I am a bit of a pedant. I ache to erase misplaced apostrophes; bristle when I spot a split infinitive and delight in the deployment of the semi-colon.

 

Nevertheless, I was cheered to hear, way back in November 2006, that the SQA declared that the use of phrases like “2b r nt 2b” or “I luv u” would be allowed as long as candidates showed that they understood the subject.

Candidates cannot get top marks when using text language, but are given credit for correct content. Thus a student with severe dyslexic difficulties but with a superior knowledge and understanding of English may achieve a respectable grade at Higher level. The SQA stressed that this occurred in a very small percentage of papers and that It would be much too harsh not to give credit for knowledge and attainment that is expressed in bad language.

Opponents of this move stress the necessity for young people to communicate. John Humphrys  fulminated thus : Texters are vandals who are destroying our language: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped. (I don’t agree with these sentiments but I do admire Humphrys’ semi-colons!)

To call texting penmanship (sic) for illiterates’ (Prof. John Sutherland)  misses the point that comprehension and communiation should be paramount considerations when assessing a student’s level of English.

It is grossly unfair to penalise someone for poor spelling.

 

The spokesperson for the Plain English Campaign comments, that both the writer and the examiner must understand the same language. This provides a clue to the real reason why so many react so strongly to this issue: people in charge (politicians, priests, examiners) fear loss of control. The printing press was thought to be the invention of the devil because it would put false opinions in people’s minds. (Well it certainly led to the eventual immense upheaval that resulted in the democratisation of Europe so the authorities were right.)

 

Of course there are considerations about the necessity for young people to communicate in ‘standard’ English; but this rather begs the question: What IS standard today? At present it may be true that pupils are disadvanted in the work place by the excessive use of ‘street slang’. Surely it is up to teachers to help young people understand the difference between formal and informal language, not to ignore the prevalence of text language altogether.

Here is David Crystal: Text messaging is just the most recent focus of people’s anxiety; what people are really worried about is a new generation gaining control of what they see as their language.

 

Crystal published a book earlier this year called Txtng: the gr8 db8 . In it he declares that English is a living, egalitarian medium, not a relic to be preserved and revered. He maintains that those young people who text frequently are more likely to be the most literate and the best spellers, because you have to know how to manipulate language.

 

Language evolves and trying to pin it down and prevent it from changing is a regressive, not to mention futile, gesture. We should celebrate the skills of our young people. After all, in order to break the rules, they need to know the rules; have a good grasp of standard spelling and sentence structure; and the confidence to know in what context it is appropriate to use informal language. The aim of the texters and messagers is to communicate: they are a part of the evolving and pervasive development of our lingua franca.

 

I refuse to depart from traditional orthography even when texting, although I do sign off with ‘x’ rather than ‘love from’. I have on occasion been known to write SWALK on my snail mail; and I fully understand my children’s messages ‘IOU’! (Apparently this dates from 1618 so it’s OK/okay. Must be standard by now.). However, I am thrilled when a student demonstrates a sensitive response to a difficult text whether s/he has all the spellings correct or not.

 

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