Phonetics, the English Language, and Texting

Some people have begun to ask if texting will have an impact on the (U.S.) English language.  It is possible should this technology continue to be used and accepted by society.  However, I don’t think it will have too much of an impact for several reasons.

Yes, the English language is a little odd when it comes to spelling.  I admit that I occasionally pause to consider why certain words are spelled they way they are, such as dough, fight, or pseudonym.  But that’s partly what makes the English language so interesting.

With the advent of texting, people have shortened words and substitute numbers for linguistic sounds to save on space and ultimately costs of communication.  What would happen if phone companies no longer charged by the length of text messages, but by a flat per-message rate?  Or even better, if they no longer charged for texting at all (they’d never do this because texting is too much of a money maker)!

My hunch is that people would spell out words more often, but would continue to shorten words and phrases. I think this would hold true to the younger generation of users who are using this new language and technology.  As they enter college and the work force, would their current preferred mode of communication (I’m generalizing) continue?  Would texting replace certain types of communication?  I think it has and will continue to do so–as long as the technology continues to be used.

The NY Times had an article on this topic recently, and I learned that there have been many attempts in the past to “correct” the English language by high profile names.  According to the article,

Benjamin Franklin suggested changing the alphabet, and Andrew Carnegie provided money for people to study the problem. President Theodore Roosevelt issued an edict in 1906 that gave the Government Printing Office a list of 300 words with new spellings: problem cases like artisan, kissed and woe were to be changed to artizan, kist and wo. Roosevelt was largely ignored by the G.P.O., and the matter was soon dropped. Although this issue has been extensively studied and argued over by these and other eminent thinkers, there has been an almost complete lack of success in effecting any substantial progress.

I vaguely remember hearing about these attempts, but this was some time ago, probably in a college class.  The process of how words become institutionalized within a language is actually very fascinating. At any rate, I’m curious what other people think on this topic, and would welcome your thoughts and opinions.

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About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on January 25, 2010, in Technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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