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♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/20/2008 02:06:00 AM
As an instructor by trade, I sometimes lament the poor spelling and grammar of the work submitted at the undergraduate and even at the postgraduate level. My pet peeve is the substitution of "loosing" for "losing" in written work. This, of course, is just one of my minor irritations. You can probably tell that I am a curmudgeon of the first wafer by having something to moan about on a daily basis on a thing called a "weblog." It boggles the mind that your non-native English speaking correspondent needs to correct the work of English students on a regular basis. In economist-speak, writing conventions exist in order for there to be mutual comprehensibility by reducing transaction costs in understanding each other. However, the pair of articles below which have caught my attention suggest that I have things all wrong: What if the new means of communication we have--short-messaging systems (text messaging), instant messengers, and the like--are giving birth to new languages? Perhaps the conventions of English writing that instructors taught me in my younger days will give way to even newer forms of English. Just as archaic English doth maketh for difficult reading noweth to thine, perchance the text generation will feel the same way about Standard Written English as it is taught in the future.

The first of these articles is entitled "SMS Language is Gr8!" ;-( Here, results of a study which purport the emergence of a new IM language are recounted:

Typed out feverishly with a calloused thumb in the most inhospitable of places, SMSs may appear to be a garbled, lazy substitute for Real English, but one study seems to show that those compressed blocks of seemingly random letters may be the beginnings of a new kind of language.

The study was conducted by Dr Pamela Takayoshi, associate professor of English at the Kent State University in the US, along with fellow associate professor Dr Christina Haas and a group of graduate and undergraduate researchers.

The team collected student instant-messaging (IM) conversations over a period of two years, then analysed the differences between those conversations and Standard Written English. They discovered that the areas in which IM chatter differed from the norms of the Standard weren't mere deviations, but actually conformed to a written standard local to the IM phenomenon.

"IM is not just bad grammar or a bunch of mistakes. IM is a separate language form from formal English and has a common set of language features and standards," says Takayoshi. The study found that the structure of an instant message has little regard for appearance (no surprise), opting instead to concentrate on meaning - and in terms of meaning, foremost is the expression of social relationships.

Separate to the study, Dr Nicola Döring, professor of Media Design and Media Psychology at the Ilmenau University of Technology, says that IM language has developed into its current abbreviated state due to limited character space and the small size of cellphone screens.

On the subject of IM and the expression of relationships, she says that teenagers tend to find it easier to tackle flirting and intimate conversations via the technology, which renders the sometimes uncomfortable aspect of direct conversation unnecessary. IM also allows fledgling couples to "map out common areas of interest and the contours of the relationship at a slower pace", according to Döring.

The team at Kent is now casting a thorough glance at the social website, Facebook, in order to determine possible similarities between IM speak and other forms of electronic language. Says Christina Haas: "When we look at the kinds of technology young people are using today, we see that many of those technologies - IM, blogs and Facebook - are writing technologies. Even the phone is used for writing now." So next time you have your eyes clawed out by the alien glyphs on the screen of your phone, take heart in the knowledge that language isn't being degraded; it's merely being squashed.

But wait, it gets even worse with this Economic Times article, "SMS Not Bad Grammar But Linguistic Renaissance" :-(

Parents need not worry - a new study contends that SMSes and online chats actually help teens hone their linguistic abilities, rather than degrade them. Parental worry has stemmed from the lack of grammar and the extensive use of often unintelligible abbreviations like LOL, OMG and TTYL in SMSes - also known as instant messaging (IM).

But the study has concluded that IM represents "an expansive new linguistic renaissance" being evolved by GenNext kids. Researchers at the University of Toronto have pointed out that teenagers risk familial censure and ridicule of friends if they use slang. But IM allows them to deploy a "robust mix" of colloquial and formal language.

They based their conclusions on an analysis of more than a million words of IM communications and a quarter of a million spoken words produced by 72 people aged between 15 and 20. The researchers have argued that far from ruining teenagers' ability to communicate, IM lets teenagers show off what they can do with language.

"IM is interactive discourse among friends that is conducive to informal language," said Derek Denis, co-author of the study, "but at the same time, it is a written interface which tends to be more formal than speech". They found that although IM shared some of the patterns used in speech, its vocabulary and grammar tended to be relatively conservative.

For example, when speaking, teenagers are more likely to use the phrase "He was like, 'What's up?'" than "He said, 'What's up?'" - but the opposite is true when they are instant-messaging. This supports the idea that IM represents a hybrid form of communication.

Nor do teens use abbreviations as much as the stereotype suggests: LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my god) and TTYL (talk to you later) made up just 2.4 percent of the vocabulary of IM conversations - an "infinitesimally small" proportion, say the researchers. And rumours of the demise of the word "you" would appear to have been greatly exaggerated: it was preferred to "u" a whopping 9 times out of 10. In fact, the study suggests that the use of such short forms is confined mostly to the youngest users of IM.

The findings of the study has been published in the spring issue of the journal American Speech.

Bottom line: What matter is not so much that English is being mangled by IM and SMS users, but that it is being mangled in the same way. As Martha Stewart would say, perhaps that's a good thing, hard as it may be for the likes of me to accept. And, as more people understand "mangled" language better than ol' Standard English, then tz up t us g-zers t chng and nt th othr wy rnd. In the meantime, I have more term papers with mangled English to correct, OMG.