English in the Age of SMS

GOOD ENGLISH MATTERS – THE WORLD USES IT – WE MUST KEEP IT SAFE FROM DECLINING STANDARDS – says the slogan on the homepage of the Queen’s English Society.

The more technology is used in writing and communication, the more difficulties people have with language.
Text editors like Microsoft Word automatically show and correct spelling and grammar mistakes. Apart from the basics, there is little reason for users to remember linguistic rules nowadays.
Emails are written in a fast and communicative way, with efficiency taking precedence over quality. Punctuation, capitals and sentence structure only matter to the extent that they influence the understanding of the message.
But probably ‘worst’ of all are the text messages sent through mobile phones and short messaging on microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr due to the ‘challenge of the small screen’, which forces users to write in the simplest and shortest manner possible.

Considerable scientific research has already been conducted into the implications of text messaging for language. First of all, the text is simplified, oftentimes suggestive of a child’s language. Secondly, the use of abbreviations and acronyms is widespread. Do you know what BTW means? And CYL? What about CSL? If not, ask an English-speaking teenager or check the meaning of some of the acronyms here.
Another fact that has been discovered and used widely by SMS writers is that numbers are shorter than words and can sometimes be used in lieu of letters: ‘CU L8er’ is shorter than ‘See you later’ and ‘2U2’ shorter than ‘To you, too’.

Some communication researchers claim that SMS language is a ‘spoken mode in a written medium’, since it features two forms of communication: writing and speaking. On one hand, the text is obviously written and read, but on the other, it is an interactive form of communication. Also, text messages are simple, fragmented and concrete like speech, while emoticons (used very often in SMS) mirror body language.

Knowing how to text a smiley face is useful, but this is only the beginning. The subject of emoticons can get highly complicated, especially when examining intercultural differences, primarily between the East and West. Some of the ‘Western’ examples are: () – a hug, :O – surprise, :’( – crying (more about emoticons can be found here).
In summary, special knowledge is often required to understand SMS language. But this shared knowledge creates a separate and collective identity. The users must determine whether or not the receiver belongs to this collective. If so, he or she will understand the message, as distorted and abbreviated as it may be.
So, does good English really matter?
And will it matter in the future in our rapidly evolving, globally communicating world?

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