Tag Archives: John McWhorter

Is Texting Killing Language?

Image_JohnMcWhorterOn Sunday Clive posted a blog Short or Long Form Writing? I (Clare) also wonder/worry about our new forms of communication and what is happening to “English.” John McWhorter did a fabulous Ted Talk  asking is Texting Killing Language. http://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk

It is truly worth listening to because he gives us a different perspective. He notes:

We always hear that texting is a scourge. The idea is that texting spells the decline and fall of any kind of serious literacy, or at least writing ability, among young people in the United States and now the whole world today. The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t true, and it’s easy to think that it is true, but in order to see it in another way, in order to see that actually texting is a miraculous thing, not just energetic, but a miraculous thing, a kind of emergent complexity that we’re seeing happening right now, we have to pull the camera back for a bit and look at what language really is, in which case, one thing that we see is that texting is not writing at all. What do I mean by that?

Casual speech is something quite different. Linguists have actually shown that when we’re speaking casually in an unmonitored way, we tend to speak in word packets of maybe seven to 10 words. You’ll notice this if you ever have occasion to record yourself or a group of people talking. That’s what speech is like. Speech is much looser. It’s much more telegraphic. It’s much less reflective — very different from writing. So we naturally tend to think, because we see language written so often, that that’s what language is, but actually what language is, is speech. They are two things.

What texting is, despite the fact that it involves the brute mechanics of something that we call writing, is fingered speech. That’s what texting is. Now we can write the way we talk. And it’s a very interesting thing, but nevertheless easy to think that still it represents some sort of decline. We see this general bagginess of the structure, the lack of concern with rules and the way that we’re used to learning on the blackboard, and so we think that something has gone wrong. It’s a very natural sense.

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Txtng is killing language. JK!!!

I (Clare) am sure you have heard the moanings and groanings that texting is ruining English? Well think again. I watched this amazing Ted Talk by Iphone John McWhorter who argues that texting is another form of communication. Here are some excerpts from his talk.

We always hear that texting is a scourge. The idea is that texting spells the decline and fall of any kind of serious literacy, or at least writing ability, among young people in the United States and now the whole world today. The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t true, and it’s easy to think that it is true, but in order to see it in another way, in order to see that actually texting is a miraculous thing, not just energetic, but a miraculous thing, a kind of emergent complexity that we’re seeing happening right now, we have to pull the camera back for a bit and look at what language really is, in which case, one thing that we see is that texting is not writing at all. What do I mean by that?

What texting is, despite the fact that it involves the brute mechanics of something that we call writing, is fingered speech. That’s what texting is.

But the fact of the matter is that what is going on is a kind of emergent complexity. That’s what we’re seeing in this fingered speech. And in order to understand it, what we want to see is the way, in this new kind of language, there is new structure coming up.

So we have a whole battery of new constructions that are developing, and yet it’s easy to think, well, something is still wrong. There’s a lack of structure of some sort. It’s not as sophisticated as the language of The Wall Street Journal.
And so, the way I’m thinking of texting these days is that what we’re seeing is a whole new way of writing that young people are developing, which they’re using alongside their ordinary writing skills, and that means that they’re able to do two things … If somebody from 1973 looked at what was on a dormitory message board in 1993, the slang would have changed a little bit since the era of “Love Story,” but they would understand what was on that message board. Take that person from 1993 — not that long ago, this is “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” — those people. Take those people and they read a very typical text written by a 20-year-old today. Often they would have no idea what half of it meant because a whole new language has developed among our young people doing something as mundane as what it looks like to us when they’re batting around on their little devices.
…  if I could go into the future, if I could go into 2033, the first thing I would ask is whether David Simon had done a sequel to “The Wire.” I would want to know. And — I really would ask that — and then I’d want to know actually what was going on on “Downton Abbey.” That’d be the second thing. And then the third thing would be, please show me a sheaf of texts written by 16-year-old girls, because I would want to know where this language had developed since our times, and ideally I would then send them back to you and me now so we could examine this linguistic miracle happening right under our noses. Thank you very much.

If you want to hear the whole talk, click on: http://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk
It is only 13 minutes long and worth every second.