Friday, March 27, 2015

Do IM and SMS contribute to decay of language?

Considered to be retrogressive, the short message service might not have survived logically (Crystal). Yet, by the year 2001, the 160 character limit service which could be seen as a hinderance to open expression rather became widespread. 250 billion SMS had been sent globally by 2001. This much reliance on the short messaging resulted in debates over how it would affect the literature. Spread like a wildfire, the debate focuses on whether SMS would be the end of the civilization or a boost to learning. Some aspects of the short message service have helped children to acquire a better literary understanding (Crystal) but might also be used to mask dyslexia, incorrect spelling or simply laziness to write rather than optimizing the text per se. The ultra conciseness of the words tailored for the short message service and instant messaging on the internet chats has taken the shape of a new English dialect.

The massive increase in SMS has boosted up the mobile company earnings significantly. Britain, in the English speaking world is responsible for amounting up to 6 billion text messages a month (Huang) while Pakistan has taken one of the top positions after Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for sending the most short text messages in the world adding up to 151 billion in the year 2009 alone and moving up to the third highest SMS sender in the year 2010 (Malik). This puts a new angle to the point of views debating the influence of IM and SMS on the literature and language. A developing country like Pakistan that has English as its second official language and to be used mostly in the higher education, hence being a notable part of the English speaking world, will be affected in a unique way by the way of SMS. The largely less educated population or atleast not as much educated and affluent in the English language have rather learned the language by the use of quick SMS messaging. The extremely low rates and encouraging services by the service providers have further ensured that the SMS trends leap ahead in a cut throat competition (Malik). It might be noted that the phonetic, orthographic and optimized approach of the SMS language makes it easy for even the relatively uneducated individuals to learn or process the English language (Chim). While this was not yet enough to be dealt with by a likely opponent of the SMS language, the new smart phones that come with the feature of predicting the next words and spell correction or auto completing ensure quick growth and ease of SMS (Chim). These features might be seen as only creating more laziness among the individuals and the society as a whole but, infact, they are also responsible for informally teaching the language to those who previously didn’t know even the formal writing. The ‘de-education’ of the literate might be an overrated accusation in this regard when the use of SMS is rather promoting a language.

On the contrary, instant messaging and short message service have been largely responsible for ‘romanization’ and ‘phoneticization’ of other languages (Chim). For English, where it is being considered mere ‘decivilization’ of the language by the technology, this might be interpreted as a hostile advancement or vandalism of other languages by pushing them to be written in English alphabet, with English itself standing the blame. In such a scenario, the SMS usage predominantly having english alphabet, English has been put on the side of the jargon itself as a language. By this approach, the SMS trend of writing billions of short messages in English alphabet means to re-evaluate the situation in an English versus all other languages scenario. Let us take Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, to be our example of comparison with English in terms of SMS related romanization. Urdu, which has itself been formed by a horde of languages becoming mutually intelligible to many over hundreds of years, is one of the most welcoming languages to the introduction of new words from other languages. It has infact taken most of its words from other languages and only a few that were developed natively over time. Comparing Urdu with English, and keeping it inline with the fact that Pakistan has achieved 3rd highest SMS usage in the world, proves that the language has influenced the use of SMS - Urdu written in roman alphabet - and made it easy to text even for those not much fluent in English. This means more and more english slang and words will be incorporated into Urdu over time as it merges with the SMS extensive usage by the population. The SMS texts employ elimination of vowels and the unnecessary syllables and sometimes uses numbers and letters to denote the phonology (Chim). It would be interesting to note that the Urdu alphabet and writing itself is already used in the same way. Urdu text does not contain any vowels or unnecessary syllables (being phonology oriented), rather the vowels are placed on the top of the letters as symbols like punctuation. These vowels are then omitted in general and literary writing when written for the native speakers as they are extremely obvious to be understood by the context or even the words themselves. This might be another reason that the SMS usage and romanization of Urdu has been very effective resulting in such a high usage of SMS in the country.

The use of SMS romanization seems interesting and welcoming, especially in case of languages like Urdu, as far as the concepts are concerned. But when looking at the facts that the alphabet that are being used are still English, even Urdu speakers might find it hostile for the de-education of their children; the gain of better grasp of language concept itself versus the loss of native alphabet, spelling and prose which is highly regarded in languages like Urdu. Vietnamese and other tonal languages have faced similar situations, their own script has been seen less and less as compared to the romanized versions (Chim). It is essential to find out whether or not the SMS romanization is a threat or will it be able to co exist with the native scripts of other languages.

If taken by the true global and neutral approach and not only being narrow visioned so as to only take English into account, the instant messaging and the short messaging service have largely amounted to decay of multiple languages in the world. The trend has not only put English on a hostile or imperial stance once again, but also become a threat to the global diversity. As far as the romanization can be kept separate from the actual literature and education, including general usage in media and magazines, it might survive the criticism of the host languages - but staying the course, SMS has been extremely detrimental to most scripts even including English. Such decay of language by the technology which happened to be progressive or simply easier to use in the English language might be overcome by introduction of local keyboards and keypads to supplement clear fonts of all the world languages. This is likely to introduce SMS jargon of its own for each language or somewhat make them mutually intelligible still - but after all, that’s what evolution is.

  • Crystal, David (09 July 2009). Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. ISBN-10: 0199571333. Oxford University Press. Print.
  • Huang, Lily (Aug 1, 2008 ). The Death of English (LOL). Newsweek Magazine. Web.
  • Malik, Yasmin (November 15, 2011). Tech Society: Generation Text. The Express Tribune. Web.
  • Chim, Chong Seck (March 9, 2004). SMS creating a virtual new written language. New Straits Times. Print.

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