Recently I’ve seen a spate of articles about kids using netspeak/IMspeak in their school papers, including this recent one on CNN.com. On top of that, a text message only novel has been published in Finland. I’ve often been a proponent of netspeak, and did a paper for my college History of the English Language class about the phenomenon. I find it fascinating that this pidgin and abbreviated English has been created, understood by people of different languages all over the world, allowing us to communicate with one another, albeit a very basic form of communication.
However, there is a great difference between chatting online or in text messages and writing a paper for a class or an entire novel. I’ve written before about my dismay at the idea of condensing classic works of fiction into textspeak, despite my interest in the new “language” our world of communication devices has developed. There is no substitute for our real languages, whether they be English or Finnish or German or French or Chinese. Yet advocates of the new “tech language” insist our children should be heralded for inventing this new language, not punished for it. Many educators say the propensity for students to accidentally use the abbreviated language fades by the time they get to college, and studies in the UK claim there is no link between constant texting and poor use of the English language, although there is some doubt as whether cell phone shorthand impairs learning for students who are already having trouble with the language. The writer of the Finnish texting novel notes he has just written a book in a vernacular, like Mark Twain used in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I see his point, and perhaps his book has a sort of curious appeal for our culture, but I don’t really see it as comparative to the works of Mark Twain. We are talking an abbreviated language here, not a full language. As fascinating as it is, I’d really prefer such forms of communication limited themselves to computers and cell phones instead of creeping their way into everyday language.
I know the world is moving faster. I know you have to be quick to stay on top of things. But we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our real language to keep up with the herd. If we do, then I’ll be happy to stay behind, reading my classics from beginning to end and writing real letters, using real words.