Critical Analysis of John Humphrys' Article “I H8 Txt Msgs”

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The article I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language, by John Humphrys, addresses text messaging as a threat to people's ability to engage formally in use of the English language; especially in the younger generation. John Humphrys takes a unique perspective when analyzing the practice of text messaging. Humphrys focuses on the present and mainstream uses of text messaging, without analyzing the historical processes and the language values of the so called text speak. This paper will argue against John Humphrys' claim. Text messaging is a valid form of language as it; has been created through historical and social processes; holds a set of unique and evolving characteristics; and therefore in no way harmful to the users' abilities to use the English language.

John Humphrys begins the article with complaints about the removal of hyphens from more than 16,000 words in the Oxford English dictionary. He referred it to laziness as he wrote: “Are our lives really so pressured, every minute occupied in so many vital tasks, every second accounted for, that we cannot afford the millisecond (no hyphen) it takes to tap the key?” (2007:1) John Humphrys essentially states that text messaging, is as a form of laziness and a threat to the English language; due to the frequent usage of abbreviations and emoticons within in text messages. However, what he failed to realize, is that the abbreviations and emoticons were originally made for a completely different purpose. Text messaging was not always as affordable as it is today. Many mobile services constrained the amount of characters allowed in a text message, such that some services permitted only 160 characters while others charged messages by the number of characters sent. Thus, the initial abbreviations of text messages such as tks (thanks), and btw (by the way), were created for economic purposes. Later, as text messages became more prominent, more abbreviations and emoticons were created. These were, again, not created because people were lazy. They were used for convenience as it was time-consuming to type out the full word as the small keyboards on mobile phones were difficult to type words out. Can you imagine typing an entire paragraph with proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar on a device that is the size of your hand, while your thumb is equivalent to the size of two to three keys altogether? Moreover, the use of abbreviations is not unique to text messaging. Similar styles of writing can be traced to the days of telegraphese, a hundred and twenty years back, where telegraph operators were reported to use abbreviations similar to those in modern texts. Therefore, text speak wasn't created by some teenagers trying to avoid using proper English grammar. And it definitely wasn't created to fool the adults with abbreviations and often strange emoticons. It had an economic purpose that later on transformed into an efficient language to deal with the space and time constraints of text messaging.

John Humphrys is not the only person who criticizes text speak's harmfulness to young people's ability to communicate and write in formal English; it has now become a prominent social debate. However, most people agree that text speak is a language, even John Humphrys wrote, “texting and netspeak are effectively different languages.” (2007:2) Moreover, a recent study on text messaging in Hong Kong revealed that there is a causal relationship between the introduction of new information communication tools (ICTs) and new forms of language and literacy (Li et al. 2007:1). If text speak is considered a language, and it's supposedly destroying the English language here in the Western countries, does that mean all multilingual individuals will soon have no English speaking and writing skills? I personally believe that it comes down to style shifting – the variability of speech and language in different social context. For example, I mainly speak Mandarin Chinese at home, but...
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