Changing English

Transforming Technologies

“As far as I know, I am not dyslexic, mentally lazy, or illiterate. But I text.”

David Crystal, The Gr8 Db8
John McWhorter’s famous Tedtalk: Texting is killing the English language.

Linguistic Economy can be defined as being economical with words/characters/phonemes. It basically means that you can convey meaning using fewer words – so why not do it?! Linguistic economy has become necessary in modern days due to our desire to be more concise and quick in our communications, particularly due to new communication technology. For example, why text a friend saying ‘Would you like to go to the cinema with myself and some other people tonight?’ when you could say ‘Cinema tonight?’ with the same desired response. The prestige of formal written style is falling due to the changing nature of ourselves as language users (in part down to new media technologies, we are now text producers as well as receivers), so being economical isn’t such a bad thing…is it? Read a selection of the articles below and collect your own thoughts on this matter:

Class Activity 1: textese

Take a classic text such as a famous speech, or a book you have read. Transform the speech or a passage from the book into text message language: ‘textese.’ If you have not done so already, you can find out about the ‘grammar’ of textese by visiting this informative webpage.

Class Activity 2: “this house believes…”

Hold a class debate where two teams argue a motion such as, “this house believes that technology is ruining the English language.” Organise the class into speakers, researchers, elect a chairperson and timekeeper. If you can, stage the debate in front of a live audience who can direct questions to the participants at the end.

Learner Portfolio

Write an article about Linguistic Economy. You could use the ‘yes/no’ format of the piece Does Texting Ruin Writing Skills? (see below) if you like, although you don’t have to. You could call your piece something like ‘Is Technology Dumbing Down English?’

Here’s a great piece of student writing for you to read and gather inspiration for your own writing.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: Opinion Columns

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below are a collection of Opinion Pieces based on the topic of Text Speak and other issues. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of Opinion Columns and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

Key features of opinion columns
  • Perspective: as an expression of a personal viewpoint, the first person is most commonly adopted for opinion pieces. Look out for ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ – a clever way of implying the viewpoint is commonly held.
  • Solid Arguments: an opinion piece might open your eyes to the reality of an issue, providing facts, statistics and information to help convince you of the writer’s viewpoint. Expect to see opinions backed up by studies, research or evidence of some kind. Keep an eye out for assertion, though, where a writer presents an opinion as if it were a fact.
  • Anecdotes: sometimes a writer will relate a small story from his or her personal experience in order to demonstrate a thoughtful approach to the topic at hand. You may find the opinion piece begins with this story, which acts as a kind of hook into the main article.
  • Register and tone: you should be especially alert to the writer’s choices in this regard. Opinion pieces are often formal, but the writer may adopt an irreverent tone, be passionate, conversational, friendly, challenging, even sarcastic depending on the tactics used to convince you of a particular opinion.
  • Concession: although similar in many ways, opinion pieces are not quite the same as persuasive speeches, so the writer is not necessarily trying to change your opinion. In this case, you might find concessions to the other side of the argument or even an acknowledgement that the writer’s opinion is flawed in some way.

Body of Work: Texting – The Gr8 Db8

David Crystal on Texting

The effects of texting had (at the time this book was published in 2008) been relatively well researched but none of that research had reached the general public. As there was a lack of understanding about this issue, largely exaggerated myth about the effect of text messaging on language replaced truth. The point of this book by David Crystal is to dispel misinformation and explore what happens when people text through a linguist’s expert eyes.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

An extract from this work would make an ideal text to bring into your Individual Oral. The named author would be ‘David Crystal.’ You could explore the Field of Inquiry: Science, Technology and the Environment and a suitable Global Issue might be ‘the impact of science and technology on our thoughts and behaviour.’ Alternatively a focus on Art, Creativity and Imagination might help you construct a talk about an issue such as ‘the richness of non-standard English.’ You may have ideas about how to pair the articles with the literary texts you are studying. If not, don’t worry; speak to your teacher or use the following suggestions as a starting point: 

  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – Higgins delights in showing Pickering the scientific apparatus of his linguistic study. These pieces of equipment are symbolic of the pride Higgins (and Shaw) have in the sciences of linguistics and phonetics, and this could make a successful pairing for your talk.
  • Keats’ Odes – you can express the opinion that the meta-textual language employed and defended by David Crystal is a creative language as rich and valid as the poetic language Keats used to explore the concerns of his day – and therefore the concerns of those who believe that textese is somehow ‘dumbing down’ people’s thinking is not valid.
  • Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife – in order to emphasise her counter-cultural message, Duffy fills her poems with colloquialisms, idioms, unlikely rhymes and slang phrases. Your talk could explore how these – and other aspects of poetry – transform standard modes of using the English language into something richer.
  • Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress – in this novel, the village headman is meant to uphold the ideals of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which include the prohibition of ‘western’ or ‘bourgeois’ possessions. However, he is quite taken by the tiny alarm clock kept by the narrator and his friend Luo. Through this item, it soon becomes clear that the headman is not quite as committed to his ideals as it might seem.
  • David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross – although his characters act in despicable ways, there’s undeniably something poetic and magnetic about their use of the English language, bending it to their will in their search for that next important sale.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s