My wife, Clare, is a linguist. One of the superstars in the field of linguistics is a man by the name of David Crystal.
Image: Maggie Hannan via Flickr, CC 2.0
Mrs. Wigg is a big fan of the good Professor, and was always keen to hear him speak whenever he was in London.
A few weeks ago, Professor Crystal turned up in Malta.
The subject of one of his talks was “Internet Linguistics.”
The topic, combined with years of PR from Clare on how great a speaker he is, convinced me to join the linguistics groupies and hear him for myself.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Professor Crystal is certainly a very entertaining and engaging speaker.
But what about the substance of his presentation?
Things got off to a slightly dodgy start as we heard about how academia is struggling to find a term to describe the study of Internet linguistics. Anyone for a module in Electronically Mediated Communication?
But these technical issues were soon left behind as Professor Crystal got into his stride.
New technology always brings with it a moral panic.
When printing arrived in the 15th century it was viewed as a disaster that would allow heresy to spread.
The arrival of the telephone had many people panicking that the ability to have a conversation without actually meeting them would be a disaster for society as people conducted relationships while staying at home.
We then got into the topic of the impact of the Web and mobile on language, and whether texting is affecting our ability to write “properly.”
All the research so far shows that the advent of the text message has actually improved spelling and grammar.
To be able to abbreviate, you need to know what you’re abbreviating to begin with.
The practice of getting your message across briefly is making young people more effective writers, not less.
Throughout Professor Crystal’s presentation, which included plenty of lively debate, we were also treated to plenty of historical examples of how abbreviation actually improved language over the centuries, and that what has happened in the last 10 to 15 years is nothing new.
At some point someone decided to start using “don’t,” “didn’t” they?
Greater opportunity to communicate is nothing but a positive.
Language has always evolved and changed to suit the needs of the day.
It is a living, breathing thing, and the Web and mobile have simply given it a new energy that will make language and our use of it more effective. I couldn’t agree more.
The area that has greatest room for further development is spoken conversations.
Despite the great advances made, chatting to your friends and family over Skype still isn’t quite like having a real conversation. The time delay is still simply too great.
However, when we do get to the point that spoken conversations over the Internet become as instant as written ones, then maybe we will need to start worrying about written language.
I think everyone wants to ensure that they present their best work at all times. This is so whether someone is writing in English or another language.
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@3HatsComm Oh – and I also love wax sealers… we have one!
@3HatsComm That’s another thing we have in common then. When I was younger, I was into calligraphy BIG time. I was always the one people asked to make posters, etc.
I have always made a conscience effort to avoid shorthand especially when texting. I once heard that the english language is slowly being dumbed down and destroyed due to the text messaging and my generation completely slaughtering normal words down to sound “cool”. This was enlightening and I plan on looking for more research suggesting text messaging actually improving writing skills instead of destroying them as I formerly thought.
Thanks for all the great comments! – glad that you seem to have enjoyed it
@Shonali @HowieSPM Funny, I was just teasing my sister.. on the group presents at Christmas, SHE does the gift tag my writing is so bad. Started in high school, word processing became common and that was that. The blue book essays killed me, so hard to draft and organize thoughts.. much less make things readable, legible. And yet.. I’m a scrapbooker and as a designer, have an appreciation for nice paper and pens, and an odd romantic longing for a wax sealer.. never would use it but I just like the things, all dramatic and old and impressive seeming. I’m weird. ;-)
@3HatsComm LOL, yea, I figured that! @HowieSPM
@3HatsComm Did it really? (By #commentz, I mean). Kewl.
I don’t really mind texting shorthand, but it does drive me crazy when I see copiously long Facebook updates using that “shorthand.” I mean… it’s not like there’s a character restriction there. And it takes me more time to decipher it than I would like.
Re: tweets, I do use shorthand sometimes, but for the most part, I try to fit whatever I was going to say into “proper” English and 140 characters. Because, IMHO, if I can’t do that…
@3HatsComm That’s hilarious! You know, I grew up writing longhand (down to my college exams). But now, it takes a lot to write a longhand note. So much so that I’ve started trying to write at least one longhand letter a month… ‘cos I sure would hate to lose sight of my writing! @HowieSPM
@HowieSPM My penmanship has always been bad and now, I can’t write freehand, barely a simple birthday message. Give me a keyboard and watch me go but.. Paper? Pen? Forget about it. Though I do work the crosswords and Sudoku in pen, so that’s something.
@HowieSPM @Shonali TY. YHIRT1stT.. just making it up. ;-)
@3HatsComm @Shonali Davina next time you get heckled snap a picture and tweet to me the culprit. I will show up at their door at 2am and make sure they never do that again. Ooops. I mean I will make a pleasant phone call requesting that they please be more respectful next time.
This is a great subject Conway! I think texting and tweeting helps us become more concise vs verbose. I think when writing off these platforms that helps. I also think we can be lazy and sometimes use the Text Language when we shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean overall that is the case. And it surely can’t be as damaging as what a keyboard has done to my handwriting skills which used to be Draftsman worthy and now is just worthy of a Doctors!
But I wonder what if everyone decides to spell Laugh Out Loud as LOL. Wouldn’t that make it the correct spelling? I say this because I before Except after C has many exceptions WEIRDLY enough. So I agree language is living and breathing and will evolve just like humans and all species on earth do.
I’ll get heckled from the peanut gallery on my use of texting shorthand, but truth be told.. it’s not that bad. Interesting view on the texting lingo and I have the same view of Twitter’s impact: for those of who truly use it communicate, to share and ‘talk’ then having to make a compelling point in 140 characters (less if we wish our pithy bon mots RT) then ITA it forces us to choose our words carefully, not ramble or blather. Now I wish it could make me smarter, funnier, richer but IMO my writing is better. FWIW. (And congrats to you and @Shonali for getting this guest post picked up via #Commentz.)
Conway, loved this man, and it was quite refreshing to hear an ‘expert’s’ take on a major linguistic movement that each and every one of us with a cell phone are a part of. And frankly, I’d never considered the previous ‘movements’ and the resistance that came with each.
You’ve definitely made me think about texting a little differently with this.
Excellent post! Thanks for waxing on internet linguistics!
Excellent post and thanks for sahring.
Great post, Conway! Color me surprised because I have always heard the opposite with regard to text messaging. It’s reassuring to hear this directly from a linguist, so it can’t be all that bad to abbreviate to get your point across. It’s especially challenging in a 140-character world of Twitter, which is were most of our abbreviations end up in addition to text messages.