TED Talk Tuesday: “Txting is Killing Language – JK!!”


Today I had the privilege of attending Chapman University’s first TED Talk Tuesday event – John McWhorter’s talk “Txting is Killing Language – JK!!”

Every other Tuesday, Chapman screens a selected TED Talk and then professors lead a discussion afterwards. McWhorter examines how the development of texting has affected language both spoken and written. Check out the video here:

McWhorter opens with “texting is a miraculous thing.” Later he refers to it as a “linguistic miracle.” All in all, McWhorter has some great points. He addresses many concerns about texting decreasing the quality of writing by pointing out that texting is not about writing, but about simply communicating in a very convenient and efficient manner.

Historically, speech came first and writing followed. Texting revolves around writing how we speak. People argue that we should do the exact opposite – speak how we write. This does happen, but more and more frequently in a formal setting. If speaking how we write is acceptable, then why is the reverse considered less important and less correct? It shouldn’t.

In fact, McWhorter argues it should be considered even more important. He refers to texting as this “emergent complexity.” That texting does not represent a decline in language, but more of a progression. Texting is an expansion of language – if not its own language. So those that can understand and communicate this way could even be considered bilingual – a strong intellectual asset.

I also believe that understanding when it is appropriate to use proper grammar versus slang versus emojis versus full sentences is an important skill to learn. The ability to communicate to different audiences and tailoring your message to them individually creates a social awareness.

All in all, I agree with the majority of what McWhorter discusses. However, I do believe texting has very significant downfalls. For example, texting has a casual air to it and may not always be appropriate. The other would be that texting often results in more misunderstandings than in writing and other forms of communicating. Tone of voice and body language are lost. There are many ways to compensate for this – emojis, punctuation, all caps, etc. However, it is not the same.

The final concern I have around texting is the lack of knowledge of spelling, grammar, and punctuation it has. Yes, many people text with proper grammar and spelling. However, it is more common to let these rules go. There are many different ways to learn these essential skills, so I’m not saying that texting causes people to loose their ability to write properly. I’m just acknowledging that proper writing is no longer required necessarily for every day communications via text. The popularity and frequent use of texting causes people to have a tendency to ignore these rules outside of texting. Also, instead of reading news sources or written information using formal and correct grammar, they are more used to reading news and information with informal and incorrect grammar. The frequency of this is the cause of the problem. Student’s have smaller vocabularies and struggle to learn basic grammar rules because they are accustomed to the short-hand, informal style of texting.

There’s no question about it – texting has changed our language. Some argue it’s for the better, the others for the worse. No, texting is not killing language. It is simply changing it. However, there is no denying that since communication is evolving so quickly with technology, it’s difficult to maintain the “old” rules of language.

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