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U txt! Do u write 2? (Translation: You text! Do you write, too?)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

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Communicating with teenagers these days means understanding the shorthand they use when texting. On a recent trip to the grocery store, I reassured my son I was on the way home with food, and gave him a run-down of what was in the basket. He used my typing errors as an opportunity to correct my punctuation. -- Tracy Simmons
Is the language of texting mangling our modern English, or making it more efficient?

In a recent episode of "Elementary" -- a dust-off of character Sherlock Holmes in modern-day mysteries -- characters chided Holmes for communicating with nearly impossible texts, "What is IMLTHO?" asked Aaron.

Sherlock responded, "In my less than humble opinion."

Actress Lucy Liu, who plays sidekick Watson, was annoyed, "Your abbreviations are becoming borderline indecipherable. I don't know why, because you are obviously capable of being articulate."

New 'language'

"Language is evolving, Watson, becoming a more effective version of itself. I love text shorthand. It's a way to convey content and tone without losing velocity," replied Holmes.

For today's school-age students, texting shorthand has been a part of their vocabulary as long as they have been able to read and write.

"I've had students as low as second grade use LOL in paragraphs they write for me," said Mary Pitner, looping second and third grade teacher at Learning Way Elementary.

She shared a copy of a note received from a student recently. "Mrs. Pitner, I just wanted you to know that I (heart) you, I (heart) you, I (heart) you!"

She returned the paper with this note, "Please use words!" and added a smiley face.

Real English

At Community High School, one of the first lessons Jeweline Segroves explains to her freshman English class is, "... that this is not a 'texting' class."

"I tell them I do understand how much quicker it is, and that's okay if you are talking to your friends -- but not in a paper you are turning in to be graded. I will not deem 'text' language as appropriate," said Segroves. "It is actually very hard for some of them to understand that 'u' is not okay to use instead of 'you.'"

Communicating succinctly was borne of character limitations on early text messages (160 characters) plus the awkwardness of using the phone's keypad to type via a method called T-9. Many cell phones now offer full keyboards to make typing easier.

Acronyms

Acronyms have been a part of the culture of language since early Rome. Nowadays, language purists consider an acronym a shorthand version of a longer phrase, but one which may be pronounced.

Words like "scuba," "radar," or even "Nabisco" have been part of popular language so long, their original meaning is long forgotten (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, radio detection and ranging, and National Biscuit Company).

Much of texting is considered "initialism," in which letters are pronounced one-by-one, like FAQ, IRA or SAT (Frequently asked question, Individual Retirement Account and Scholastic Aptitude Test, respectively.)

In turn, the abbreviated language has become embedded in the lexicons of the young.

'Not a text'

"When I began teaching at Community Middle School five years ago, I immediately noticed students sneaking in text lingo throughout their writings, and it drove me insane!" said Taylor Grissom, who now teaches freshman English at Cascade High School. "It seemed, constantly, I was reminding them to steer clear from doing so."

English teacher Jessica Hill at Shelbyville Central High School tries to hold the texting at bay.

"I tell them that their writing for my class is not a text message. They need to be able to write correctly for school and work," she said.

Hill tells students, "You do not know where your life will take you. Even if you don't think you need to know now, in 20 years you might be in a place you never thought you would be."

The right image

"Knowing proper English is important because it shows education. A lot of people look down on those who don't know or can't use proper English. A lot of people think those who use slang all the time are not educated well or at all," Hill said. "If they want to be taken seriously and get ahead in the world, they need to know how to speak proper English."

Tammy Bearden, mother of SCHS junior Shelby, remembers attending a student workshop regarding scholarships and college.

"The adviser encouraged the students to apply to all the scholarships available, especially the ones with essays," she said. "She explained that many of the high-dollar scholarships have few applicants because so many students were unwilling to write."

To make the point, according to Bearden, the lecturer then asked students how many words they texted during a day.

Lost art

Is writing a lost art? "Absolutely," said Segroves. "I struggle with students about this constantly," explaining that she tells her students they can speak lingo in the hallways with their peers, "... but they will need to be able to speak correctly when appropriate."

"I will still get the occasional IDK (I don't know), when a student is asked to answer a question," said Grissom.

Language is not the only dying art, however.

"They also resist being asked to write anything in cursive," said Segroves.