving me feeling behind the times. No one else has the time to write a complete word, let alone a complete sentence.
Bottom line, who am I kidding? Text messaging has arrived to stay and whether the academic and professional languages will prevail over this tidal wave remains to be seen. If your job description entails receiving any kind of writing, “U r in 4 a surprise.”
And now we have Twitter. And heavens what Twitter has done to our language. Twitter limits one’s comments to 140 characters. 140 characters in the world of words are not much. As you keyboard your message, you watch the 140 characters vanish into thin air in front of your eyes, character after character. So what does the wise writer do? The writer comes up with new concoctions that eliminate letters, shorten words, add ampersands, use abbreviations and contractions, and delete articles, prepositions, and punctuation.
Did the Twitter whizzes imagine that they would be instrumental in a language revolution of unprecedented proportions?
The shortening phenomenon started off by changing words to letters and numbers: “two” and “to” became “2”; “see” became “c”; “you are” to “u r,” but gone are the days of such minor changes. The Twitter generation is brilliant in finding ways to abbreviate and collapse words phonetically.
First there is the concept of vowels; why have them if you can do without them? So “people” became “ppl,” and “about,” “abt,” same with “plz” and “clse.” And the X that had been very useful earlier on remains so but with a vengeance—picture becomes “pix,” and crystal “xtal, ” etc. Oh, I forgot “kiss” is a simple x. Isn’t it gr8?
How about silent letters: should, could, would, etc.? They have all been shortened into shud, coud, and woud. Also acronyms replace the whole phrase: “by the way” becomes “btw.” We have lived with asap, lite, and nite, but this is at a totally different scale and magnitude.
Then accents come in to play, too. English speaking Egyptians have major problems pronouncing the sound “ð” as “th” in mother. It was easier to abbreviate it to “z,” the actual sound they utter. Hence, on Twitter, Egyptian style, “the” has been obliterated altogether and the comments are doused with “z’s”: “Egypt set n example 2 z world.”
He or she who “?’s” this new phenomenon is correct in being unable to 4c the consequences. Where will this tsunami take us? Where will the language b in, say, 10 years’ time? Will we end up with a completely new language, or will the language fork n2 2 different 1s, 1 used 4 professional and academic English, and the other for everyday use, especially in tweeting & txt messaging?
We will have to wait and see. In the meantime, we will continue to marvel at the phenomenal changes and evolvements that have hit our language shores.