“OMG I hve 2 go 2 the bthrm!” would translate to “Oh my gosh, I have to go to the bathroom!” The former of the two versions of this sentence is how it would probably be written in a text message between two teenagers or young adults. This is known as “texting”. One would “text” this message to someone else. This adaptation of the English language is meant to make typing on a small keyboard, such as on a phone, easier and quicker. Words are often abbreviated or turned into an acronym that makes sense when read out loud. Most words are recognizable though are completely wrong by English standards. Michael Masters explains one of the greatest benefits the best in TextAppeal - For Guys!: The Ultimate Texting Guide:
“Texting is very similar to normal conversation but with one HUGE difference; you have time to think of a good answer.”
Credit: By Alton (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe point of this non-official language is not to be grammatically correct, but to transmit a message as easily and efficiently as possible while still making it readable. Most words can be understood by anyone who reads the messages. However, some words are harder to understand unless you’ve been around others who text each other frequently and use these transformations of the English language. It takes some practice to really get used to it. That is, if you choose to get used to it. The reality is that like it or not this language is very popular. Although it may not be an officially recognized language, texting is very much real and used on a daily basis by many people in the world and cannot be ignored as a real language, simply because it is used so much. It may not seem like it, but there are some loose rules or guidelines to using this language. We’ll cover what they are.
The first rule of texting is that all texts must be understandable by the sender and the receiver. This may seem like an obvious rule. The catch is that nobody else really needs to understand the message. In fact, words can be made up on the spot and the meaning can be agreed upon once and it can be used from that point forward. An example of this exchange could look something like this:
“I dnt thnk he unstds me”
From this point on, a new rule has been agreed upon for word usage. The word “understand” may be typed as “unstd” from this point forward without even realizing that this was a new unwritten rule of the language. More and more words can be formed this way. As you can imagine, this language can develop more and more complex new words over time. Someone else who reads a text message between these two parties in the future that sees the newly developed version of “understands” as “undstds” may not have a clue what that means unless you can match the context with what the word looks like it may be. You may notice some letters in the above example are missing in words. Letters can be omitted and even exchanged by numbers.
It is very common to exchange letters and words with numbers. It’s obvious that it would be quicker to type “8” instead of writing out the word “eight”. But it has gone a step further. Sections of words that sound like a number can be exchange with a number. For example, saying “I 8 brkfst” can be used in place of “I ate breakfast”. Also, “I feel sorry for you” can be typed as “i feel sry 4 u”. Here are some common examples of words that can be translated into a number or letter to significantly shorten it:
You – U
Ate – 8
For – 4
To – 2
Great – gr8
Credit: By Gareth Williams [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThese five examples can be used alone or even as extensions for other words, such as using “undrstm8” in place of “underestimate”. These shortcuts are not only common in text messages, but they are even used in some professional, published material. For example, the following is a fictitious conversation between Romeo and Juliet, with the twist of the two having a conversation today via text messages, in “The I.M.s of Romeo and Juliet” by Roz Chast:
Juliet: romeo u there
Romeo: yo wassup
Juliet: nothin, u?
Romeo: scool sucked 2day
Juliet: heard wylander got mad at u
While the text itself may be a mockery of the poor use of the English language, it is still widely used enough that a published author is aware of it and was willing and able to publish this piece utilizing the method.
Another rule is that vowels can be omitted in the middle of words, but not usually if it’s the first or last letter of a word. Omitting as many letters as possible makes typing phrases quicker. It may seem lazy and unnecessary at first, but omitting a letter, or two, or three from a majority of words in a long phrase can significantly reduce the time it takes to produce a message. Let’s look at another example:
“I think I’ll reserve time another day for going to the library.”
This can be typed as:
“I thnk ill rsrv tme anthr dy fr gng 2 the lbry.”
As you can see, there are over 10 letters omitted and one entire word is actually changed into a number. The result is a phrase that is about 75% of the length of its formal (correct) version that can still be understood by most people. There is an internet meme called Typoglycemia, which demonstrates that readers can understand the meaning of words in a sentence even when the interior letters of each word are scrambled. There may not be an official definition for this term, because it is not an officially recognized medical term, but it is an interesting phenomenon that is explained best in a Wikipedia article:
“Typoglycemia is a neologism given to a purported recent discovery about the cognitive processes behind reading written text. The word does not refer to any actual medical condition related to hypoglycemia. The word appears to be a portmanteau of "typo", as in typographical error, and "hypoglycemia". It is an urban legend/Internet meme that appears to have an element of truth to it.”
Although the above example does not exactly match the definition of this phenomenon because the letters are not scrambled, but rather letters are completely omitted, there may be some relation. This brings us to the fourth rule of texting.
The fourth rule of texting (although there is no specific order) is that messages must be as short as possible. The point of this language is to spend as little amount of time as possible typing. When cell phones first started becoming popular, the technologies available were very limited. Letters were, and still are in some phones today, bunched in groups of three on each number key. For example, the letters A, B and C are all accessible via the number 2. In order to punch in the letter C in a text message, one would need to press the number two, which would output “2”, then press the same key again within a few seconds to change the character to the next option, “A”, then press it again to change the character to “B”, then a final press of the same key would generate “C”. This makes texting very time consuming and annoying. The same key needs to be pushed 4 times to produce a single desired letter. To put this into perspective, lets look at a single word example and how the shortened texting method would be more efficient. To produce the word “accounting” on an older keypad phone, it would take 31 presses of the keypad to produce this one word. If we follow the rules of texting that were mentioned so far, and simply went with “acctng”, it would only take 17 presses of the keypad. The amount of work was nearly cut in half! Another good example would be the word “underestimate”. It would take 38 presses of the keypad to produce this word. A typical way to text this word is “undrstm8”, which would only take 20 presses of the keypad.
Credit: By Oregon Department of Transportation [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsWith all the shortcuts that texting brings to the table, it does not come without side effects. For instance, there is much debate on rather texting should be allowed while driving. Some areas across the United States have banned it, while others have not. Studies have shown that both reading and typing text messages can slow your reaction time while driving near the same amount as being legally intoxicated. Texting may make life easier in some ways, but it ends lives in other ways.
When all the “rules” are combined together, a new breed of the English language is developed that can effectively be used to exchange messages that serve the purpose of any language: to communicate with others in a common, effective way that can be understood. One could argue that this relatively new form of communication is more effective than the complete, formal version of English. As long as a message can be communicated, and its meaning understood, then it has served its purpose. Why put the extra time into writing a message if we can understand a shorter version? The better question may be: if the formal rules and spelling of words in the English language didn’t exist, would the texting version make sense at all? How could we relate “gr8” to “great” if the original spelling did not train our brains to associate the two sounds? Regardless of the origins, the fact remains that texting is an evolved form of English and exists as a language today.
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