Tuesday 8 July 2008

On txtng

The publication of Txtng: the Gr8 Db8 last Saturday, extracted in the Guardian, has brought a flurry of correspondence. Of greatest interest have been an encounter with the unusual ways in which people have been using text-messaging - and indeed going well beyond it.

I'd not come across the SMS Guerilla Projector before - a device which lets people project text messages in public spaces onto walls or people, for instance. Then there are the performance art applications, illustrated by TXTual Healing. But probably the most remarkable phenomenon, from a linguistic point of view, is LOLcats, LOLdogs, and related sites. This started by showing cute pictures of the animals and captioning them in nonstandard English. It goes well beyond the limited conventions of text-messaging, and is now developing into a genre of its own. Most of the Old Testament seems to have been translated into it, it seems, as this LOLcat Bible site shows. The opening lines of Genesis 1 will give you the flavour.

Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.
Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.

It only started in July 2007, and a year later about 60 per cent of the Bible is done. They're even trying to standardize it - see How to speak lolcat. It's an interesting mixture of baby-talk, animal-speak, and netspeak, along with some conventional nonstandard spelllings.

It's amazing what's out there, when you go looking!


Anonymous said...

Internet spelling scares me. It really does. Like the word "spelllings" toward the end of your post. Was that intentional? I imagine it was not. The internet seems to loosen our restraints somehow. I taught 10th grade English at a private school last year. I had 20 well educated, bright, and privileged kids. And yet, out of the 20, there were only 3 who could spell correctly (or cared to), and with any consistency. Words like "horable" and "crieing", or "dieing" were commonplace. We actually studied the Merchant of Venice at one point, and I suggested to them that their spelling was more Elizabethan than they might suspect. They didn't get the joke. Anyway, I spent time working with them on these issues, and suggested that text messaging had contaminated their skills. With fifteen and sixteen year olds, that didn't go over too well either. I quit at the end of the year.

I'm new to your fan base. I am currently reading THINK ON MY WORDS. I also caught your RSC podcast on OP. Great stuff. I just wanted to make the above comment about the text messaging. Mediocre has become the new good. And that's a bit scary as well. Text messaging, while a fascinating form, a necessary form perhaps, and for a poet like myself, a form that offers new possibilities, it nonetheless seems to tamper with craftsmanship, and by a psychology in need of further exploration. —A Graphaesthete, and a fan.

Anonymous said...

After reading your article I now know what "lol" stands for! I had guessed that it meant "lots of laughing" (as oppose to "laughing out loud") ... so thank you for enlightening me! :-)

DC said...

Yes, there are looser spelling constraints in some domains of the Internet (not all - a great deal of the Web is tightly constrained), and it may well be that the Internet will restore some of the flexibility in spelling that used to be normal in English, until the 18th century standardizers ruled. One wouldn't want to go back to the chaos which was developing in the late Middle Ages (I've told this story in my The Stories of English, but there's no harm in some flexibility. Indeed we already have it. If you go through a dictionary, you'll find that about a quarter of the entries have alternative spellings - judg(e)ment, flower(-)pot, B/bible, p(a)ediatrics.... The Internet is bound to have an influence on spelling, in the long term.

The bad spellers you mention are different. The mistakes you cite, though, could not possibly come from texting. They are typical spelling errors which have been listed in manuals ever since spelling became standardized - long before texting was born. What people fail to appreciate is that, to be a good texter, you actually have to be a good speller. You have to know how words are spelled before you can appreciate the effect of leaving letters out.

Also, remember one of the big discoveries reported in my Txtng book - that less than 10 per cent of the words used in text messages are actually abbreviated. So most of text messaging is standard anyway. The new creative possibilities offered by texting are also fully illustrated in the new book.

It's too easy for people to blame texting for every ill. That's the lazy way out. Teachers in particular should avoid taking it. If kids are having problems with spelling, the reasons lie elsewhere. Texting is part of the solution, not the problem. The first research results are absolutely clear: the more you text, the better your literacy scores.

Was spelllings intentional? I'm not saying :)

Anonymous said...

Actually...I have to write that, yes, I am (was? - I don't know)) a 'puritan' where 'my' English is concerned. I go to great lengths to make sure that everything is 'okay'. I have been ribbed awfully, by a friend, for making a spelling mistake on some site. While reading your bit about 'txting', however it is 'spelt', my linguistic puritanical leanings were promptly straightened by reflecting on the poem by Kate Gladstone...thanks for including that in your blog. The English language appears, to me, to be on some kind of a journey. A journey means that it needs to move - onwards, absorbing different influences. I guess that if we love a language so much, we need to let it grow, diversify, and let it move on...I suppose.

DC said...

Well nobody can stop change. All attempts to regulate it have always failed. But we do have to learn to manage the changes, and understand their impact on society and the attitudes towards language which change generates. That's why systematic language work in schools is so important: it places you in a more powerful position, so that you understand what is going on and thus gets into a position where you can respond confidently to ribsters.

claire loder said...

just wanted to say I really enjoyed the texting article and look forward to reading your book! I read a book of yours years ago on the English language, can't quite remember which, so the Guardian article has nudged me to take another look at your work!

DC said...

Thx. Hope you enjoy it.

Annie said...

Today, I came across a marvelling piece of txtng! In the public transport, a woman was sitting with a hard paper box in her hands containing kitchen utensils. On the box, above the picture of three containers for tea, sugar, and coffee it read 3PCS!
Is texting broadening its application, Professor?

DC said...

I wouldn't be surprised to find all kinds of commercial settings adopting text abbreviations, as an eye-catching device. In Txtng, I have a few examples of the way these forms have gone well beyond the mobile phone screen.

irony in motion said...

It's fascinating to see this kind of language recognised and analysed by linguists. As an internet slang user and English Language student, any text- or netspeak we've been given to study has been--perhaps understandably--hopelessly out of date. I've always hoped to be able to study the internet-influenced development of English in a way that reflects the language I actually see and use at the moment, although the rapid updating of slang makes that difficult, I suppose.

To the untrained eye, internet slang can appear to be completely free of grammatical rules--but more interestingly than that, I think users of particular strands of netspeak have their own, often unconscious, systems of grammar. The lolcat language--"I can has," etc--works in certain ways, and doesn't in others. If somebody just stuck a misspelled sentence on a picture of a cat, it wouldn't be right. People familiar with lolcats might not know exactly why it didn't read right, but they would be able to tell, through some kind of grammatical instinct--in the same way that many English speakers use, say, the subjunctive without having any idea what it is or that they are doing so.

Intriguing language development is intriguing.

DC said...

Yes, the speed at which change takes place is one of the most noticeable features, and is a real challenge. But at least. with date stamping, we have a chance of plotting change more precisely than ever before.

I've had a terrible time over the past decade trying to keep up! I don't expect to publish a new edition of a book until at least a decade has gone by. But with Language and the Internet, which appeared in 2001, I found I had to do a second edition within five years. That first edition never mentioned blogging and instant messaging, for example - they were hardly around in 2000. The second edition came out in 2006 - and it doesn't have any analysis of what is going on on YouTube, FaceBook, and the like. So: plenty of scope for further studies!

KateGladstone said...

Of further interest re LOLcat spelling and who uses it:

KateGladstone said...

Possiblhy the earliest lolspeak document -- by Rudyard Kipling, of all people -- inhabits http://tinyurl.com/LOLkipling
(full-text copy of his book "Thy Servant, A Dog" -- a dog's life told from the dog's point of view.)

Even though the spelling comes a lot closer to standard English than to LOLspeak, almost everything after the title in this Kipling work strikes me as LOLspeak and unmistakably so. If re-spelled in LOLspeak fashion and posted to some LOLsite, it would rate as excellent sustained modern LOLspeak.