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It’s these lovely modern mediums we use, text messages, internet forums, instant messengers, even blogs – they demand brevity and supply us with happy little emoticons to express our feelings, all so we don’t have to spend time searching the memory banks for those pesky, elusive adjectives.
However, evolution of language is nothing new and neither is slang. The difference is that traditionally slang has been restricted to the realms of spoken English, whereas text speak and its cohorts are purely written forms – this is the crucial difference that is getting all the lonely grammarians in a huff.
Sure, slang has been written before but typically in the literary realm. Take, for example, Nadsat, the slang language used by the ultra-violent teenagers in Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Burgess half-created, half-borrowed Nadsat from a variety of linguistic sources and ended up with a form of written English that both bewitched and challenged the reader.
Text speak isn’t literary, it’s a social phenomenon born out of character limits and the need to be quick when you’re standing on a rickety bus desperately trying to text a friend with your over-sized thumbs.
Evolution is necessary for the re-vitalisation of language – I love the semi-colon, but I have to accept that one day it may go (I will cry).
There’s a time and a place
For me, the fact that text speak exists is of no particular concern – no one individual (or group of individuals) can claim ownership of language, that’s one of the many reasons it’s so fantastic.
However when we begin to see glaring spelling and grammar errors in the world of copywriting and journalism, we should be concerned. Language is context based, and writers in all fields must be capable of changing their language to suit the context. For instance, a journalist would not write an article in the same style for The Sun as they would for The Guardian.
It’s when our writers have not received adequate training to achieve this level of flexibility that we need to be worried.
After all, grammar and punctuation exists for a reason, and that is to convey meaning. When you take away the emoticons and present a writer with a blank page and a pen, short of drawing little pictures they're are going to need a working knowledge of grammar and punctuation if they want to get their point across.
This is especially important in a business arena, in which you are required to converse via e-mail with new clients. Poor spelling, punctuation and grammar in an introductory e-mail to a new client isn't going to make the best first impression.
Text speak is not to blame
In their private lives, people are entitled to speak and write in any way they see fit. However, in the professional or educational environment certain standards are required in order for an individual to be taken seriously.
Text speak is an evolution of written English, and is not to blame for any perceived decline in spelling and grammar. If we’re looking for something to blame, a far easier and more worthy target is the decline in the number of people who read books and good quality newspapers; but that’s a whole other rant.