Linguist Explains That Txting Isn't Ruining Spelling Or The English Language

from the try-again dept

For years, we've been responding to highly questionable reports or unsubstantiated claims that "txt spk" was somehow destroying the English language and seeping into all sorts of written communications from students who just didn't know any better. Much of that myth was apparently built off of a paper that was posted to the internet, that many people then insisted must have been true -- but which later turned out to be a hoax. Yet, the myth prevailed despite plenty of studies that showed children of this generation are better writers because they spend much more time with the English language than earlier generations. And, despite widespread opinion, they usually know which type of writing is proper for which context. In fact, studies showed that there were no ill effects of students learning "txt spk." Yet, because the myth is so strong, even when studies come out disproving the myth, the press often misrepresent the results.

One of England's top linguists has seen enough, however, and has gone through all the research, along with some of his own to come out with a book dispelling the myth that texting hurts a child's language skills. As he notes in a recent interview:
"Almost every basic principle that people hold about texting turns out to be misconceived. Misspelling isn't universal: analysis shows that only 10% of words used in texts are misspelt. Nor are most texts sent by kids: 80% are sent by businesses and adults. Likewise, there is no evidence that texting teaches people to spell badly: rather, research shows that those kids who text frequently are more likely to be the most literate and the best spellers, because you have to know how to manipulate language."

"If you can't spell a word, then you don't really know whether it's cool to misspell it. Kids have a very precise idea of context - none of those I have spoken to would dream of using text abbreviations in their exams - they know they would be marked down for it."
Hopefully, with more studies and academics pointing this out, we can start to put this myth to bed.


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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 10:46am

    I wouldn't be so sure...

    I worked as a student assistant at our Community College.
    Some of the English papers I saw were very poorly put together. One person even used leet in his persuasive essay (logic ftw!).

    It isn't just spelling that took a hit, it was grammar as well.

     

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      hegemon13, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:38am

      Re: I wouldn't be so sure...

      English papers in base-level, required courses are, as a rule, poorly constructed. One student using current slang in an essay proves nothing except that that individual did not understand the proper context for such language. When my school forced me to take a 100-level composition course my senior year to fulfill a basic requirement, I was shocked at the the things other students thought were appropriate. I had taken many writing classes, but they were with other English majors and people who took them voluntarily. The 100-level course was a basic requirement that nearly everyone had to take, and was made up of many students who would rather do anything but write. It was an eye-opening experience for me, as I was finally able to understand why companies often complain that written communication is a major problem for many employees.

       

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      Zack, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 2:15pm

      Re: I wouldn't be so sure...

      You worked at a COMMUNITY COLLEGE. People at COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S aren't particularly smart to begin with, so why do you expect them to be smart in Community College. 1337 5934|

       

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    dorpus, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    Are these the same linguists?

    By political correctness conventions, linguists frown upon proper language as "prescriptivist". They argue that ebonics, pidgin, or other illiterate dialects are "legitimate languages". A linguist's agenda is to make more work for themselves by celebrating "diversity", instead of promoting literacy.

     

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      Jonas, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:54pm

      Re: Are these the same linguists?

      I hope this is a joke, because if it's not: let me suggest taking a class in any entry-level linguistics class - sociolinguistics in particular.

      NO dialect of any language is illegitimate. Ebonics (or a to use a less loaded term...AAE. African American English) to use just one example is NOT illiterate or deficient or whatever derogatory term you want to call it. It is English, just as much as Standard English is. It just happens to obey slightly different rules (emphasis on slightly) when it comes to phonology, morphology, and syntax. It is still easily recognizable as English.

      And double negotiations ain't no problem if you get my meaning. What's next...complaining that certain individuals on national television speak using double modal verbs?

      Oh, and just so you know: lumping Ebonics together with pidgin languages just makes it abundantly clear that you have no idea what you are talking about. They're as different as night is to day really. Just an exercise...try to find a native speaker of any pidgin language. Or rather: don't bother since you won't find any. You will a great deal of native speakers of AAE though.

       

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        Sos, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:53pm

        Re: Re: Are these the same linguists?

        try to find a native speaker of any pidgin language
        What about Tok Pisin (PNG)?

         

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        Azrael, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 12:44am

        Re: Re: Are these the same linguists?

        "You will a great deal of native speakers of AAE though." Of course, mentally retarded races cannot be expected to speak normally.

         

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    Rose M. Welch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:03am

    Shorthand?

    Didn't people go to school to learn shorthand, an abbreviated way of writing things quickly? Umm... Isn't this really the same thing?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:18am

      Re: Shorthand?

      Umm... No.
      Sorry Rose, but I don't think many professors would accept an essay written in shorthand.
      Neither would many bosses I know.

       

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        Rose M. Welch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

        Re: Re: Shorthand?

        You must have missed this part of the blog where it said:

        "Kids have a very precise idea of context - none of those I have spoken to would dream of using text abbreviations in their exams - they know they would be marked down for it."

        So we're talking about people using text speak in every day life, like text messages and e-mails. Essays need not apply.

        Personally, my biggest problem is people in the business world, ages thirty-five plus, who could probably write a wonderful essay but can't type a business e-mail worth a damn. For whatever reason (that pesky Shift key maybe), they cannot write an e-mail the way that they would write a letter. You know, with punctuation, capitalization, and correct spelling. However, it doesn't make their message to me any less understandable - just more annoying.

         

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        Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:05pm

        Re: Re: Shorthand?

        I am sure Rose is aware of that. She never suggested that text writing was a legitimate way to write your CV or the preferred format for a letter to the Times. I believe the point she was making was that the manner in which these texts are written is a handy way to convey information quickly in an informal manner and picking up the exact expressions which can be understood by a reader is a skill similar to shorthand which I have learnt from experience is itself a difficult to pick up skill and is also not intended for formal applications. I think that to remark that an essay would not be accepted in shorthand is an irrelevant response to the suggestion that shorthand or texting is a skill that must be learnt.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:15am

    Those conducting these studies have apparently never taught English in public schools.

     

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      Mike (profile), Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:24pm

      Re:

      Those conducting these studies have apparently never taught English in public schools.

      Yup, let's trust an unsubstantiated claim from a lawyer, rather than a well respected linguist who looked at the research.

      MLS, you wonder why we question your credibility, and then you make statements like this. Funny that you would make such a statement just days after claiming that we could not make statements concerning patents without carefully interviewing all parties involved.

      Yet here, when evidence is presented, you immediately insist it must not be true.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

        Re: Re:

        As usual, I can count on a deprecating response for even a casual comment. For God's sake, put your "bias hat" in the closet and consider for a moment the possibility that neither you nor your company are being slandered or mocked.

        Perhaps it may give you pause to reconsider your comment if I note that my wife has been an English teacher (Monterey, SF Bay Area, San Diego, La Jolla, Orlando) since before you were even a zygote, and that throughout her teaching career she has shared with me her students' work product. With precious few exceptions, their work product has been disheartening.

         

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          Mike (profile), Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          As usual, I can count on a deprecating response for even a casual comment.

          Only because you have made it a daily practice to do the same to us.

          consider for a moment the possibility that neither you nor your company are being slandered or mocked.

          I didn't think you were mocking or slandering us. I just found it amusing that you take us to task for not presenting backed up evidence all the time -- and yet when you do the same, you expect us to believe you over an actual expert in the field.

          Perhaps it may give you pause to reconsider your comment if I note that my wife has been an English teacher (Monterey, SF Bay Area, San Diego, La Jolla, Orlando) since before you were even a zygote, and that throughout her teaching career she has shared with me her students' work product. With precious few exceptions, their work product has been disheartening.

          Well, there's an easy explanation for why that would be the case, while most students studied are not having that problem.

           

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    Your Gawd and Master, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:27am

    no, it's not...

    It's the white trash/ghetto-speak that's going to ruin it. Irregardless. Just aks the idiots doun the streat.

     

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      CVPunk, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:06pm

      Re: no, it's not...

      While I sometimes get annoyed by "slang" (which is not white trash/ghetto-speak), it is still better than using 'irregardless'. (improper English, using double negatives 'IR' and 'LESS')

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 7:36am

        Re: Re: no, it's not...

        Unfortunately, that's trhe proper use of the word (according to Webster.com), though it is noted to be nonstandard and that "regardless" is the 'better' term.

        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/irregardless

         

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        Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:13pm

        Re: Re: no, it's not...

        One of the best features of our language is that we can be non standard. Many other languages wouldn't accept half the things we do with English irregardless of the rich tapestry of diversity that is possible to exactly express yourself as you wish whilst trampling all over grammar and lexiconography.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:42pm

      Re: no, it's not...

      Irregardless. Just aks the idiots doun the streat.

       

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      Txtr grl, Nov 2nd, 2008 @ 4:27pm

      Re: no, it's not...

      Irony. You're criticizing poor grammar and usage of English, and you say 'Irregardless'?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:29am

    LOL!
    Lrn 2 txt, n00b.

    [Sorry, I couldn't resist. Someone had to do it.]

     

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    Matt, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:34am

    hmm

    I've seen plenty of people who I don't even know how they make it to upper management, as they are almost illiterate. However, txting sadly (and probably) makes it easier for them as it's at least closer to legible/literate.

     

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    Arkwin, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:35am

    Short-hand

    Yea they sill go to school to learn shorthand I believe, the majority of court cases have they person that writes everything down that happens, they usually type it in short hand, and then after the case covert it to "long hand".
    Also their are people like my mom that will text diner @ 5 to me or anything else in short hand, it just because it's quicker for her.
    Also I believe the schools in New Zeland have made it legal for kids in school to use short hand on tests, I remember reading the article from slashdot awhile back.

     

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    Jeremy Boyd, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:55am

    @2: You clearly haven't the faintest clue what descriptivism and prescriptivism actually represent, in terms of linguistic philosophy. They're categorically different enterprises, not just different approaches to the same problems.

    I really hope that the shocking number of spelling and grammar mistakes in this thread is some kind of joke. If not, practically every one of you should run - don't walk - to the nearest bookstore and get a dictionary and a copy of Strunk & White.

     

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      ElizaDoolittle, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

      Re:

      "@2: You clearly haven't the faintest clue what descriptivism and prescriptivism actually represent, in terms of linguistic philosophy. They're categorically different enterprises, not just different approaches to the same problems."

      The rain in spain falls mainly on the plane . . .

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 11:58am

    I teach freshman level college courses. I sometimes get a txt spk paper, but rarely more than one or two per semester. I point out to the student that it isn't appropirate, and I have never had a repeat offense. Other problems are far more pervasive than txt spk.

     

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      Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:21pm

      Re:

      I have always wanted to write an entire essay in txt speak but I really don't think my tutors would see the funny side, they throw a fit if I use an absent minded contraction.

       

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    NeoConBushSupporter, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:31pm

    I blame the teachers

    Instead of trying to pass the ignorance of the coming generations (and if you question the vastness of their ignorance I suggest you really talk to one) on text messaging and chat clients, we need to put the blame squarely where it belongs. The NEA, Nancy Pelosi and the teachers of this country have fought every attempt to reform our failing public education system. From parental choice in the form of school vouchers to accountability in the revolutionary "no child left behind" system, teachers continue to fight and complain. If we don’t reform our education system soon, we will all be paying the price and text messaging has nothing to do with it.

    VOTE McCain 2008 – because real change is real scary.

     

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    Ryan, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

    irregardless

    You can't criticize somebody's spelling or grammar if you're using the word "irregardless" in your criticism. The word simply doesn't make sense. Regardless means the same thing, there's no need to embiggen it with the "ir" preface. It's a double negative.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:38pm

      Re: irregardless

      "You can't criticize somebody's spelling or grammar if you're using the word "irregardless" in your criticism. The word simply doesn't make sense. Regardless means the same thing, there's no need to embiggen it with the "ir" preface. It's a double negative."

      irregardless is a perfectly cromulent word?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:40pm

    @Ryan: "Embiggen" is my favorite new word. And a quick Google search turned up "cromulent," another gem. As a bit of a wordie AND a Simpsons fan, I'm surprised I'd never seen them before. Thanks.

     

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    Sean, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:48pm

    new phones

    Something that should be considered is the new genre of phones coming with QWERTY boards at this point, be them physical or digital. As we see the widespread adoption of full keyboards as phone prices drop, I can't see any reason people would type in txt spk. Keep in mind the full keyboard is relatively new, I would be interested to know the type of phone "txt spkrs" use.

    Essentially, as we see he rise of the portable qwerty, maybe we will see a decline in txt spk.

    I am writing this from a QWERTY phone if that makes a difference. u

     

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      jonnyq, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:10pm

      Re: new phones

      People used abbreviations in instant messaging before there was text messaging, i.e. even with qwerty keyboards.

       

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      Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:30pm

      Re: new phones

      I would think that qwerty keyboards would see increased txt spk as the keys would no longer have to predict which of 3 or 4 letters you intended to use. The only reason I waste my quota of letters on a text is that I find it quicker and easier than teaching t9 a load of new words.

       

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    Jesse, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 12:50pm

    Why is one dialect better than another? In every language, the 'proper' dialect is that which is spoken by the upper class. How interesting.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:05pm

      Re:

      actually there's one minor adjustment of that statement, its the "Ruling class" that determines propriety, not necessarily the upper class. The ruling class usually IS the upper class but sometimes it is the middle class or an offset class that is neither above nor below the upper class (i.e. the catholic church through the Victorian era).

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:10pm

      Re:

      The "Lower Class" happens to be the lower class for a reason.

       

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      Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:37pm

      Re:

      I am not so sure about this. I think very carefully about how I express myself and I would consider the proper dialect to be the one that is least likely to get you punched by a yob outside a nightclub, i.e. the language of everyman. If you speak in too educated a manner you may be word perfect to the ideal put forward by experts on grammar but I would not consider that to be 'proper', it is as freakish as having a complete ignorance of grammatical rules. These expertly put together versions of English are anachronisms that only remain with us because we learned to record them in books.

       

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    John, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:18pm

    Misspelt

    At first I thought that the article was misspelled, but then I saw that he was British.

     

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    Lucretious, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

    even if it DOES manage to alter the language, it is what it is. 100 years from now we'd be hard pressed to understand half of what our descendants would be saying in an average conversation.

     

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    Daviticus, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 2:25pm

    Language is a Virus

    and it mutates. "American English" is a perfect example. These finding don't surprise me at all.

    If a person is struggling with these skills in "txt msgs", the deficiency will show up in other languages and/or communication skills. How about folks that learn "old school" shorthand? Another language? Typing? Or the Morse code?

    As language mutates, we eventually improve communication. This "barrel full of monkeys" chaotic churn always happens with yakking humans.

    It's fun too. Anyone remember "Sniglets"? ;p

     

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    John, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 3:03pm

    I agree with poster #23

    I can give a pass to "txt spk" kids who may not know better and who may accidentally turn in an essay written in txt spk. A good talking-to and they probably won't do it again.

    What I can't stand is the boss who is too lazy/ stupid/ dumb (insert your own word) to check the option in Outlook to "spell check before sending". Does the boss know how stupid she sounds when her e-mail is dotted with mis-spellings... especially when everyone in the company uses Outlook which comes with a spell-checker!!!
    (I say "she" because my female boss at a previous job worked this way: she never spell-checked her e-mails.)

    So, is it really "txt spk" that's bringing down people's ability to use correct spelling and grammar or is it just plain laziness?
    I have the feeling that the txt spk kids of today will have a better command of the English language than anyone.

     

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      Rose M. Welch, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 7:57pm

      Re: I agree with poster #23

      Hell, I use Firefox with a built-in spell check. It doesn't matter where I'm typing - my Yahoo! mail, while I'm adding text to images in Photoshop, even here. If it looks wrong, it underlines it in red and I can right click on it and see suggestions, tell it to ignore it, or add it do my dictionary. Of course, these people haven't mastered the Shift key, much less the right-click...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 5:33pm

    NeoConBushSupporter == the new Angry Dude

     

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    Rekrul, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    Something that should be considered is the new genre of phones coming with QWERTY boards at this point, be them physical or digital. As we see the widespread adoption of full keyboards as phone prices drop, I can't see any reason people would type in txt spk. Keep in mind the full keyboard is relatively new, I would be interested to know the type of phone "txt spkrs" use.

    Essentially, as we see he rise of the portable qwerty, maybe we will see a decline in txt spk.

    Every home computer I've seen has had a Qwerty keyboard attached to it and yet I see txt spk in messages posted to various forums on a daily basis.

    NO dialect of any language is illegitimate. Ebonics (or a to use a less loaded term...AAE. African American English) to use just one example is NOT illiterate or deficient or whatever derogatory term you want to call it.

    Actually, it is. Do you know the history of "Ebonics"? It's based on the speech patterns developed by black people who were kept as slaves. As such, most were never taught to speak proper English. They were illiterate and their spoken English was deficient. This poorly learned version of English was passed down through the generations. So when a black person defends "Ebonics" or "AAE" as part of their culture, what they're really defending is their right to speak like an illiterate slave.

    However, since you seem to think that any mangling of a language can be defended on the grounds that it's a "dialect", allow me to express myself more colorfully;

    thas there ebonical stuff ain't never gonna been a no for-reals langwhich

    Hey, that's pretty good! Maybe I should patent that, I can call it "Moronics", the language of low-IQ people. Maybe I can even lobby to get to get it taught in schools!

     

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      Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 1:51pm

      Re:

      To have it taught in schools it would have to have merit. If it was economic perhaps but apparently it is not, or if it was representative of the language of a great enough amount of people. I don't believe that many people speak like this outside of a small group of hill billies in bad films, consequently I would suggest that the idea of teaching it in schools could only come from a moron. It may be an aptly named language.

       

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 10:08pm

    English Is Already Ruined

    The whole history of the English language is of one bastardization after another. From its origins because the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes couldn't understand each other, because while they used similar words, their inflection systems were different, so they dropped inflections completely to create a kind of common Creole, thereby creating Old English, followed by the Norman Conquest, where the Anglo-Saxons were taken over by French-speaking Viking descendants, who imposed their own words and concepts, leading to Middle English, and then later the ungrammatical horrors that Shakespeare committed in his plays, and his playfulness ... if any language can be said to be a mongrel of the purest blood, it is English.

     

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    An English Teacher, Sep 18th, 2008 @ 12:00am

    The linguists are right

    txtspk is not ruining the English language. It may not be doing anything to promote the use of proper academic or business English, but it's not doing much harm to them either. As for the language as a whole; Nicoll had it right.

    "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
    --James D. Nicoll

     

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    Ro, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 2:02pm

    10 IF A THEN B
    20 A = TXTSPK IS RUINING ENGLISH
    30 B = WHY DIDN'T BASIC RUIN IT FIRST. REM There is room for more than one language. Its a matter of horses for courses.

     

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    Another Planet, Sep 20th, 2008 @ 11:43am

    @36

    DON'T FORGET IZZLENOMICS!

    FO' SHIZZLE MAH NIZZLE.

     

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    Terrell, Jun 3rd, 2012 @ 7:21pm

    Its true, it is most certainly distorting the English language

    ...anyone who says otherwise are fooling themselves. Particularly in the urban, poverty-stricken areas, this is having a dramatic affect. I see this everyday. It is very sad and contrary to what the respected linguist has written/studied, this is in fact, more of a problem than actual recognized. And again, I want to stress the dramatic affect this "shorthand" is having on the under-privileged and working poor communities across the United States.

    I fear there is nothing that can be done as technology is apart of our social make-up and this form of texting/writing will only get worst. Eventually, the english language, as we know it, will be a thing if the past. I already see the dictionary filling with unintelligibles, it's just a simple matter of time before proper literacy is extinct.... Sadly, due most in part because of technology.

    Sigh
    -Terrell, Los Angeles

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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