Internet slang and “textisms” (text messages) incorporate a variety of shortcuts used by Internet users and people typing phone texts, in order to save time. We all know what LOL, OMG, BTW mean, because we have probably all used them at a certain point in our online/telephone dialogues. Some of these abbreviations are even introduced in corporate trainings, manuals, business plans and advertising, with the aim of enhancing a faster understanding of business concepts and ideas to be implemented by using less written space (e.g., ASAP, w/ – w/o). In South Korea, there is even a textbook detailing the rules of use and the meaning of most common Internet slang, which targets students who will come into contact with the Internet. Moreover, Internet slang has been recommended as a study subject in English-learning classrooms, for the purpose of developing communication skills by sharing cultural values pertaining to language, which can be deciphered only in slang. Dictionaries (OED, Merriam-Webster) have also been updated to embody new jargon slang concepts.
But how does Internet slang influence the use of language outside technology? Is it a tool for a better communication or a disadvantage for new generations of English-learning students?
Parents are becoming more and more concerned about the influence of this type of “textisms” on their children’s formal writing. Linguists tend to think that the use of letter homophones, capitalizations, keyboard-generated emoticons, smileys and other symbols leads to a degradation of language in time, resulting in diminished literacy and poorer linguistic skills. But is this statement accurate? In trying to identify a correct approach to this issue, Dr. Nenagh Kemp from the University of Tasmania, following a thorough research conducted on 243 subjects from primary school, high school, and university in the Coventry area, argued that nowadays the use of slang in text messages and Internet communication doesn’t mean young people are not well acquainted with correct grammar rules, but they are probably just trying to save time and space. Perhaps emerging from the wish not to exceed the limited amount of characters per text, or just in order to be funnier, text language seems to be just another way of writing, and young people seem well aware that different types of communication require different ways of writing. As we all know, language is constantly changing, and it doesn’t make sense to try to stop this phenomenon at the time period in which we happen to be living. Moreover, at least theoretically, in order to write in txt, one would need to know the spelling of the original word that is being abbreviated. Consequently, Dr. Nenagh Kemp considers that helping children understand their friends’ unconventional spelling might improve linguistic awareness, and unmistakably help them keep up socially as well. This area is just one in which a lot of preconceptions don’t really hold, because there is no actual evidence of the fact that internet slang has a bad influence on students in terms of their use of grammar. It seems that digital communication is here to stay, so rather than prohibiting children to use shortcuts, both teachers and parents could play a major role in encouraging this form of communication in writing, in order to develop their interest and skills in literacy and language.
The only thing that should preoccupy us is whether elder generations like us can keep up with this constantly evolving new language. It seems however that the peak has passed in terms of introducing unconventional writing styles, and we will probably just continue to see the co-existence of formal and informal writing, the latter omitting much of the punctuation and capitalisation, and including emoticons and shortcuts. Most use of spelling contractions and initialisms by teenagers is meant to be ironic and funny at times and create a language of their own, not necessarily meant to be understood by parents.
However, we can also approach this subject from another perspective, of particular importance when it comes to face-to-face communication. There is an obvious shift towards communicating more by typing in front of a screen rather than by having a face to face conversation. Young people develop more open relationships among themselves and communicate daily via any available IT media and gadgets, but we must not forget that the level of shyness increases when teenagers are eyeball to eyeball and not behind the faceless veil of a mobile phone or computer. This may be the only downside of Internet slang when it comes to the personal development of our children.
For what it is worth, SMS language is of major importance for young students and the ability to understand and use this unique “secret code of the youth” only indicates the ability of teenagers to gain perspective on more than one way of expressing their ideas, beliefs, moods, joys and sadness. It is a testimony of their strength to cope with a constant changing society.