Have you ever got a message like; ‘Btw I wil si u 2moro to dis the bz, G’9t? Did you have the slightest idea that ‘Btw’ is the new way of writing the three words ‘by the way?’
Years back when I was in high school, ‘btw’ used to be the short form of the word ‘between.’ Messages like the one above do not only tax your mind but they also torture you while wasting your precious time as you try to figure out what the sender had in mind.
Mobile phone and social media texting employs an important component of language that linguists call ‘economy of language’.
Economy of language involves what is known as ‘mutually intelligible’ shortcuts in speech and writing (mutually intelligible means understandable forms of words in this context) but with clear grammatical structures.
A good example of language economy is what is known as contractions in grammar where certain letters are omitted to shorten the words like ‘can’t’ instead of ‘cannot’ or don’t instead of ‘do not.’ If you use a short form or a full form of such words you cannot be misunderstood because the short forms are created with clear rules and the forms are universal.
Texting in phones and on social media is made of individual coinages which renders it irrelevant since it is not universal. Short words used in Kigali may mean something else in Ruhengeri and be meaningless in Rwamagana.
SMS shortcuts like ‘js kam 2 get sth dia’ are neither here nor there. Such constructions are meant to enable communicators to write what they want to write within the limits of the maximum number of characters that their mobile phones offer them for a single page of an SMS; a convenience thing that is an utter violation of grammatical and linguistic rules.
Somebody may argue that it does not matter anyway as long as the intended message is passed. Well, I disagree.
One thing that many have not been cognizant of is the fact that the tone and gravity of the message is often lost in the tatters of unintelligible texts. Effective communication cannot be achieved if the tone, texture and the magnitude of the message is lost between the sender and the receiver.
Texting ‘English’ has the massive potential to torpedo the etiquette, texture and the general aroma of written language.
Students, especially, should be wary of SMS language as it has very innocuous yet infectiously insidious effects on their language development, written language in particular.
Forms of wring like ‘u’ for ‘you,’ ‘thx’ for thanks in students’ academic work are no longer a rare spectacle but now widespread practice. This is a great challenge to language teachers. If a conscious effort to correct this misnomer isn’t made, then standard language will continue to slide down the slippery path of carelessness.
People should also learn the correct spellings of words by heart so that they can always write correctly without relying on the computer to correct their errors. Computer corrections can be sometimes misleading if you are not sure about the word you want to use.