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TXTNG - new language - new literacy

By Dale Spender - posted Friday, 24 July 2009

In little more than a decade, mobile phones have transformed our lives. Young people can’t live without them: their mobiles are grafted on to their finger-tips: only adults ever “forget” to take their mobiles with them.

Mobile phones have created countless possibilities for instant communication; they have constructed a networked society. And they have brought with them new customs, conventions and criticisms.

This change in communication, in social and language patterns, has happened so quickly that some members of the community have not been able to keep up: some (understandably) want all the noise and interruptions - and pointless contacting and messaging - to just go away. Some think that the mobile phone is ushering in the end of civilisation.


There is probably more antagonism towards the mobile phone and txtng than there is to any other new literacy. This could be because it impacts on the mature generation (particularly teachers and parents). The mobile phone and txtng is an ever present reality - and interruption - in daily life, whereas the internet does not intrude on the street, in public transport, at the movies, or around the dinner table.

Urban myths

Many are the protests about txtng, and many of the protesters are outraged and angry. And there are protests from all manner of people: parents, teachers, politicians, through to the measured tones of BBC commentators - such as John Humphrys:

… Texters are vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences: raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

Urban myths abound to support this stand. In the media, in educational circles in social contexts, the following claims are made.

  • txtng fogs your brain like cannabis;
  • it replaces speech among teenagers;
  • it reduces literacy capacity; and
  • it deprives children of sleep

The eminent linguist David Crystal has written a fascinating book on the topic of texting, txtng - the gr8 db8, and is somewhat mystified by such extreme responses:


Has there ever been a linguistic phenomenon which has aroused such curiosity, suspicion, fear, confusion, antagonism, fascination, excitement and enthusiasm, all at once? And in such a short space of time? Less than a decade ago, hardly anyone had heard of it? (p3)

Media beat-ups

Many of the language and literacy controversies around the new literacies are a media beat-up. Clearly, there are members of the community who are uneasy with any changes in language and learning and the media often “fan the flames” of resistance.

Issues about children becoming hyperactive, about cyber bullying, and the growing rate of print illiteracy - all as a result of txtng - have been exploited by various newspapers and TV programs. And much of this information in the media has little substance.

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About the Author

Dale spender is a researcher and writer on education and the new technologies.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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