Recently some people have begun to question whether SMS is corrupting our language – have the confines of 140 characters forced people to rethink how they speak such that they use the shortcuts borne of texting even in non-SMS – even face-to-face – conversation? The advent of Twitter has surely pushed us ever more towards that linguistic evolution, and anyone over the age of 30 who has ever had someone, of any age, say to their face “OMG” (pronounced “oh em gee”) may well have asked themselves “Is SMS corrupting our language?” (or may have on the spot concluded that SMS is corrupting our language!) But not everyone – including some experts – sees it that way.
Nor is this a new question. We ourselves first visited the question, here on this site, over 5 years ago, in an article which well could have been titled “is SMS corrupting our language”, even though the actual title was Netspeak, L33t, Internet and IM Languages Legitimized.
In that article, we note that language historian David Crystal, on faculty at the University of Wales, observes that “Rather than condemning it, we should be exulting in the fact that the Internet is allowing us to once more explore the power of the written language in a creative way.” The constraints of digital conversation in short messages is, says Crystal, “fostering new kinds of creativity through language. It’s the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of the written language and a new motivation for child and adult literacy.”
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Fred Boos, co-founder of RocketBux.com, a provider of mobile messaging and marketing technologies, points out that “The first form of long distance communications was the electric telegraph invented by Samuel F. B. Morse. It was a basic electronic system using a series dots and dashes which represented letters and numbers.”
When you think of SMS against that backdrop, it makes current text speak seem positively articulate and wordy!
Then again, in the entire time since the invention of morse code, individuals walking around speaking in dots and dashes have been few and far between.
Still, Boos argues convincingly that “SMS text messaging with its own shorthand language is a full circle evolution to 1836 when Morse used his own shorthand language to further communications.”
Boos then offers the following prediction: “It is now assumed that in some countries, 100% of newly minted 18 year olds use SMS text messaging as their primary form of telecommunication (many abandoning email altogether).”
Which is pretty frightening when you consider what texting does to the attention span, and how increasingly frequently texting figures in traffic fatalities.
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