Texting has long been bemoaned as the downfall of the written word, “penmanship for illiterates,” as one critic called it. To which the proper response is LOL. Texting properly isn’t writing at all — it’s actually more akin to spoken language. And it’s a “spoken” language that is getting richer and more complex by the year.
First, some historical perspective. Writing was only invented 5,500 years ago, whereas language probably traces back at least 80,000 years. Thus talking came first; writing is just an artifice that came along later. As such, the first writing was based on the way people talk, with short sentences — think of the Old Testament. However, while talk is largely subconscious and rapid, writing is deliberate and slow. Over time, writers took advantage of this and started crafting tapeworm sentences such as this one, from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The whole engagement lasted above 12 hours, till the gradual retreat of the Persians was changed into a disorderly flight, of which the shameful example was given by the principal leaders and the Surenas himself.”
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No one talks like that casually — or should. But it is natural to desire to do so for special occasions, and that’s what oratory is, like the grand-old kinds of speeches that William Jennings Bryan delivered. In the old days, we didn’t much write like talking because there was no mechanism to reproduce the speed of conversation. But texting and instant messaging do — and a revolution has begun. It involves the brute mechanics of writing, but in its economy, spontaneity and even vulgarity, texting is actually a new kind of talking. There is a virtual cult of concision and little interest in capitalization or punctuation. The argument that texting is “poor writing” is analogous, then, to one that the Rolling Stones is “bad music” because it doesn’t use violas. Texting is developing its own kind of grammar and conventions.
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Texting is developing its own kind of grammar. Take LOL. It doesn’t actually mean “laughing out loud” in a literal sense anymore. LOL has evolved into something much subtler and sophisticated and is used even when nothing is remotely amusing. Jocelyn texts “Where have you been?” and Annabelle texts back “LOL at the library studying for two hours.” LOL signals basic empathy between texters, easing tension and creating a sense of equality. Instead of having a literal meaning, it does something — conveying an attitude — just like the -ed ending conveys past tense rather than “meaning” anything. LOL, of all things, is grammar.
Of course no one thinks about that consciously. But then most of communication operates below the radar. Over time, the meaning of a word or an expression drifts — meat used to mean any kind of food, silly used to mean, believe it or not, blessed.
Civilization, then, is fine — people banging away on their smartphones are fluently using a code separate from the one they use in actual writing, and there is no evidence that texting is ruining composition skills. Worldwide people speak differently from the way they write, and texting — quick, casual and only intended to be read once — is actually a way of talking with your fingers.
All indications are that America’s youth are doing it quite well. Texting, far from being a scourge, is a work in progress.
This essay is adapted from McWhorter’s talk at TED 2013.
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June 25, 2013
Compare and Contrast: Texting VS Calling
What would we do without cell phones? Have you ever tried to leave your phone at home just to see how much it’s really needed in your everyday life? I have and it’s a lot harder than you think. Technology has grown so much in the past ten years then you would ever know. From little black and white flip phones to tablets with apps, games, music and pretty much anything you could ever want just in the palm of your hand. In 1973 the first cell phone was invented, and it took twenty-two years after that, 1995, to invent text messaging. Now it seems as though text messaging is among the most popular way of communication. Although texting and phone calls aim to accomplish the…show more content…
Also, texting can save you from that embarrassing moment in public when having a private conversation about yourself or someone you know. With texting there are advantages, but they also come with disadvantages. Texting can be faster and get to the point, but, when you enter in a “no service area” your message won’t get delivered at that direct moment. Could take a few hours before the recipient receives it. Which could be a disadvantage to both calling and texting. Auto correct is a feature on your phone that changes words in your sentences making them different from what you meant. Therefore, could be the cause to a message being misinterpreted by the receiver and take it the wrong way then it was intended to be understood. Causing more trouble than it should have. A big problem around the world today is the distraction with texting and driving, causing you to take your eyes and attention off the road. Hearing a voice rather than seeing a text can make a phone conversation feel more personal and make an important call have a professional touch to it. If you are going to be late for a job or professional event it is always better to call rather than text. One feature with call phones, is when calling and the other end does not answer you are able to leave a voice mail to what you were calling about. Calling takes less time to explain what you are doing and what needs to be done. Therefore having a