Text speak is very confusing for a lot of people, but it is one area in which children and teenagers are far more advanced than adults. Mobile phones and the internet are recent inventions.
Imagine what it was like for your parents as children. If your parents are 30 years old, the internet did not exist for them! Mobile phones were only invented in 1973 but did not become common for 15 or 20 years. The first ones cost thousands of pounds and were the size of house bricks!
A new language has arisen as mobile phones became popular and more and more people owned one. You can only write short messages as it costs more to send longer texts. You could only use 160 characters in each text message including spaces, so it makes a lot of sense to shorten words to say more. The result is abbreviations (shortened words) which can seem like gobbledygook.
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There are many more and I am sure I don’t know a lot of them! Words that sound like numbers are changed to the actual numbers in text speak, and groups of letters like the “ks” in “Thanks” becomes the letter “X”. Sometimes two or three words will be put together to form an abbreviation, like “2go2” which means “To Go To” or “BRB” for “Be Right Back”. That is how text speak is formed.
Language changes over many years. If we met someone our age from 20 years ago, even if they come from the same area as us, we would not understand some of the words they use. Where I live in London, the slang word “bare” is now used to mean “very”. When I was a child 30 years ago the slang word would have been “top” instead of “very”. Text speak is the same in that it is a new form of language which has developed to fit the new form of technology we have. What words might be used by children and teenagers in 20 years time. Do you think you would understand them all?
A recent study by scientists looking at the development of text speak has said that it might be a good idea to teach children text speak in school as it is like learning a foreign language. Learning about text speak makes it easier to learn other languages and become better at speaking and writing in your own language. This is because you have to translate the text speak into English before understanding what is being said.
Text speak is the latest development in language and is a result of the creative need to shorten words and still be able to be understood. I find it exciting to imagine what the next new technology might mean for the words used by the next generation.
Title photograph Andrew Frankwick 2006
Christopher Brown 2010