Crystal, David. Txtng: The gr8 db8. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2008. [ISBN-13: 978-0-19-957133-8]
One of the most notable things about texting is the impressive furor that has accompanied its meteoric rise in popularity over the past ten years or so. David Crystal recounts some of the many dire warnings texting has occassioned, quoting John Humphrys, for instance, who writes in the Daily Mail online that texters are:
vandals who are doing to our language what Gengis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.
Hyperbole aside, people are understandably worried about what this new form of communication and orthography might mean for the future of our language. There’s no question that past changes in genres and media—from sonnets to hip-hop lyrics, from scrolls to eBooks—have had real and lasting consequences for language. It’s only sensible to wonder how texting might change us. And for those of you who, unlike John Humphrys, are still making up your minds about texting, Crystal’s book is a great place to learn more. And I think you’ll find that your mind will be put at ease.
Crystal makes at least three excellent points that should rapidly deflate any hulking fear of texting you may have. First, English and other languages seem to have managed quite nicely the shifts from illuminated manuscript to book to radio to TV to internet so far, and there seems no reason to assume that they will finally be undone by the electronic equivalent of quickly scrawled notes stuck on fridges.
Second, these really are the equivalants of the brief notes we’ve been leaving for others for as long as we’ve been writing. Rebuses, like those found in the subtitle of Crystal’s book, and abbreviations, like that in the title of his book, are what make texting distinct (and apparently worrisome). But these short forms have, Crystal points out, appeared throughout history in every written language. After all, did your great-uncle never write an I.O.U.? Did your father never send you to the store for some O.J.? Have you never marked a note to a loved one with some Xs and Os?
Third, these seemingly dangerous short forms are much rarer in our texting than anyone thought: Crystal’s research shows that as few as 6 percent of text messages sent even contain these short forms. And the tales of students writing exams and term papers in “textese” fall squarely into the realm of the urban legend. Studies show that texting isn’t affecting literacy. Indeed, young people who enjoy playful social texting with friends require higher than average levels of literacy to engage in the word play and rebus creation that impresses their peers. I wonder if they know they share this popular pastime with their Victorian forebears who loved a good rebus puzzle?
You’ll find Txtng: The gr8 db8 is chockablock with fascinating history, responsible research, and global perspective. And don’t forget to check out the thorough glossary as well as appendices that can help you text like a native next time you’re in China, Finland, the Netherlands, or Wales. C u l8r!