The sky is not falling in

Good, well-grounded article by language legend David Crystal in The Guardian this weekend, on texting.  Countering doom-mongers like John Humphrys, who claimed (in the Daily Mail!) to hate texters:

They are destroying [our language]: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

David Crystal explains that the distinctive SMS orthography (‘txtspk’) found in SMS messages is not new, not restricted to the young, is a small fraction of the text found in SMS messages, and alludes to evidence that it helps rather than hinders language development.

Some people dislike texting. Some are bemused by it. But it is merely the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings. There is no disaster pending. We will not see a new generation of adults growing up unable to write proper English. The language as a whole will not decline. In texting what we are seeing, in a small way, is language in evolution.

It’s great stuff.  I couldn’t help thinking, though, that his argument would have been much stronger without this section:

Sending a message on a mobile phone is not the most natural of ways to communicate. The keypad isn’t linguistically sensible. No one took letter-frequency considerations into account when designing it. For example, key 7 on my mobile contains four symbols, pqrs. It takes four key-presses to access the letter s, and yet s is one of the most frequently occurring letters in English. It is twice as easy to input q, which is one of the least frequently occurring letters.

… which makes me worry he’s never encountered one-tap/predictive text systems (like T9 and iTap), which have been standard on mobile phones for … what, five years or more?  I’d certainly expect that the introduction of predictive text dramatically reduced the usage of the distinctive SMS orthography.

(Edit: Stephen Downes points to it too, linking to a longer discussion by Graham Attwell at Pontydysgu.)

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