November 2012

2 txt or not 2 txt?

Nowadays with our busy lifestyles there is barely time to keep in touch with family or friends. We are always in a hurry and our social lives are linked to all kinds of social media, which make it possible to communicate without having to see or hear each other. To combat the lack of time especially the youth has developed a new language based on the shortening of words known by the name of “textese”.

By: Joanna Filejski
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Schleswig-Holstein – Germany


Photo: Joanna Filejski

Why the necessity to shorten words?

One day in 1985 the German Friedhelm Hillebrand sat in his house writing random sentences on a piece of paper. He started counting the words and came to the conclusion that almost all of them were no longer than 160 characters long, meaning most information can be communicated within this number. This was the birth of the short messaging service (SMS). First this service was intended to improve business purposes, but since in the beginning the SMS was for free in contrast to expensive phone calls, teenagers discovered the text messages as a fast way of exchanging information. They started to have whole conversations over writing. Only then did companies realize they should charge for each SMS, which turned out to be very beneficial as a generated income for the calendar year 2014 is expected to be US$ 233 billion.

The charges for a single SMS without a flat rate is around 30 Bolivianos, which led to the invention of text abbreviations to save money, as less SMS were necessary to bring across the desired information. Words with the same sound started replacing the actual words (“2” instead of “tú” or “tu”, “100pre” for “siempre” and so on). Then more abbreviations followed with letter combinations standing for whole sentences (“hl” meaning “hasta luego”, “npn” instead of “no pasa nada”). This way teenagers were able to tell more in one SMS and consequently save some money. Another reason for text abbreviations was the pace. Texting single letters or numbers was simply faster and easier, especially for people on the go who only had one free hand to answer a message. With today’s smart phones having qwerty-keyboards or touch screens and many companies offering flat rates, these reasons do not apply to all mobile phone users anymore.

A new language is being created

Although having its roots in the English language, textese has spread all over the globe with different abbreviations in each language, linked to the original words and sounds. This way one statement can have different spellings in each language. If one finds something funny and would like to express this in English, he would comment “haha”. In Spanish the same statement is made using the letters “jaja” as reading it out imitates the sound of laughter. In Thai one would have to write “55” as the pronunciation of the number is “ja”, again resembling the sound of laughter.


A text-based conversation
Photo: Joanna Filejski

Today there are thousands of abbreviations, but not all of them are used by everyone. If you are a gamer, you will probably use a completely different kind of textese than people who are conversing with another person in a chat room or on Facebook. The newly coined “words” have grown to such an extension that there are multiple online dictionaries aiming to help decoding that strange language of its own. They are designed mainly for parents to help them understand what their kids are writing about, but I, as a 20-year-old girl, must admit that I probably know less than 5% of them.

Although nowadays there are many other ways of communicating for free, meaning not having to pay for every single message, the SMS is still the king in mobile messaging, with 7.8 trillion (that is 12 zeroes!) being sent in 2011. This number is expected to rise over the next four years hitting 9.6 trillion in 2016.

Vandalism or improvement of the language

Back in the 16th century William Shakespeare started to coin words, because he found the existing words not efficient enough to bring across his poetry. Now, 400 years later, it is the youth creating new words to express themselves. The difference is that Shakespeare was greatly admired for his work and the teenager’s invention of the language textese is looked down on. The common usage of abbreviations by children and teenagers started off a big discussion whether shortening words effects spelling skills.

Some say that shortening words like cabeza into “kbza” makes people forget the actual spelling and they become so used to the informal language, that they cannot express themselves in a formal way anymore. It is also criticized that the new words are unimaginative and only exist to cover dyslexia, mental laziness and poor spelling skills. They say abbreviations ruin the language and complain about business mails losing their seriousness when consisting of sentences such as “C 4 URself” (See for yourself) or alike. However, studies in Great Britain and Australia show that textese used by teenagers or adults usually has a neutral and in few cases negative effect, but children’s literacy skills are improving by the use of word abbreviations. Children that do well at quickly writing and interpreting textese were usually also proficient in reading familiar words. The reason for this is yet to be discovered, but the fact is that texting has a positive outcome on the literacy skills of children under the age of 13.

Like it or not, text speak has such a huge infl


A message using abbreviations
Photo: Joanna Filejski

uence in the English language that even the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has adapted to it. In its 6th edition published in 2007 around 16.000 words had the hyphen (“-“) removed, because according to OED editor Angus Stevenson with the new form of communications it is taking too long to hit that extra button on the keyboard.

In conclusion textese is tolerable and even helpful in informal mobile communications between friends or family, as it saves money and time, the two things everyone wishes to have more of. However, it should be used in adequate proportions or completely avoided in formal conversations as it can make a person appear illiterate and unprofessional.

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