Text speak and the evolution of language?

Textspeak is all over the place.  Many of us use it daily to text friends or chat online but it seems to be popping up in more formal settings.  I can think of at least two companies which use ‘4u’ as part of their name. Not only this, I have seen writers using textspeak in trying to sell their books. Why would I buy a book when the promotional material or the synopsis isn’t even written in halfway decent English? What does that say for the book I ask myself, but am I being unkind? Perhaps there is a time and a place for textspeak so long as the more formal use of language is recognised and used appropriately.

Does the use of textspeak mean children don’t know how to write correctly, to spell and to argue coherently? That depends on whom you ask.  The links below cite examples from both camps, surveys often say what the proposer wishes them to say. The phraseology of the question, target audience and other factors often determine the outcome. There are several studies which seem to contradict one another. This perhaps says more about the nature of the surveys and research than the alleged degradation of grammar. Three of the links cited below are journalistic in nature and at least two contain typos so perhaps the standards are slipping anyway.

The first link below mentions a study sponsored by Mencap (the charity for people with learning disabilities) in which 500 parents and teachers were interviewed, two-thirds of the teachers reported textspeak finding its way into homework and many parents having to find translations for cryptic messaging among their children.



This is supported by an article from Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201207/focroflol-is-texting-damaging-our-language-skills


Researchers at Penn State University found the standards of literacy declining due to the use of texting and the inability to grasp the basic rules of spelling and grammar concluding text messages were often incomprehensible.  Surely however because one individual does not understand does not make something incomprehensible and worthless. I don’t understand French but I do not claim it is incomprehensible to those people familiar with it.

Is this just the evolution of language or bad habit and laziness? Language does evolve and in contradiction to the evidence some studies seem to argue there is no degradation in proper linguistic skills among those of us who text and use less formal online language.


Evidence from Coventry University states, “There was no evidence of any significant relationships between poor grammar in text messages and their understanding of written or spoken grammar.”  This is supported by research by Kaplin Colleges International who also cites the research from Coventry.  “Not only was there no evidence of a negative association between literacy skills and the tendency to use texting slang or abbreviations when using SMS, in fact, it seemed to be adding value to the children’s conventional spelling abilities, because of the highly phonetic nature of the text abbreviations which are most commonly used.

“They seem to enable children to rehearse their understanding of how speech sounds map onto printed characters in a way that benefits their normal literacy development.”

Kaplin International Colleges claim that ‘63% of English learners do NOT believe text speak damages grammar or spelling’, despite it sometimes creeping into essay writing.



Facebook and Twitter often do not allow long posts so writing tends to be concise and abbreviated, this too may cause problems.  Yet it doesn’t have to. So long as a person knows when to use more established and formal language does it matter? Texting or chatting online is not the same as writing a book, a letter or promotional material.  Learning to write concisely is not necessarily bad.

Some of the studies previously mentioned claim, textspeak aside, young people and even some of the older folk among us are writing more now due to the ease of online communication. It may be true the art of letter writing with an ink pen and paper is in decline typing out a letter, email or other online correspondence is not. Anything which encourages literacy and communication is to be encouraged.

Language changes that much is certain, you need only compare Chaucer to Shakespeare to Lord of the Rings to the latest best-seller to see how language, usage and even spelling has evolved and diverged in time. Is techspeak the next step? I really don’t know, part of me hopes not but part is fascinated by these changes in our language as our language has adapted in the past.



10 thoughts on “Text speak and the evolution of language?

  1. I’m not convinced that text speak is responsible for declining standards, if indeed these alleged standards really are in decline.

    In a way, people are just becoming bilingual. Where I work, we use something similar to MSN Messenger and my boss will be far less concerned with what his spelling/grammar is like than if he was sending out a ‘proper’ email.

    People will speak differently depending on who they are conversing with and why. The only thing that’s really changed is that text speak is far more noticeable.


    1. I agree. One wouldn’t apply for a job using a cover letter written in text speak but to chat to someone or use something more informal it may not matter so much.

      It does annoy me a bit I confess but language changes, as do attitudes to it.


    2. I used to work as a copy editor for a bottom-rung hunting and fishing magazine. The writers weren’t necessarily on the ladder, never mind on the top rung. This was some 30 to 40 years ago, and they weren’t kids then. So I’m prepared to testify that standards didn’t start out universally high. I have the impression that people have been bemoaning the decay of the language for centuries.


      1. Very likely. I think it’s a case of ‘in my day…’ Language changes, words fall out of use, or change meaning and spellings change.
        I don’t think professional articles should be written in casual speech or books, but if people want to write on their own posts or blogs than that is up to them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My coursework for my business degree was entirely online. All of the communication was written. There were students in every class who would be marked down because they treated the formal communication of the class work as if it were familiar communication between friends. The message boards were bad but there were times when chat speak would find its way into written reports as well.

    Learning where and when it is appropriate can be confusing at times but it is an important lesson to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. Chatting to your mates is totally different language-wise than a formal essay or letter.
      My sister once told me she had an essay handed in from a pupil which was mostly written in text speak. She marked it F…

      Liked by 1 person

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