The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

c u at the lib?? x – Why textspeak is good

We hear teachers, parents, and other adults rant about how the digitally savvy generation is doomed to wreck English with shorthand that isn’t approved by secretaries. Omitting vowels, using numbers, and making up abbreviations makes up almost all of textspeak, a term used by those who were born after the 80s, as if this is an entirely new language.

And for some, it is.

The textspeak used in the title of this article is actually a little old-fashioned. People usually say “cya” or “cu”. For readers who are still confused, the title says “See you at the library?”. The “x” is actually a British text slang term for a polite kiss to state that the sender cares about the recipient. “X” is usually used at the end of a statement, such as “hope you feel better x” if the recipient is sick.

As shocking as it is, Pew Research Centre conducted a study that led to the conclusion that the texting generation is more likely to read than the older group (of Americans). The only flaw I have with this article is that it states only reading e-books, but if you remember my post on e-books and retention, it is that people generally retain much less when reading e-books than reading regular paper books.

While the revelation from Pew is relieving to pedantic English fans (or perhaps not?), teachers are faced with more of an obstacle now with connecting textspeak to standard English. After all, it may be a little more troublesome to explain why we should spell “enough” versus “enuf” (a common and sensible rendition of the original word).

However, teachers need to realize that although the curriculum mandates that students can write and read standard English, using textspeak is a type of creative language processing that requires fluency and understanding of the English in a grammar-wise and orthographical way. Students needed to know that the -ough ending could be pronounced as -uf (enough/enuf) or -u (through/thru). Perhaps the bolded part has already caused some minds to implode or teachers to tut in disgust for sullying the language, but spelling in English is difficult, and requires good memorization skills.

For example, “nite” is really “night”, and most people, not just students but adults too, don’t understand why there is the silent “gh” in “night”.

One of the greatest and most spectacular phenomena I’ve seen in textspeak that illustrates the complexity of English semantics and pronunciation is “ur”. There are several ways to interpret this:

  1. you’re
  2. your
  3. you are

#1 and #3 are different because the pronunciation of “you’re” and “you are” is a difference of syllables. However, “ur” could stand in as “u r”, which would mean “you are” as well. Another similar, but equally fascinating, phenomenon is “der”, which isn’t used as much but it is still being used:

  1. they’re
  2. their
  3. there

In the process of typing “der”, they had to know

  1. the meaning of the word they’re typing
  2. the pronunciation
  3. the letters the sounds make in “der” and to piece it together

These steps are ongoing in students’ minds as they type these shorthand.

Finally, something that isn’t very common in textspeak, but is common on the computer, is called leetspeak (or 1337speak), where leet means “elite”. You may notice that “leet” is spelled orthographically. Leetspeak uses numbers to stand in for letters, which is a more complicated phenomenon than it is given credit for. For example, can you decipher the following in one go?

70|)4`/ 1’|\/| |2|_`/ 71|23|)

Today I’m rly (really) tired.

On top of forming shorthand for “really” (“rly” is very common as well, almost as common as “lol”), I had to associate graphically how letters would look like with numbers. 7 was T, |) was for D, `/ was for Y, |2 was for R, 3 was for E, etc. It definitely required effort and concentration to write it. Although fascinating, I must admit that even I am not in favour of writing in this style.

This is merely a heads up to all educators that the texting generation is not doomed to be illiterate. I am not dismissing the value of standard English: it is truly crucial that everybody can speak, read, and write the standard so we can all be on the same page in terms of communicating. However, we should appreciate the effort and thinking that goes on behind the textspeak because it takes just as much work to write textspeak as it does to write standard English.

Similarly, Twitter’s 140-character limit helps users to be concise and creative with their abbreviations and shorthand, meaning that more thinking is being invested in their messages. Instead of writing “thorough”, which is 8 letters, users can halve it to 4 letters with “thru”, demonstrating creativity and resourcefulness with the English language.

I think another reason why the texting generation is more willing to use the library is because they already have some type of research mindset as their foundation already. Their minds are already used to searching and researching, for methods and strategies to shorten messages. Being near a handheld device almost at all times lets their mind and fingers wander to other pages, continually searching for more info. What other place, other than the Internet, has volumes of information at your fingertips?

The library!

Not all is lost, teachers! Let’s learn to appreciate and validate the value of the mind’s work in writing textspeak, and students will be willing to see why standard English is still being used.


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This entry was posted on July 25, 2013 by in education, languages, school, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


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