On December 3rd 1992 Neil Papworth, a technician who worked for Vodafone, sent the first text message to his colleague, Richard Jarvis; it read ‘Happy Christmas’. Nowadays nobody would think of writing ‘Christmas’, but would substitute it with the word ‘Xmas’. To begin with these messages were known as ‘telenotes’ but now we call them texts, and trillions are sent around the world every year.
Text language can be characterised by the lack of punctuation, abbreviation of words, use of initials such as ‘lol’ (meaning laugh out loud) and the use of emoticons; and it is wildly used today, but not without controversy. Many educators and linguists say that text messaging is seriously destroying the capabilities of young people to write correct English. The lack of punctuation and misspelling makes sentences illegible. Proof of this was a well-quoted sentence which appeared in a candidate’s exam:-
"My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc."
So can you read this? Maybe even young people who are well acquainted with text language might find it difficult to understand. Let me translate.
‘’My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. We used to go to New York City to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three children face to face. I love New York, it’s a great place.’’
I must admit that I occasionally make a slip, and write ‘gonna’ instead of ‘going to’ in formal writing because I habitually use ‘gonna’ in text language. However, usually I am well aware of what is inappropriate language for a formal text is, and what is appropriate for a whatsapp message. I don’t confuse the two, unlike the exam candidate above! I think that most young people can, and do make a clear distinction.
English is an evolving language. Indeed the very thing that makes English such a powerful and flexible language is that over the centuries it has adopted and borrowed from other languages. English nowadays is very different from 200 years ago and it is still changing. It has become a very dominant language in the world today, probably because of its ability to change. History has shown us that any adaptations only serve to make a language more flexible. So why should we not accept text language?
Languages are invented for people to communicate. It is always better when a language is convenient to use, and is effective in delivering one's thought. Text language is quick at communication about everyday situations. Formal language can express a depth of ideas and feeling which text language cannot transmit. You cannot write a love letter in text.
In conclusion text language has its place in today’s society as does formal writing. Long may they both be written!