Saturday, September 11, 2010


Not to point out the obvious, but a lot has been happening on the texting front lately. First, the fact that it's a huge hazard on the road has distracted people from the other aspects of the situation. A wretched accident in town the other day was presumed to be caused by a texter, and it may well be true that a good 20-30% of traffic in a town like this (where 70-80% of drivers are between 18 and 25) are distracted, either by calling or texting; this leads to an enormous amount of bad driving, and it frustrates the remaining minority who do pay attention. But that's not what concerns me; it's obvious, to me, that this is a problem; my only question is, when will technology be able to prevent texting while driving (or reserve it for emergencies, when it is most useful)?

Second, and this to me is more interesting: obviously people are texting more than they're writing. Obviously abbreviations like b/c, s/one, @ and b4 are slipping into more standard venues of ordinary English (for example, teachers writing on blackboards, or people writing memos or notes to each other); this is because, when you write b/c a million times a week, and because only a thousand, and you're in a neutral, or nonjudgmental enviornment where either could be acceptable, you'll tend toward what you come to consider the default...and chat becomes the default in this case. So the language changes slowly but surely.

In addition texting has these emoticons - :P , :-) , ;-) , too numerous to mention, and these have a life of their own and are even quite different from culture to culture; perhaps more amazing is that cultures with their own languages often share these, so that for example, Korean chat and English chat have certain emoticons in common, though there could be shades of meaning-difference from culture to culture. My point is that there is a world of research to be done in sub-languages, language development, etc. and some very interesting generalizations could arise as a result of watching what people do and come up with in a situation where virtually anything goes. It's true, they tend to start with the grammar at least of a common language; they shorten whenever possible and whenever the person at the other end can understand easily; it's true that they make assumptions about the universality of emoticons and such, assumptions that are probably often false; it's true also that, as texting moves from simply a medium for isolated phone encounters, between people who already know each other well, to a generalized medium used by many, among many, for many purposes, it takes on a more generalized character where a large number of symbols and abbreviations are mutually understood.

This may be more apparent in a town that for all intents and purposes has a large university but virtually nothing else; our 18-25 population is almost 90%, or seems that way; people everywhere seem to be texting, while they walk, while they stand around, while they are in line at the post office. Another language develops in our midst. It seems to be a constant preoccupation, as if real-life f2f talking no longer does the trick.


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