IM, Text, and Tweet…Oh My!

The overwhelming proliferation of Instant Messaging (IM), text messages, and Twitter has long placed linguists on alert.  The seamless incorporation of these media into everyday life and communication is astounding.  From 2001 to 2002, text messages leapt from 30 million sent to nearly 1 billion. Records also show that in March 2008, over 3 million Twitter messages (tweets) were posted daily. The world has certainly “shrunk,” but has speech quality diminished as well?

To me, it seems rather natural to think that the flurry of emoticons, blistered thumbs, and 140 character correspondences would weaken proper English. But amidst my research I discovered that there are many professionals who feel that these conversational tools are not spoiling syntax. Rather, they recommend that this generation’s newly integrated dialect should be considered enhancements of the English language as we’ve known it.

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Professor David Crystal, who has written at length on language and the Internet, responded to the Instant Messaging phenomena: "I see a brand new variety of language evolving, invented really by young people... within five years! It's extraordinary." He believes that acronyms like LOL (laughing out loud) and BRB (be right back) “extend the range of the language, the expressiveness... the richness of the language."

Supporting Crystal is a 2007 study performed at the University of Toronto by Professor Tagliamonte. The review analyzed 71 Instant Messenger conversations from participants ranging 15 to 20 years old. The results illustrated a fusion of different language features: written and spoken, formal and informal. "It's showing a real creativity and a firm grasp of the linguistic resources available to them," said Derek Denis, a co-author of the study.

What do you think? Do your experiences support these findings, or do you think technology has jeopardized speech? And what does this mean for the public speaker?