08 May 2015 19:49 IST

Texting plays havoc with English skills

An unintended consequence of digital technology

There is no doubt that a good command over English can take you places. The facts speak for themselves — one billion people speak English worldwide: that’s 1 in every 7 on earth. Eighty per cent of information stored on all computers is in English and every 98 minutes, a new English word is created. Interestingly, 90% of everything written in English uses just 1,000 words.

But the venerable English language is now facing its biggest threat, one of the unintended consequences of the rapidly changing digital technology. The growing number of smartphones, tablets and instant messaging services has led to a transformation in how the language is used.

The relatively small screen size of the mobile led to short messages, which inevitably got even shorter. People reduced the length of commonly-used words and phrases so that the meaning remained intact while the effort required and the screen space used were both minimised. Most smartphones nowadays come with autocorrect capabilities that intelligently show up frequently used words and abbreviations, saving time for users.

‘ROFL’ meaning Rolling On the Floor Laughing, ‘TC’ meaning Take Care, and the latest ones like ‘JOMO’ meaning Joy of Missing Out and ‘FOMO’ which means Fear of Missing Out, are a few examples of modern-day language influenced by newer technologies such as email, texting, IM, blogging, social networking. People today have started writing in a sort of digital shorthand, derived more from speech than writing.

Grammatically correct and sound English has fallen victim to convenience and the need for speed. School kids and young people are fast picking up this kind of English which eventually has a huge impact on their English speaking and writing skills later in their lives.

In the guise of modernising and shortening the English language, technology is actually ruining it. While technologies like e-learning, m-learning and learning through social networks are the order of the day, and are definitely beneficial, technology has its flip side too. The new English is simpler, abrupt and seems to be great in terms of ease of writing, but the kind of language resulting from changed spelling and increased use of abbreviations is hampering people’s fluency and destroying the original language in the long run.

One concern of many people, especially those in academia, is that texting on mobile phones and the use of instant messaging chats and ultra-short Twitter messages, is changing the way people write, and that it is making it harder for people to comprehend traditional grammar and phonetics. Examiners have expressed concerns over the use of text messaging language appearing in school and college examination answer papers.

With the easy access to smartphones and tablets, English teachers are worried that widely-used short-messaging language could play havoc with the students’ command over the English language. Frequent use of abbreviated and simplified English words from an early age could be a big concern later in life. Prolonged use of such meaningless words could affect their ability to pronounce words correctly and use the right word where it is required, for example, when answering exams or writing a research report or a white paper or even a news report.

Grammar and punctuation are inevitably being influenced by the use of text and chat language. We do not think twice before omitting adjectives, conjunctions and prepositions and curb words by conveniently leaving out vowels, or using nouns interchangeably with verbs.

In fact, there are instances when alphabets are replaced by numeric digits that sound similar when pronounced. For example: ‘Gr8 2 no u’ means ‘great to know you’ or “I’l c u 2dy” is “I will see you today”. Such use of fragmented and incomplete words, phrases and sentences are a matter of concern.

It is important to understand that we become what we behold; by constantly engaging in texting and chat lingo, many are becoming limited in linguistic ability. Reports suggest that people used to SMSes tend to make more grammatical mistakes and find it difficult to read proper English. For instance, writing an essay or blog, people tend to use words like ‘Ritin’ instead of ‘Writing’ and ‘Dat’ instead of ‘That’, ‘4ward’ instead of ‘Forward’. Some actually think this is cool and trendy.

But as we have already seen, it cannot be at the cost of losing touch with the language as it is meant to be spoken and written. This realisation is critical.

(The writer is Director, Edutopia)

Recommended for you
/* article author desc short */