Charged with using endless acronyms and lacking grammar, teenagers are always being criticized for their incessant texting. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a different take on the evolution of texting?
In his TED talk “TXTing is Killing Language. JK!!!,” linguist John McWhorter looks at texting from a new angle, making it seem less like a crime to write using the term lol.
The problem with texting lies in the common assumption that it is writing. And at first glance, it seems that way: Texts are made up of words and communicate ideas, just as writing does. However, texting is actually entirely different.
Traditionally, writing did not represent how common people spoke, and so it communicated ideas in elaborate and sometimes unfamiliar terminology. This led to the distinction between formal writing and casual speech.
Texting has recently changed that. Now, a series of texts can bounce back and forth so fast that they have the effect of a face-to-face conversation. The barrier between writing and speaking has been broken down into “fingered speech.” Now, we text exactly how we would speak if the conversation were face-to-face.
“Nobody thinks about punctuation or capital letters when they speak,” McWhorter points out in his TED talk, so they wouldn’t when they text either.
To adults, professors, and parents looking in, however, text messages still represent a decline in literacy. I argue that, yes, communication has changed, but teenagers still know how to differentiate between texting and writing a college essay. At school we are not taught in texting lingo, and proper grammar still holds its value. Teenagers simply keep their texting language separate from formal writing.
McWhorter says that we are “using a whole new language alongside normal writing skills.” In this way, we are more advanced — even bilingual.
Sixteen-year-old girls, McWhorter says, are indicators of the “linguistic miracle happening right under our noses.” Though the older generation disapproves of youth’s perceived horrible grammar and writing skills now, it could be us creating the next new language — complete with lol, idk, and brb.
Sharon Shatananda is a teen who texts — and who can also write a grammatically correct essay. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.