Pay by the letter

As texting and instant messaging have become prevalent in today’s society, people have developed shortcuts and abbreviations to make the process quicker. These are ‘words’  such as “lol,” “b4,” and “l8r.” A New York Times article refers to these things as “text-speak.”

I read two articles on the subject, one from NY Times, which views the prevalence of this type of speech as a problem. The author says that children need to know the time and place for this type of speech, and must learn and use formal language in most cases.

The other, from Time, acknowledges this evolution of language as a type of speech, not written language. It also says that texting is developing it’s own form of grammar, and gives the example of LOL as not meaning literally laugh out loud anymore, but rather conveying empathy. I don’t agree in full with that example, but what I do see is texting repurposing aspects of letters and numbers in a symbolic way. “HBU” for example, means “How ’bout you?” This is not quite an acronym because “U” is used in place of “you,” not “y” as with the other two words. This ‘sounds like’ concept is used elsewhere in text-speech, such as in “b4,” which means “before.”

I understand that some of these phrases, as they become more recognized and accepted, move far away from the etymology of the words they represent. But I think that since they are still a clear form of communication, it is an interesting step in the development of language, not the death of it. I have not considered how this new abbreviated form of speech plays into languages other than english, or whether there are language specific items of text-speech that exist. That said, I think this is an interesting notion toward the use of characters in english instead of letters. When driving on the highway I have often seen signs such as “Think B4 U Drink.” This to me speaks of the growing acceptance of this type of communication and its value in society, as well as the increasing meaning of letters and symbols in the english language based on pronunciation.


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