It is undeniable that nowadays texting has become an essential component of our daily routine and life. This is why it was selected as a debate topic for our English Oral Class at Sapienza University. These classes are debate-based: two groups of students choose a topic and discuss a key question (in this case related to the influence of texting on our use of language). Besides being a very helpful way to practise language and extend our knowledge, it can be fun, and why not? Given that the enormous spread of computers, mobile devices and virtual communication is both a social phenomenon and a question which puzzles linguists and speakers, our key question was: Has texting affected the way we use language for better or for worse?
The team arguing that the effects of texting have been mainly negative focused on the speed of texting, arguing that this is the main reason for cutting words, incorrect neologisms and general neglect of language. As a result, they argued, we are no longer capable of writing properly in formal circumstances. They also raised the problem of children’s use of these abbreviations in school tests. Teenage students, they maintained, cannot distinguish between everyday informal writing such as texting and more formal writing such as essays.
The supporters of texting’s positive effects highlighted how social, political and economic changes have lead to linguistic development, reflecting our personal growth. Simplifying syntax can also simplify our way of thinking, making our minds more agile. They also claimed that texting is not the same as writing, but a new kind of language and a way to define personal and social identity. Texting is accessible to everyone: this is why it improves socialization. It is really useful in emergencies too, they said.
Both groups brought samples of writing and texting in support of their position (such as: C U L8R or GR8, I’ll wait 4 U. Don’t B L8), showing the parallel between texting and phonetics. They argued that text messaging improves efficiency and immediacy of communication, but can also create confusion, increasing the quantity of grammar mistakes and misunderstanding. Furthermore, teachers are concerned about falling literacy levels because children seem more accustomed to touching screens than leafing through a book or holding a pen.
The team that believed in the positive effects of texts said something which sounds really clever to me: texting is different from writing, it is just a way to communicate. This shapes the nature of the problem: teachers and intellectuals shouldn’t be fighting against texting language, but need to find a new way of helping students to learn how to write well.
So how did this debate end? The pro-texting team won, probably because they highlighted the features of language as evolving. Classical archetypes and cultural heritage can lead people to form strong attachments to traditions, but we cannot expect language to remain the same: you know, “the times they are a-changin’”.