Is 'Text Speak' and slang a danger to the English tongue?

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“2b or not 2b”? That is the question facing English speaking people across the globe. The debate surrounding the use of “Text Speak” and slang is a contentious one. Mention the Syrian conflict to one’s dear grandmother and she will barely flinch, but remark on the misplaced apostrophe on the local pub’s menu and she spirals into a hysteria calling it a felony, a tragedy, a discombobulated calamity!


She is not alone. This linguistic conservativism is sweeping the nation, to match what they deem as the spreading of infectious inititialisms and abhorrent abbreviations. Language no longer resembles the traditional hearty meals of multi-syllabic Standard English, but has been replaced by ready meal vocabulary, there to satisfy society’s hunger for speed and convenience.


Yet, surely language cannot be considered through a moralising lens? Or else we have been committing linguistic sin for centuries. I have (rather sadly and reluctantly) written essays on how slang has been integrated into our vocabulary throughout history and have since come to the conclusion that a far more positive and liberally minded approach to Text Speak and slang must be taken. Let it stand for creativity, versatility and practicality, rather than anything potentially dangerous or injurious.


Exiling Text Speak into extra-grammatical realms is problematic and almost certainly hypocritical seen as the majority don’t follow all grammatical rules to the letter anyway. Split infinitives and sentence ending prepositions are technically incorrect, but are overlooked features of everyday speech. What this implies is a grammar hierarchy where certain rules are considered more essential than others. This hierarchy, however, is not governed by an absolute system, causing it to shift and alter depending on the individual’s own standards.


Ideally, the overarching rule governing grammar should be universally understood and encompassing of change. It seems fair that grammatical and orthographical rules may be subverted as long as the coherence and purpose of the language is maintained. If something can no longer be understood or does not achieve the desired effect, the language chosen is incorrect or inappropriate. In other words, language can change depending on the context. Text Speak therefore has its place as it is a reaction to the changing social context of technological advancement. Sending a text does not require Shakespeare’s eloquence, but what it does is speed and brevity.


Most understand that it is incongruous to tell your grandmother to “like totally shotgun the VKs for prinks” or say “ceebs” because you can’t be arsed to say “CBA”. Some, I admit, struggle to juggle with the added register of Text Speak, but the act is not impossible; it just requires practise and guidance.  


What’s more, slang is the everyman’s poetry and has the power to define a generation. A classic example of this is the word: “groovy”. Dropping it into casual conversation is as fashionable as wearing a poncho: retro at best, dated at worst. New generations therefore invent their own terms to identify themselves within an age and this ambition is a completely natural reaction. So, ultimately, a lot of breath is wasted lamenting about the use of Text Speak and slang. Any indignation is superfluous and illogical seen as the only constant in language is change. “2b or not 2b?”? That is still the question. But the answer? Well, it completely depends on where you be.

Emily Beech

English Literature student at Durham University. Sports Editor at Palatinate, Durham's student newspaper.

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