The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Let's SMS

Eng, wht eng' V rite txt. Its smpl
nd hassfri. Splng nd grmr can go hng.
Hu krs bout thm newayz'

That should be crystal clear to all you enlightened readers of Careergraph out there. But just in case you've been living on Mars of late, here's the translation: "English, what English' We write text. It's simple and hassle-free. Spelling and grammar can go hang. Who cares about them anyway'"

Well, actually, quite a lot of people still do. And they watch with wonder as a whole new word order takes form and shape on the mobile handsets of today's youth. SMS lingo, text speak, virtual English — call it what you will — this, clearly, is the language of the moment, the lingua franca of a generation in a hurry. Shorn of vowels and reduced to the barest of phonetic representations, these word bites may seem like, er, the inarticulate grunts of prehistoric man, but to the initiated, SMS speak is a cult thing — quick, convenient and seriously cool.

"It's like the way we stopped writing letters after the advent of e-mail," says Avirup Sil, a third-year student of Institute of Engineering and Management, Salt Lake. "Now that we have SMS, even e-mails are passe. If I have to say something to a friend, I'd rather send a message through my cell phone." But must words be so damnably mutilated in the process' "It's faster that way," shrugs Avirup. "And more fun too."

The 'fun' element of SMS, or short messaging service, is obviously a huge draw for legions of its youthful users. It's fun to tap out those cryptic alphabet clusters, it's fun to watch the response flash onto your mobile screen a few minutes later, and quite possibly, it's fun too to go on like that, back and forth, exchanging banter, or laughter, or whatever.

"You can go on hacking words as you chat on your mobile. It saves both time and energy,” says 15-year-old Meghna, who sends out at least 20-25 text messages a day. When I tell her that I rarely use SMS she looks at me pityingly and proceeds to instruct me in the basics of this astonishing language.

I stay instructed. Still, I cannot help but wonder if youngsters who frequently spell ‘before’ as ‘b4’ and ‘great’ as ‘gr8’, don’t tend to do the same when they are in the classroom. If abbreviation rules, does it not affect their learning of Standard English'

“As long as young people are flexible and can switch from one mode to another, from the language they use with friends to the language of formal communication, there’s no problem,” says Devi Kar, principal of Modern High School.

But there’s every indication that linguistic laziness is catching on. Sometime back, a schoolgirl in the UK submitted an entire essay in SMS mode. (My smmr hols wr CWOT — My summer holidays were a complete waste of time, was how she began her now-famous essay). That may be an extreme example. “But it is a fact,” says Soma Chatterjee, who teaches English at Birla High School, Calcutta, “that SMS language is finding its way into the written work of some students. They often write ‘4’ instead of ‘for’, ‘2’ instead of ‘to’ and ‘ppl’ instead of ‘people’. Grammar too has gone for a toss.”

End of English'

It is all part of a larger problem, says a teacher of an elite school in central Calcutta, speaking on condition of anonymity. “A lot of young people today hate reading or writing anything that requires a little time and effort. Everything has to be as short as possible. Otherwise they find it boring. Which is why SMS is such a hit — it is brief, phonetic and requires little or no effort.

No effort' You got to be kidding! My unpractised thumb was sore for hours after I engaged in a spot of brisk SMS-ing!

But jokes apart, is the language of text messaging just a fad, to be cast aside like yesterday’s cell phone models, or is it here to stay' And shall we in fact witness a time when the SMS-isation of English is complete, when the language as we know it becomes obsolete and survives only in some sort of weird hieroglyphs'

While that may not come to pass just yet, in the short term, the vocabulary of SMS could well find its way into dictionaries. After all, English has always had a vast appetite for absorbing new words and influences. Agrees Supriya Chaudhuri, professor of English at Jadavpur Unversity, “These words may well enter the dictionary. Although, one must remember that a dictionary is not always a guide to correctness; often, it merely reflects the current reality of a language. Still, a language is not static. It is perfectly likely that English will change beyond measure in the future.”

Long live English! Or whatever may become of it!

Email This Page