I really do try my best to decipher reader e-mail and, generally, I do a good job. However, lately I have received a number of messages written as if the person were texting me. Unfortunately, I don’t speak texting, so I couldn’t answer the e-mail without clarification. In at least one case, the person in question became agitated. I truly do want to answer your questions, but first, I must understand the question.
The incidents have led me to think through some of the assumptions I have made about language in general and the grammar we use to communicate with each other. Language changes constantly. Sometimes it changes more quickly and sometimes it settles down to percolate for a while. However, as with any living thing, language changes. I’m sure that texting (as it applies to cellphone usage) will contribute to some massive changes in our language.
It wasn’t surprising to learn that there are actually terms for some of these changes. For example, the combination of letters and numbers used to form a word is called wumbers and someone has actually written a book entitled, “Wumbers” about it. That this is a children’s book tells me that youngsters today are steeped in the language of texting long before they own a cellphone. An example of a wumber is “writ10” (pronounced, “written”). You might learn about a 2can (toucan) using wumbers, and always be sure to say 10Q (thank you) when someone does something nice for you. I’m surprised at the number of ways in which wumbers are used today.
On top of the wumbers, the texting devotee also has to learn a host of acronyms and abbreviations. I’m sure that some of these terms are standardized. You can find a sampling of them on Netlingo. There is nothing new about acronyms and abbreviations. In fact, I have used some, such as IAE (In Any Event), for years. However, the sheer weight of new acronyms and abbreviations that have become popular due to texting makes it akin to learning an entirely new language.
At issue is when people start using wumbers, acronyms, or abbreviations, mixed with slang, that other people can’t figure out, despite investing time and effort to do so. The creation of a new language is a painful process—at least, it appears that way from my perspective. There will come a point where a certain level of standardization will occur and texting will become a language onto itself. I’m not sure whether there is an actual name for the language yet or not, but I’m sure some linguist will coin a term for it.
Of course, the problem now is to determine whether texting has the staying power to become a bonafide language. There have been many language failures over the years. Some languages become extinct because the group that spoke them no longer exits; others become extinct because the language was impractical. In order to survive, a language must have enough standardization that people can understand it, it has to meet needs that existing languages don’t, and it also has to have enough flexibility to grow to meet new needs for expressing ideas and concepts.
It’s unlikely that I’ll learn texting anytime soon—partly because I don’t even own a cellphone (the preferred method of practice). When communicating with me, please try to use English or at least a language that I can translate with Google Translate. Let me know your thoughts on the texting language at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.