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:

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.’ 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: 

  • J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – TBC . 
  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – although it might be hard to make this connection, Shaw’s play is set at the end of the industrial revolution in Europe, where advanced technology was changing cities and societies. Higgins and Eliza live in an age of upstarts, where it is possible to change your fortunes and de-class from traditional social hierarchies. Any passage that reveals this new reality would be a good place to start. Alternatively, 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 – though less obvious – 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.

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