On Campus

Writing English, SMS style

D. K. Rituraj | Updated on March 13, 2013

Half a lifetime spent in texting and e-mailing has won over our language subconscious to the dark side

Linguists frown at the osmosis of SMS lingo into the written English world. The invasion of ‘textese’, they believe, butchers the English language.

The elevation of eyebrows is understandable. Not only do the grammar-purists have to make peace with the everyday emoticons (J, L, :D, ;)) and zero-use of appropriate punctuation, they have to catch up with the chat-room abbreviations – LOL (laugh out loud), ASAP (as soon as possible), BRB (be right back) – that have become de rigueur in this texting-twittering universe.

An obvious explanation behind the acceptance of such ‘syllabled-emoticoned-acronymed’ text is the rapid blurring of digital boundaries. Half a lifetime spent in texting, e-mailing has won over our subconscious to the dark side. Rushing against time, we let our texting selves get the better of us and let our English become nglsh.

Just the basics. Nytng dat gts d pnt 2 d odr sde.

The frowns deepen into worry lines for school teachers who are at a loss to deal with the rapid ceding of territory to cyber-speak. Students are increasingly resorting to ‘textese’ in their exams and assignments.

A survey last year by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which covered 2,000 parents and 2,500 students of classes 4 to 12 in India, found that 66 per cent of students own a mobile phone and more than 76 per cent use their phones mainly to text their friends.

Their cell phone behaviour creeps into answer sheets when, in a race against time, they settle for chatters’ talk over the English of proper spellings and grammar.

This trend has received a bashing at teachers’ seminars across the country. The increasing use and acceptance of SMS-lingo has confounded the sense of English grammar and spellings, academicians unanimously agree.

And what about the hardship it causes to the old-school, non-tech savvy crowd? Even for the texting groups, deciphering “jst mvd 2 Q8..ctch u ^” is something of a challenge, isn’t it?

It stands for: “just moved to Kuwait..catch you over the phone” BTW (by the way).

Aside from the exercise attained in flexing your brain muscles to decipher such codes, the frequency with which shortcuts are migrating into formal channels of communication is tweet-worthy. PFA (Please find attached), AFAIK (As far as I know), AAR (At any rate), AWS (As we speak) have begun finding their way into both government and corporate communication.

This is what irks the language prudes. Language is not just about economy or the virtue of getting a point across. It is about the beauty within the act of communication. And there is no shortcut in beauty they say.

Theo Coggin, a veteran journalist, believes that the beauty of English lies in the adaptability of the language. It opens up its vocabulary, grammar and form to suit the local accent, words, ideas, culture, you name it. Latin, French, Chinese, Israeli, have left behind oft-used imprints in the English vocabulary.

Hinglish is no longer a new phenomenon, recognised in 2005 when the Oxford dictionary included ‘bindaas’, ‘tamasha’, ‘mehndi’, ‘desi’ within its pages.

The history of the English language sports a chequered past with the vivid-lyrical Shakespearean verses giving way to flowery Victorian prose from whence we moved on to the imageries of modern, post-modern literature. We now reside within cyber-space where time runs in 2X (double speed) and words are syllablical- emoticonal- acronymical to make us run with the time.

It is thus entirely natural that this digitisation of time reflects its existence in our language. Purists may warn us about the Pandora Box of jibber-jabber that acceptance of such text-speak would open up. But banning cyber-lingo from English would be nothing short of cheating the current way of life of its deserved mention in history. And crusading against it would not stem the inevitable.

Watsay u? J

(Rituraj studied law at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and worked for a year in a corporate law firm in Mumbai before coming to ACJ.)

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Published on March 13, 2013
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