While recently catching up on my traditional media, I came across this book review of David Crystal’s “Txtng: The Gr8 Db8” in the October 20 issue of The New Yorker. Among other things that interested me was the idea that there’s a debate about texting, great or not. I caught as much of the Presidential debates as I could, but somehow missed the text messaging debates entirely.
The review quotes linguist Crystal as writing “I don’t think I have ever come across a topic which has attracted more adult antagonism.” I guess I’ll have to take that at face value. Personally I’ve seen (and perhaps even engaged in) a fair amount of mockery of texting, and by “texting” I specifically mean l33t, but most of the so-called adults I know reserve their real antagonism for the quavering histrionics that kids today call music. Which means nothing’s changed since the bobby soxers were listening to Frank Sinatra and tying up the telephone party line talking about the boys in the zoot suits with the drape shapes and the reet pleats. Adults will always complain about the music and slang of youth culture. Throw a new and unfamiliar medium into the mix, and I suppose the fogeys can take pleasure in ratcheting up their disapproval a notch or two.
According to Louis Menand, the reviewer, Crystal sees little threat to language from texting. Well, that’s a relief. But what I found more interesting was this paragraph from the review:
…texting is, partly, a game. It’s like writing a sonnet (well, sort of): the requirement is to adapt the message to immutable formal constraints. A sonnet can’t have more than fourteen lines, and a mobile-phone message can’t have more than a hundred and forty bytes, which is usually enough for a hundred and sixty characters. This is a challenge to ingenuity, not an invitation to anarchy.
For me, personally, texting was something I only did a few times before I got a real QWERTY keyboard, first on my Palm Treo 650 and now on my iPhone. Perhaps my problem is that I’m too attached to vowels and think numbers are best used for mathematical purposes. Or perhaps it’s because I lacked the patience or dexterity to learn to write with a numeric keypad. Whatever the reason, I almost always use complete words, if not complete sentences, in my texting.
The review also suggests texting may be contributing to the ongoing Englishification of the world’s languages. I’ve long suspected the adaptability of English in adopting from other languages is a key reason other languages now find themselves so easily adopting from English. But whether or not it’s a two-way street, there’s still something about this sentence which makes me wonder just how linguistically homogeneous the world will become:
Germans write “mbsseg” to mean “mail back so schnell es geht” (“as fast as you can”).
I’m not going to go out and buy the book, but I did enjoy the review, and certainly found parts of it rthr thot prvkng