Texting expands language

Those of us who are millennials and Gen Z'ers are constantly being told that texting is representative of an overall decline in language and writing ability among young people today. However, there are actually compelling and credible arguments that claim the exact opposite is true.

If you enjoy TED talks, I highly recommend listening to John McWhorter’s talk, “Txting is killing language, JK!!!”

In this 13-minute speech, McWhorter manages to deconstruct the myth that texting signifies a decline in language and writing ability among young people, and offers some great counterarguments which may come in handy for the next time someone tries to tell you that texting is killing your brain cells or destroying communication. 

One thing that he points out, which may seem strange at first, is that texting is not really writing at all.

Speech came first; only much later did writing come about. Writing is less natural, but it does afford us more creativity with language. That is why, in most formal or academic speeches, we seem to engage in something McWhorter terms “talking like you write.”

In comparison, texting allows us to “write like we speak.” Casual speech is usually comprised of packets of about eight to 12 words and it is looser and less reflective than writing. Even though this is often seen as and associated with a decline in language, he claims that it is actually evident of an emerging complexity in language skills.

He goes as far as to suggest that being proficient in texting makes us “bidialectical.” This is not quite the same as being bilingual, but it shares similar characteristics. It signifies a whole new way of writing alongside our regular writing skills.

As McWhorter puts it, texting is actually an expansion of our linguistic repertoire; not limiting us, but inspiring us to create all-new structures of communication and language.

He refers to this phenomenon as a “linguistic miracle happening right under our noses.”

To combat the notion that texting represents a decline due to its loose structure, etc., he points out the fact that in the process and evolution of texting, we actually can see new structures of language emerging.

This idea is shared by others, including Susan C. Herring and Jannis Androutsopoulos, who, in their chapter in The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, discuss this issue as well. They also coin an interesting term related to texting and other forms of new media: “Discourse 2.0.”

Similar to the idea of becoming “bidialectical,” the phrase “Discourse 2.0” is used to point out the new environments, contexts, and usage patterns that evolve out of new forms of text and technology-based discourse. They also go into the idea that texting creates a new platform for multi-authorship and joint discourse production that didn’t exist before.

Like McWhorter, they also bring up the idea that texting creates new linguistic structures. 

In his TED Talk, McWhorter brings up the convention of “LOL” being used in text-based conversations. He points out its evolution, as it doesn’t necessarily mean “laughing out loud” anymore, but has instead developed more subtlety in use. It has now become a marker of accommodation or empathy, and can also be used as a kind of “pragmatic particle.”

Herring and Androutsopoulos focus on how emoticons in texting represent new linguistic structures. They explain how emoticons can be used to express meaning iconically in texting, but can also be used to shift a negative statement’s pragmatic meaning to an ironic observation. Similarly, they discuss how memes and images combined with text constitute another emerging format of multimodal communication.

Now, I realize some of this is a little hard to unpack, but the main takeaway is that there is real, respectable evidence that texting is not, in fact, corrupting our linguistic or writing abilities.

It’s always nice to have facts and legitimate data on your side when combating the presumptuous, superior attitudes of people who didn’t grow up with cell phones when they try to make blanket statements about how no one really communicates anymore. Good luck, and happy texting.

Natalie Knox is a 23-year-old English senior from Lake Charles.

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