Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 12, 2012

TIDBITS: Technology and the written word

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — I'm a fan of the written word, and not just because it's my bread and butter and keeps a roof over my head. Words are how we communicate, both through media such as this newspaper, and with each other through letters, cards, emails and texts.

Texting is getting more and more popular, with many people foregoing voice plans on their phones and opting just to text. This is especially true among teens, with  CNN reporting in 2010 about one third of teens sending more than 100 texts a day. Thank goodness text plans accommodate that sort of texting.

And with texting comes those abbreviations and acronyms that I can't figure out. It's a whole new kind of shorthand that often leaves me searching the Internet for a translation. There is often no punctuation and those grammar rules your teachers went over and over and over in school are forgotten.

See if you can translate this: Njoy lyf, u 1ly liv 1s.

Stumped?

"Enjoy life. You only live once."

I suppose this new shorthand language would be OK if it stayed where it belonged — those short little messages sent by text to get a point across. I'm thinking BRB for be right back or LOL for laughing out loud. Entire conversations in this sort of language hurt my head.

I have created my own shorthand for when I'm taking notes in meetings because I just can't write longhand as quickly as people can talk.

Of course, those notes are never seen by anyone other than me, and I doubt anyone else could decipher what they say, thanks to that shorthand I created to expedite the process and the fact I have the handwriting of a serial killer or doctor.

But text speak doesn't stay just with that one particular form of communication. It's spreading into all forms of communication, and not all of us are up on the latest text speak. That means it can be hard to get your point across because, while you are speaking one language, the person you are attempting to communicate with speaks another. That's why we still have accepted grammar rules for spelling, punctuation and word usage. It puts us on even footing so that the young can communicate with their elders, or people down south can talk with their counterparts up north without colloquialisms and accents getting in the way of understanding.

Unfortunately, the tendency to shorten words and write in incomplete sentences is showing up in formal writing, such as school papers, résumés and cover letters and, yes, even articles submitted to the newspaper. I suppose it's become too much of a burden to type "you" when text speak allows just the use of "u."

Just a few weeks ago, the school system reported that reading and language arts are areas of concern identified in standardized testing. This is especially serious because reading is the foundation for learning, especially in subjects such as history and science. Reading is also how we learn how to use new vocabulary and pick up different sentence structures and proper punctuation.

Perhaps text speak is spreading because we aren't asking young people to use their writing skills more often. Or maybe people feel the rules of language and grammar are too stifling. Have you seen a language manual recently? The Harbrace is a hefty little volume. To those with that complaint, I suggest picking up a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. It's the basics of grammar in 22 short rules clearly explained with examples. There's also a list of commonly misused words — their, there, they're; to, two, too; and your and you're. Contrary to what text speak would have you believe, these words are not interchangeable. Each has a specific meaning. Their is a possessive. There is a place. They're is a contraction for there are.

Language is constantly evolving, and new words are added to our vocabulary on a regular basis. One day, this shortened form of writing may become the norm, but it isn't yet. On that fateful day, I fully expect my former English teachers to let out a collective wail and go into mourning for their beloved language. Until then, let's keep fighting the good fight. Keep the text speak where it belongs.