Social media influences on communications in English
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In today’s technology driven society people have far better access to instant communication via mobile phones and the internet. ‘Text speak’ has evolved into its own language, becoming increasingly popular among younger generations, to the extent that some people worry it may be damaging their literacy skills. However, others believe that it is allowing young people to contribute to the evolution of the English language. Throughout the centuries, English language has subtly changed and it could be argued that the introduction of mobile phones and texting has caused dramatic shifts to the language.
For example, until quite recently, text messages were relatively expensive to send, and so users were forced to develop brevity techniques to reduce the number of characters included in each text message thus ensuring they were paying as little as possible for each message sent. This is shown in source one; the first message has every word shortened except ‘hi’ and ‘doing. ‘ Speaker one used phonetic spelling when they wrote ‘wot’ instead of ‘what’, and also used two rebuses when writing ‘R U’ instead of ‘are you.
The use of the spelling ‘2Nite’ implies a level of informality suggesting that the messages are between two friends. There is also an assumption that the recipient will easily be able to decode the message. Not only do these techniques significantly reduce the number of characters per text, but reflect a very informal use of language which is almost exactly how the conversation would be spoken. Despite the brevity of the message and the abbreviations it uses, the conversation is short, direct, light-hearted and casual – exactly how it would be if the speakers were face-to-face.
Brevity techniques differ slightly between users and a variety of factors determine this. For example it is clear that different age groups and genders text differently; the purpose of the message, the relationship between two senders, and each person’s individual idiolect also alters the language used. Source two is an example of a relatively formal message, in text message terms, and could be between two adult family members. Besides not every message being written in full sentences, the rest of the language used is extremely close to standard English with no abbreviations or slang used.
When compared to source one, it’s easy to see how the relationship between the two senders makes a major difference on the type of language we expect to find. However – even though the language is a little more formal in this example, the conversation flows in a manner which is more like spoken conversation, than a formal communication. For example: If the conversation were contained in a more formal note or written letter (or email, perhaps between two more distant relatives), it may appear as follows: Dear Frank, I understand that your flight is due to arrive late this afternoon.
If you could let me know more precisely what time it is due, I will arrange to meet you in the baggage claim area. I’m looking forward to seeing you. Regards, Joe. Again, although the conversation is slightly more formal than in source 1, it is still conducted in a way which is closer to spoken than written language. Lots of the linguistic devices used in texting attempt to reproduce spoken language used in face-to-face conversations, but I believe the once which succeeds most in doing this is the emoticon.
Emoticons can be added into texts to show feeling or to replicate a facial expression. For example, a sad face ‘:(‘. Emoticons are a very quick and simple way of communicating quite a complex thing, and does the same job as a facial expression would in a face-to-face conversation or as a tone of voice would in a phone call. As well as showing feeling, emoticons can also be used to avoid misinterpretation of a message, for example, ‘ok:)’ seems a lot less blunt than ‘ok.
In the case of written language, the emoticon simply does not exist – the idea, or emotion, must be fully explained, word by word. Text language has become increasingly similar to spoken language and some text abbreviations such as ‘lol’ and ‘cba’ have even made it into verbal communication. Text messages attempt to capture in writing the patterns of spoken conversations, with synchronous responses, dialogic (turn taking conversation), elision to imitate how a speaker actually speaks, and the inclusion of words such as ‘haha’ to signify laughter – you can almost hear the senders voice.
These abbreviations and techniques are used as eloquently , or as bluntly , as the words would be spoken in a face-to-face situation, and when the conversation flows as quickly and easily as it usually does in ‘text-speak’, it is almost as though the speakers are using a new language which is completely ‘tied in’ to the medium of the spoken word and a very long way from standard, written language.
Many people are sceptical about texting and the language young people use to communicate, saying that ‘it narrows the individual’s availability of words to express what they’re trying to say’ and that it ‘avoids the richness of the English language and instead shrinks their vocabulary. ‘ These types of views miss the point that text language is not just an attempt to imitate the existing spoken language but to extend and enrich it.
Ridiculing the use of emoticons is like saying that facial expressions should not play a part in face-to-face conversations. There are some downsides to texting though, such as because people constantly have access to communication at their fingertips, this decreases the amount of things people have to talk about in person. In conclusion, I believe that text language is neither contributing to or destroying the English language, but enriching and extending it.
Currently, they are on par and neither will surpass the other. Text language is based only on English, and to have the skills to understand it means that first you must be able to understand standard English. A French speaker, for example, would have an extremely hard time trying to decode a text conversation between two English teenagers. Like the relationship between English language and French language, they must stay separate. Each has a different time to be used.
Standard English will continue to be used in formal writing and schools, while text language will stick to mobile phones and internet conversations, where the language has a looser structure, free of grammar and punctuation rules, with the only purpose being a quicker, more informal means of communication. The examples I have used above show that the language used in digital communications such as Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networks – and especially in “text-speak”, are undeniably closer to the spoken language than more formal, written communications.