It appears today that an essential teenage fashion statement is the mobile phone (or the cell phone as our American friends would have it). It is a phenomenon which has taken off like wild fire.

As I negotiate the shopping centre, I have to manoeuvre around teenagers who are obviously deep in conversation on a device which is often glued to their ear. They also seem to think that everyone in hearing range should be interested in what they have to say. All this can be frustrating – but it is a least a spoken language that I recognise. Texting is another thing all together.

There is a new language which is being created right in our midst, and many of us may not be aware of it. Aided by the rise of social networking sites we are now in the middle of a revolution – and like all revolutions it started out with the best of intentions, but where it goes from here is problematic.

It arose out of the fact that many phone companies charge for the amount of words or characters used, so it was important to get the message across using the least amount – a sort of mobile shorthand. This was acerbated by the rise of sites such as twitter which severely limits the number of characters allowed in a message – so to get maximum impact with minimum characters became the challenge.

The specific tricks used are quite imaginative, single letters or numbers stand for words as in ‘b’ for be; ‘4’ = for, ‘2’ = two etcetera. Then again simply by dropping the vowels, words are reduced to their basic consonants such as the title of this article; and of course the real shorthand where abbreviations stand for a complete phrase – such as “imho’ which is short for “in my humble opinion”. But perhaps the cleverest is the combination of letters and numbers to create recognisable words – l8 to signify ‘late’ so we can end up with a message that reads “Dnt b l8” – which is much pithier and less costly than “Don’t be late!”

Now, every generation has its own specific language that is used to separate them from the ‘oldies’. Who can forget the “Daddyo’s” of the 50’s films, or the overuse of the words “Cool Man”? In every case as we grew older, such language gradually fell out of use, and we found ourselves bewailing the impossibility of understanding the new generation of teenagers!

But this was spoken language, and as such usually had a limited life; in addition it often did not impinge too much upon the written word. Texting or SMS language is specifically a written language, and has the ability to translate itself into customary communication. We speak the same language, but we write it differently.

In fact, the use of IM (Instant Messaging), is becoming so wide spread that educators are now beginning to recognise the problems that it may cause. And some interesting research is coming to light.

In 2001 the Pew Report was released which found that “74% of online teens use instant messaging” (Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001, p.3); and a whopping “69% of teen instant message users use IM at least several times a week” (p.3).

At the moment, I would venture to say that that the main exposure to the written language would still be in books, on-line articles and blogs which use correct language; so that even though the new language has a toe-hold it hasn’t yet superseded the main stream – but given time, who knows?

I admire the ingenuity of the texters, but I do worry about the clarity of the message! How easy is it to understand precisely what the writer wanted to say? LOL can be either “Lots of Love” or “Laughing out Loud” – a misunderstanding could be the end of a relationship!

There are also some real concerns that terminologies used in IM are now being found in school work. Homework essays are being received which are written in abbreviations more usually found on the internet or mobile phone. In another report we found reference to a teenage girl that admitted “I was so used to reading what my friends wrote to me on Instant Messenger that I didn’t even realize that there was something wrong,” And while supporters of the IM language insist that there is a clear differentiation between it and formal language, this teenager admitted that “her ability to separate formal and informal English declined the more she used instant messages” (Lee, 2002).

Other claims from our educators bemoan the fact that they have to “un-teach Internet Speech”. The amount of information supporting this position indicates that constant use of IM is indeed affecting the way in which young people read the written language.

My concern is with clear communication, the ability to get your message across to the listeners or the readers, and convey the precise information without confusion. It is difficult enough with formal language, and many misunderstanding already occur – but I wonder where we are going if IM is going to become mainstream?

Cn u c whr it wll nd?

Michele @ Trischel
Or Mchle @ Trschl depending on your language.

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