Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How will the next generation read and write?

Literacy & Text Messaging
How will the next generation read and write?

The articles provided give cause for alarm, they focus on the evolution and prevalence of ‘txt speak’ and what that means for children learning to read and write today. In order to understand the potential detrimental impact of this style of communication I will first look at what it is, its origins, its parallels in history, and finally what all of that means for the children of tomorrow.

‘Say What?’
Every generation of youth creates its own mark on the language of its culture. We call it slang, and it evolves as a way of cutting out some of the formality of ‘properly spoken language’ and gives youth a way to separate themselves from the language used by their parents/superiors.
Youth are in search of an identity, and use language in much the same way that they use music; it evolves with the young generation as a way to define itself (the generation) from its predecessor. When slang is “new to the scene” it serves as a way to differentiate between those who are ‘hip’ to the ‘lingo’ and those who aren’t as ‘cool’ or ‘with-it’. After some time, the new words become a part of the vocabulary of the masses and they “lose their luster” because they no longer pose as a passcode signifying membership to an elite/exclusive club of those who are privy to the words meaning.
In modern society we see this running rampant with the evolution of ‘txt speak’-which has evolved out of a primarily young population of people trying to communicate quickly and efficiently over cell phone txt messages and IM conversations (instant messaging online). I think that the reason that this form of communication has become such a focus for concern has more to do with its prevalence among youth than its actual content - grammatically and syntagmatically. Txt speak evolved based on a need to communicate a message in an increasingly succinct and swift manner.

Why? – The Origins of ‘Txt Speak’
As the old adage goes, ‘time is of the essence’ and that couldn’t prove truer than when examining the origins of ‘txt speak’.
  • If you are in a chat-room with tons of other people and you are trying to communicate your ideas before the conversation goes elsewhere, every millisecond counts.
  • If you are communicating via text message on a cellular phone, you must be able to communicate your message in 180 characters or less, so every space is gold.
  • Additionally, many phones didn’t originally possess full keyboards, and so each number(2 thru 0) represents 3-4 of the letters in the alphabet, and symbols including punctuations are all crammed under the number “1” key. (see image) 
    • Because of this, in order to type a message, one must hit each key multiple times until the desired letter is achieved; this is all without taking capitalization, spacing, and all other grammar rules into account.
      • In order to type “Hello Mary.” on a cell phone the following key strokes would be required – [Shift] [4][4]  [3][3]  [5][5][5] {Pause for next character} [5][5][5] [6][6][6] [Space Key]  [Shift][6]  [2]  [7][7][7]  [9][9][9] [1](as many times as it takes to reach the “.” out of the list of symbols available). That is a minimum of 25 keystrokes to achieve a message containing 9 letters and 1 symbol.
  When we consider these scenarios and the many other out there, it is easy to see how a succinct and easily typed form of communication became necessary. In this digital age aren’t we all trying to cram as much information as possible into the smallest possible package? Txt Speak is a manifestation of the short concise communication that is required to communicate as quickly and efficiently as possible using the technology that we have available to us, at the speeds required of this age.
I pose the question: If we had ‘better’ technology available to us that made communicating as easy and speedy while remaining grammar conscious, would our society have felt the need to create this new language style? Or would we communicate freely within the bounds of the current accepted language style (because it would work for our needs)?
·         I ask this because I know that I personally alter my language style based on the technology I am using to communicate and the context with which I am using it.
o   For example, when I switched from a phone with a 0-9 keypad, which made texting cumbersome, to a Smart Phone with a full QWERTY keyboard I instantly began composing my messages in full sentence form again, with an eye on punctuation, capitalization and the basics of proper grammar. I only ever seem to revert back to “txt speak” when I’m in a hurry!

An Adaption to our Needs
Remember that Txt Speak is only a manifestation of the concise communication that is required to share information as quickly and efficiently as possible with the technology that we have, and therefore different technology will spark the creation of a different and uniquely adapted form of communication. This is proof that people are rather ingenious, and they will normally make the best out of what they are given. The language of ‘txters’ is only one in a long long history of adaptive languages that have been created to compensate for and/or adapt to the technology available, the limits on volume of data, or the speeds with the information must be recorded or shared – all while finding a way to get the message across.
The telegraph came with its own unique form of adaptive language to make communication possible. Court Reporters had to create the Stenotype Shorthand Machine in order to record information at the speeds required, and the ‘language’ that they are typing is not Standard English. And most impressive in its parallels, didn’t many of our previous generations including many of our grandparents and great-grandparents learn to write in one of the various styles of shorthand, while they were in school. I can remember my great-grandmother telling me stories about how she had learned short hand when she was going to school to train to be a secretary. She said that this was why no one, including her husband and children, could ever read the notes that she made for herself. There are many accepted styles of shorthand, and although there are generalized rules for each, I am sure that a fair bit of variation exists for each individual and within each information community. I’m certain people within an office developed unique jargon among themselves for their specific needs, these terms may not be understood to those who are not members of that social group.

The Value of Efficiency?
Throughout history there are many instances when longhand, with all of its formality and rigid structure, was not sufficient or well suited to accomplishing a task. It is in these times that our language itself begins to adapt, we let it evolve in order to allow for communication and the spread of information. When this happens, are we creating a more dynamic and pervasive language system, or are we undermining the integrity of our culture? While the purpose of language may be to facilitate the effective communication of ideas within an ever-changing and restricting set of contexts, is it not equally important that the proper structure of the language be preserved? Is there value in holding to a rigid structure of ‘correct’ communication within the constraints of long established channels if the information can be effectively communicated in another, even easier or faster way?

Txt Speak, as well as the many other examples of adaptive efficiency languages hold a value within our culture. This value is apparent within the context of the usefulness of a language style at effectively communicating an idea in the way it was designed, or has adapted, to do. Each of these ‘languages’ has a context for which it was intended, and within that context it has use, and therefore value. If ‘txt speak’ is kept within the context in which it has proven useful it does not diminish other types of communication. If a style of communication allows for the spread of information in ways that other styles cannot then it broadens our overall ability to communicate. It can be used as one of many tools in someone’s arsenal of communication avenues, and the more tools one possesses the more dynamic they are in their ability to convey information.

The Issue
            Problems of value and potential harmfulness begin to arise when ‘txt speak’ is used out of its intended context. Just as one would not read a child a story in Morse Code, because it would be the wrong tool for the job, ‘txt speak’ should be limited to novel applications where it broadens one’s ability to communicate. It should be viewed as a specific option for a particular application, and not as a potential replacement for all other forms of communication.
Issues arise when ‘txt speak’ takes over as the only method of communication. Effective communicators have the ability to adapt to situations and find a method that fits each one best. If a person could only communicate through the spoken word it would severely limit there ability to adapt to changing enviroments. There are many tools available for communicators to use, (formal writing, informal writing, conversational language –both formal and informal, speeches, debates, storytelling, note-taking, scientific journal writing, txt speak, 1st 2nd or 3rd person, the list goes on and on) the most important skill, after learning to master each style, is to be able to anticipate which is best suited for an application. If we can teach students the value of many communication styles and how to effectively employ them then it won’t hurt anyone if one of the many communication styles under their belt is ‘txt speak’.

Is it all going downhill from here?
            All things considered the future isn’t looking as bleak as some would lead us to believe. If we can help children keep new language styles in perspective then they will be more the capable of adapting to the requirements of many social situations. Future generations will learn to read and write just as we all have, but they will learn to do so within a culture with an even more dynamic and expansive set of choices for doing so. With every generation our language grows and evolves. It is not a stagnant set of rules that one must memorize, language is a living entity that is expanding and changing. The children of the future must jump in head first and experience it, just as we all have. Language and the communication of ideas must continue to adapt as our ideas and culture adapt and change. Just as Shakespeare would not understand all of our words and communication methods today, I cannot hope to know the specifics of how children of the will express ideas. However, I am confident that whatever form our language takes, its main objective will remain the same.

Blog Reflection #2

According to Kate Baggott, “In the age of text messaging, where words are reduced to nonstandard abbreviations and symbols, many people question the future of literacy.”

How will the next generation read and write?


Baggott, K. (2006 December 21). Literacy and text messaging: How will the next generation read and write? Technology Review. Retrieved September 20, 2010 from http://www.technologyreview.com/Biztech/17927/.

Brown, L. & Kalinowski, T. (2007 February 2). Texting spells the demise of attention span: Experts. The Star. Retrieved September 20, 2010 from http://www.thestar.com/News/article/177490.

Freedman, T. (2008 May 27). C? I tld u so, didn’t I? txtN isn’t so bad aftr ll, unl ur /:-). The Educational Technology: ICT in Education. Retrieved September 20, 2010 from http://terry-freedman.org.uk/artman/publish/printer_1304.php.

I also referenced: