When reflecting on the history of literacy and its advancements, one might reference poetry, koans, or sonnets – Rumi, Shakespeare, maybe Sinclair Lewis or Ernest Hemingway – all of which had a distinguished nature to their writing, making it less a form of dry, solemn communication and more of an art of high resonate notes. Their writing was often a vehicle to discuss ethics in politics, societal morals, or human’s idiosyncratic nature. Most literary laureates are given great praise over their ability to use language as an artist would use a paintbrush – masterfully coloring in the world with their gifted narration abilities, one pen stroke at a time.
Individuals who consider such literary accomplishments as major advancements to the written word and furthering our communication style, may scoff at the way the current generation is utilizing – or not utilizing – writing in text messages, seeing it as a form of abuse. Some may even consider the shorthand, so often found in text messages– such as LOL, JK, & NVM – as degrading the artistry of language, giving children bad habits, and making it difficult for them to have intellectually rich and verbose conversations with their peers. However, most of the distrust circulating around the texting culture are people opinionating, with their hypotheses not really grounded in any sound research, just mere speculation, and perhaps a pitch of nostalgia for the past.
In a recent TEDtalk on communication, linguist John McWhorter discussed a less popular angle of texting and its effects on literacy, debunking the very premise of texting being damaging to the written language. Rather than creating a generation of subpar writers, he believes that it is actually helping people become better communicators, as it serves a similar function in the brain to that of a second language. Texting is now being seen as a new form of second language – with all its shorthand, slang and brevity- making it difficult to understand for those individuals who are unfamiliar to the nuances of the code. Studies have shown that people who are bilingual are cognitively nimbler, quicker, and even able to resolve conflicts better. Therefore, if texting is now seen to have similar advantages to that of being bilingual, then our generation might just be experiencing, as McWhorter mentioned “a linguistic miracle”.
McWhorter discussed that through texting we have mastered ways of communicating empathy with the challenge of not physically seeing a person’s body language or facial features. The LOL or LMAO texters are generally not literally “Laughing Out Loud”. Rather the LOL conveys resonances, showing how one relates to the other, just as someone who has a face-to-face conversation may demonstrate this emotion through locked eyes or a cocked head. We are now using additional methods to convey our physical reaction and body language through emoji, written slang and acronyms.
Remember, in the history of humanity, the written word, compared to the spoken word, has been around for a minuscule amount of time. Therefore, perhaps every ounce of development we have contributed to written language is expanding our written repertoire, whether high-brow or not. From this lens, no slang or alternative dialect can ever be degrading the english lexicon, rather it makes it even more meatier, subtly advancing our culture, one LOL at a time.
So go ahead “Text up” and be apart of the growing bidialectical generation of english speakers, pigeon, ebonics, shorthand, and LOLers.