One textism does not a language corrupt

I’ve been working on a short paper on the effects of texting on literacy (forthcoming soon). Texting — SMS-speak, IM-speak, abbreviated and misspelled words, etc. — is much hated by teachers, parents and linguists who complain that textspeak is creeping into formal writing assignments — which it is. There is evidence — formal and anecdotal — of this happening in schools around the world.

My issue with this is the hysteria that has been created — the sense that a generation of youth cannot speak or spell correctly. The hysteria is based on a small number of actual textisms in essays, no more than grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes or the other inevitable mistakes that learners make when they practice writing.

The focus is on the mistake, e.g. the one textism, and not the 499 good words in an essay. The exception/mistake defines the whole piece. In the same way that when you read a book and notice a typo, you remember it. You make a mental black mark against the author and the editing process of the publishers. It’s wrong that these mistakes get made, but they need to be fairly assessed against the bigger picture of the narrative, the story structure, the characterisations, etc.

AristotleLet’s not create a whole category for texting and regard it as the death knell of English. Let’s not hysterically focus on the small mistakes. Let’s deal with them as best we can, but ask the bigger question: can young people, especially in SA, write long pieces? According to much research, they can’t because they never practice it. We need to get our kids writing, much longer pieces and more often. The few textisms need to be dealt with, but they don’t mean the end of a communicative generation.

As Aristotle said: “One swallow does not a summer make.”

(Image: Aristotle by Jastrow. Public Domain)

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2 responses to “One textism does not a language corrupt

  1. Totally agree. And another greek quote, attributed to Plato:

    The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

    Seems the youth are always on the verge of destroying society as we know it. And a good thing too.

    I like your “one textism does not a language corrupt” meme and I think the flip side of that is that language is like a glacier. It appears static but is in fact in constant motion, one textism at a time. 🙂

    • “they no longer rise when the elders enter” got me thinking, my african culture is so rich but the unfortunate thing is that most of our ‘tradition’ practises are not in digital format and hence not accessible to the youths, if I dont go to my rural area which is more than 500km away I wont be able to learn more about my ancestral traditions, probably alternate reality gaming might be able to hold the key to connect the youth and their distant rural areas that not so many people frequent nowadays…

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