2B or nt 2B, Tht is the FAQ


Jan. 6, 2011 at 6 p.m.
Updated Jan. 6, 2011 at 7:07 p.m.

In addition to being one of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare was also well-known for another trait.

The playwright was notorious for making up words and phrases. In fact, he's credited with inventing thousands of them, many of which are still used today.

While Shakespeare's impact on the English language was huge, probably even he would be shocked to see the impact the Internet and texting have had on it in less than a score.

As the popularity of texting and social networking sites like Twitter have grown, so has text language, or textese, which uses abbreviations, slang, numbers and phonetic spelling to produce ultra-concise words.

This unique way of writing is particularly popular with younger generations, who played a big part in developing the language, said Dr. Uppinder Mehan, associate director of the Society for Critical Exchange and assistant professor of English at the University of Houston-Victoria.

"The technology came first and then people adapted the language. With Twitter only allowing 140 characters at a time and text messages 160 characters, to get something meaningful across calls for creativity," he said. "But there is also a desire for young people to have a language they can call their own - one that is different from their parents and teachers."

That was the case with Emilie Eggleston, 26, who in high school did "1337 speak," which means elite speak, a form of online writing that rose to prominence in the 1990s and used an alternative alphabet (for example, the word hacker became "h4x0r").

"It was a way to be cryptic and in a way, a game to see what extreme levels you could transform the English language. It was fun and kind of like being in a club. If you could speak it, you were in," she said. "We were writing our own secret code on the Internet. Kids today are doing the same thing, forming their own language that belongs to them."

But as text language becomes more commonplace - LOL, which stands for "laughing out loud," is even listed in the dictionary - there is growing concern that textese is ruining the English language and has begun sneaking into classrooms.

So is there reason to worry? Are we headed for a textpocalypse?

Actually, it seems that it's more a case of much ado about nothing.

Ember Dooling, the chairwoman of the English department at St. Joseph High School, said she doesn't often see students using the casual text style of writing in school and that one of the keys to keeping it out of the classroom is laying down the law early.

"You have to train the students and make it clear from the beginning that only formal writing is acceptable in class," she said, adding that the only time she sees texts is occasionally in the students' personal writing journals. "Expectations from day one are set, which helps discourage and eliminate it."

Dooling added that kids are bright enough to differentiate and compartmentalize formal writing and the casual style seen in texting and online. She also believes that the language that has sprung up around texting and social networking does serve a purpose in the grand scale of things.

"Language does evolve, but I'm not sure you'll ever see a doctoral dissertation written in text language. But it certainly has its place. For one, it comes in handy when taking notes. It's shorthand for people who don't know shorthand. It can also work for creative writing and poetry," Dooling said. "Shakespeare and formal writing will never go out, but playing with language has always been around. Take e.e. cummings. He broke the rules."

Mehan agreed, saying that only dead languages don't change. For example, spelling wasn't regulated back in Shakespeare's day, and what we think of as the immutable spelling of a word was really argued and malleable at one time.

"Any living language has to change and evolve with technological innovations. You can fight against it or do the more sane thing and look at it as another way to communicate. The more ways to communicate, the better off you are," Mehan said. "I heard a comment the other day that we are doing more reading than ever before. It's just not books. But we're reading all the time, and increased reading does have an effect, even if it may seem barbaric reading text language for those of us who write the long way."

Even some teens prefer the long way of writing and avoid text language for the most part. Despite sending out on average 300 texts a day, 15-year-old West High School sophomore Hayden Thamm doesn't like to use textese, she said.

"It bugs me when people use the shortened forms of words. I usually only use them when I'm in a hurry," she said. "If I have to, I'll replace 'you' with 'U,' but I hate the way it looks."



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