Shattering the illusions of texting

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In my capacity as executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, I recently had the opportunity to interview David Crystal about his new book, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, a careful demolition of the myths surrounding text messaging. You can read the first part of my interview on the Visual Thesaurus website here, with parts two and three to follow in coming weeks. As Mark Liberman has noted, texting is only now achieving levels of popularity in the US that Europe and parts of Asia saw about five years ago. That also means that the US is also about five years behind the curve on the concomitant hysteria over how texting presages the death of the language.

Time and time again we've seen this strain of "hell in a handbasket" degenerationism pervading attitudes about contemporary language use (e.g., here, here, here, and here). But the furore over texting in the United Kingdom, which Crystal says began with a 2003 Internet myth about a school essay written entirely in textisms, takes this alarmism to new levels. Will the U.S. be whipped up into the same fervor, five years later? Geoff Nunberg gave some indications of this possibility in a "Fresh Air" commentary a few months ago about excessive reactions to a Pew Research Center study on texting. The publication of Crystal's book in the US is therefore remarkably well-timed, since it can serve as a useful antidote to this sort of overheated discourse.

In the first part of the interview, I asked Crystal to compare the texting backlash to other baleful lamentations about language (usually labeled as "grammar"), as chronicled by Deborah Cameron in her book Verbal Hygiene. (Crystal himself touches on these arguments in The Fight for English, his response to Lynne Truss's best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves). Crystal drew a distinction between the reactions against texting and other language gripes, however:

There's a difference here, and it's a very important difference. All the usual stuff that people worry about with language, there's a basis for that because lots of people are actually doing those things. If somebody says, "Oh, I hate split infinitives and it's causing the language to go down the drain," the reason is that a lot of people do actually split infinitives and people have noticed it and reacted to it.

Now, in the case of the text messaging scenario, none of that has happened. It's people imagining the situation. They say, "Text messages are full of abbreviations." These are people who may never have texted in their lives, and who have certainly never done any research to find out. They believe that this is the case. And of course one of the first planks of research that I did was to look at large quantities of text messages, as well as the research that other people have done, to find that typically less than 10 percent of the words in text messages are actually abbreviated in any way.

So there's a kind of imagined stereotype here, rather than the realities that underlie the reactions that you were referring to. At the end of the day, there's a sort of parallel, but the initial starting point is very, very different.

I wonder if the difference is really as stark as Crystal makes it. The texting complaints appear to fall prey to exactly the same observational illusions catalogued by Arnold Zwicky here:

  • the Frequency Illusion: "once you notice a phenomenon, you believe that it happens a whole lot"
  • the Recency Illusion: "if you've noticed something only recently, you believe that it in fact originated recently"
  • the Adolescent Illusion: "the consequence of selective attention paid to the language of adolescents ('those kids') by adults"

Crystal does an excellent job exposing these illusions in Txtng, even if he doesn't designate them as such. And people seem to be listening. On his blog, Crystal notes that British media coverage has fairly addressed the book's six main points. The first three map precisely to the Zwickyan trifecta of illusions:

  • Text messages aren’t full of abbreviations – typically less than ten percent of the words use them. [Frequency Illusion]
  • These abbreviations aren't a new language – they’ve been around for decades. [Recency Illusion]
  • They aren't just used by kids – adults of all ages and institutions are the leading texters these days. [Adolescent Illusion]

For completeness, here are Crystal's other main points about texting:

  • Pupils don't routinely put them into their school-work or examinations.
  • It isn't a cause of bad spelling: you have to know how to spell before you can text.
  • Texting actually improves your literacy, as it gives you more practice in reading and writing.

It remains to be seen if American media outlets will be as responsive to Crystal's arguments. (The book was released in the UK in the beginning of July and in the US in the beginning of September.) Here's hoping they get the (text) message.

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47 Comments »

  1. Randy said,

    September 18, 2008 @ 8:37 pm

    I don't think anybody used text message style abbreviations on any of the assignments they handed in to me last year, but I did have one student who repeatedly used 'u' for 'you' and included PLEASEEE and PLZZZ in emails she sent to me.

    I wouldn't have addressed any of my profs that way, even though I (now on the path to professorship) write like that with my friends. Even though I don't care all that much, I'm surprised that a student would address their prof that way. In her defence, though, I look like an undergrad (good genes), so maybe she thought it was okay. I wonder if she repeats the last letter of a word for emphasis in her papers.

  2. Mark F. said,

    September 18, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

    I'm not sure I totally agree with Crystal's perspective. Abbreviating something close to 10 percent of words really is kind of a lot, compared, say, to comments on this blog. Where the language alarmists are wrong is in thinking that there's some problem with abbreviating heavily in situations like text messages.

  3. Karen said,

    September 18, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

    I suppose it depends on what you think of as "full of" – objectively, 10% would not be "full of", but compared to .01%, it's a lot.

    Randy, email is email – I doubt your student considered it a register she needed to change just because you are her professor. If you want students' emails to mimic paper letters, I expect you need to say so. (I've heard of many professors who put in their syllabus the style of email they expect to receive.) Sounds like she could have kept the genres different once told they needed to be.

  4. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    September 18, 2008 @ 10:58 pm

    Mark F.: What Crystal is responding to is a perception that "those kids" are writing entirely in textese (which is typically depicted as a "different language"). In the UK that notion was stoked by apocryphal reports in 2003 that a student submitted an essay that read like this:

    "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we usd 2 go 2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :-@ kds FTF. ILNY, its gr8.
    Bt my Ps wr so {:-/ BC o 9/11 tht they dcdd 2 stay in SCO & spnd 2wks up N.
    Up N, WUCIWUG – 0. I ws vvv brd in MON. 0 bt baas & ^^^^^.
    AAR8, my Ps wr :-) – they sd ICBW, & tht they wr ha-p 4 the pc&qt…IDTS!! I wntd 2 go hm ASAP, 2C my M8s again.
    2day, I cam bk 2 skool. I feel v O:-) BC I hv dn all my hm wrk. Now its BAU "

    Here's the translation provided by the Sunday Herald (the original "vector" for the story, AFAICT):

    "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York, it's a great place.
    But my parents were so worried because of the terrorism attack on September 11 that they decided we would stay in Scotland and spend two weeks up north.
    Up north, what you see is what you get – nothing. I was extremely bored in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but sheep and mountains.
    At any rate, my parents were happy. They said that it could be worse, and that they were happy with the peace and quiet. I don't think so! I wanted to go home as soon as possible, to see my friends again.
    Today I came back to school. I feel very saintly because I have done all my homework. Now it's business as usual…"

  5. Stuart said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 12:11 am

    At least regarding the "adolescent illusion" I know that it is just an illusion. The worst offender I know of when it comes to sending texts that are often nearly incomprehensible is my wife's 60+ aunt. I'd be interested to know if the 10% Crystal quotes is true for other languages as well. A couple of years ago I became a fluent reader of Chilean txtspk, and the abbreviation quotient seemed significantly higher than 10%. It was quite easy to learn and definitely had its own internal logic and rules, which does not fit with the doomsayers' proclamations either.

  6. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 1:01 am

    and pof course, the vast majority of the "texting" abbreviations have been refined for years in IRC and other chatrooms, message boards and the likes.

  7. Cheryl Thornett said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 1:49 am

    Of course abbreviations are not recent. What is an ampersand if not a stylised abbreviation? I understand that one of the difficulties for historians in reading manuscripts is correctly interpreting the many abbreviations used by clerks and scribes before typewriters were available.
    I daresay some commentators were once shocked by barbarisms like a.m. and p.m. or op. cit.
    I do discourage the use of UR in my adult ESOL and literacy classes, simply because I don't want someone to forget and use it in an exam.

  8. ben said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 2:38 am

    One thing I'm curious about: how do the various input methods influence writing? For example, I'm often surprised that people use any abbreviations with T9 since the dictionary actually makes it more difficult to use them. And I'm surprised when heavy texters *don't* use T9!

    T9 certainly affects me. I occasionally find myself substituting a similar sounding word or multiple words for names and spelling numbers simply to avoid downgrading to peck3 mode.

  9. Jadagul said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 2:48 am

    Apropos of adolescent texting not being that mangled: My family went out to a nice dinner tonight. At some point the subject of texting came up, and my 17-year-old high-school sister turned to me and said, "I hate the text Mom sends to us. She never capitalizes or uses punctuation and her spelling's really bad. All my friends send me texts with spelling and punctuation." I myself (just graduated college) know a few people who have absurdly abbreviation-heavy texts, but many more who send texts with perfectly good grammar and spelling.

    My takeaway: it's not nearly as bad as they tell you it is.

  10. Yvon Henel (fr) said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 3:36 am

    What I find even more basicaly strange about all that —and I mean that what I've read so far is highly interresting— is the notion that spelling has a direct and inescapable effect on the language.

    We see something of that kind in France when the "new" spelling was debated. It seems that in the mind of some, to change a double g into a single one is the surest way of turning a living language into a dead lingo. They seem to be not totally aware of the fact that many a natural language preceded its written form.

    I hope my English is not as bad as I am affraid it could be.

  11. Dan H said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 3:51 am

    One thing that always puts it into perspective for me is Roget's, that great reference work. With its habit of not liking to retire words just because they are slightly archaic, under both "neology" and "conciseness" it lists the word "telegraphese". Just as the internet is (economically) just the telegraph of this century, so is txtspeak just the telegraphese of the Internet Age.

  12. Anthony Serrano said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 4:16 am

    and pof course, the vast majority of the "texting" abbreviations have been refined for years in IRC and other chatrooms, message boards and the likes.

    Some of them even predate widespread use of the Internet, as evidenced by the titles of some songs written or performed by Prince, including Jack U Off (1981), Take Me With U, I Would Die 4 U (both 1983), When 2 R In Love (1988), and Nothing Compares 2 U (made famous in 1990). Presumably, Prince was not the first to use these, either.

    No doubt, some go even farther back.

  13. Philip Newton said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 4:37 am

    ben: I agree — I can imagine that abbreviations may have been more prevalent back before T9 was widely available and everyone had to use peck3; there, every keypress counts and it's more worth your while to abbreviate.

    But if you can just press keys and have the input method pick from a dictionary, you have a greater incentive (IMO) to not abbreviate, since abbreviations are (as you say) typically not in the input method's dictionary.

  14. Tim Grant said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 4:39 am

    Ben asks about input methods. In my own work on text messaging (critiqued here on LL by Roger Shuy's 8th Sept post) we notice how different varieties of texting language are affected by input method.

    The pressure of time and fiddliness of texting from a traditional mobile phone tends to be resolved by writers who chose to use T9 differently than from writers who choose to text without this ‘assistance’. One thing I’ve noticed is that T9 texters have a greater tendency to elide whole words. It can be easy to remove a verb, a subject or a determiner, for example, and still retain the intended meaning. The result can be reminiscent of telegraphic text where the pressure for reduction was financial.

    Of course, if you are clever enough with your phone you can make T9 predictive texting produce an abbreviated lexicon. Something I’ve never quite mastered.

  15. outeast said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 5:28 am

    Jadagul's sister's experience chimes with me: my 70-year-old father is the only texter I know (in a VERY text-heavy climate) to use substantial txtabbrvs and minimal puntuation.

  16. tlb said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 6:42 am

    All the while realizing that this is in no way a perfect parallel (both because of the register of the language as well as it's intended use, I guess), this reminds me of another–much older–time-saving writing practice: the tironian note and the many, many abbreviating tricks medieval scribes used to save both space and time when copying manuscripts.

    You could call into question the quality of Latin writing in the period (the classical language was technically dead and this is a mainly medieval/early modern phenomenon), but if the scriptor of the medieval period found abbreviations helpful in copying what they thought of as the word of god, I can't imagine they themselves thought of it as a destructive or negative use of language.

  17. James Wimberley said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    Someone should note that like telegraphese in its day, texting is an economically rational response to a scarcity that ii likely to disappear. Here the price is that of cellphone speech, where users are paying for the goldrush investments that set up the infrastructure at extraordinary speed. The SMS texting boom is the unexpected result of marketing decisions to offer this low-bandwidth supplement more or less at cost. The price of cellphone calls is falling, so the need for texting fades.
    Ultimately keyboards will disappear, except for inattentive kids in classrooms, when we get really good voice recognition software – as good as the human ear and brain.

  18. Janice Huth Byer said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 11:33 am

    What is now disdained by language puritans has the potential to force a long overdue reduction of English spelling to a common sense minimum. That some will vainly protest is human nature but so, too, is the simplification of language. Anyway, writing can no more harm native languages than the mind can harm the brain.

    What worries me is an opposite trend of puffing up language by substituting figurative language for literal in, say, political and academic discourse.

  19. Breffni said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    James Wimberley: I don't think texting is likely to disappear. People don't choose text over voice solely for economic reasons: there's linguistic playfulness, secrecy (e.g., texting in class), opportunity for reflection on content and formulation, avoidance of face-threatening situations, and not least privacy. Ling & Yttri 2002 discuss these factors in relation to adolescents in Norway. The telegraph was a different kettle of fish altogether – far more expensive, far less convenient, less private, and so on, and so for most purposes the expense eventually did outweigh its virtues in the face of competition from other technologies.

    The privacy factor is also why I don't believe the keyboard is going anywhere soon. Imagine your typical open-plan office with everyone dictating their e-mails and blog comments instead of typing them.

  20. J said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    That apocryphal txt essay seems so obviously fake to me. Text abbreviations need to be intuitively interpretable or commonly accepted. BAU = "business as usual" really doesn't work, nor does the creative ^^^ = "mountains" (and "baas" = "sheep"?? No). Those seem like the kind of thing one might come up with if one wanted to abbreviate as much as possible (for scare effect) but not the sort of thing one would actually use when texting.

  21. marie-lucie said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

    Older people using more abbrevations: could it be that those people either never learned how to type fast, or are having arthritis or other problems in using their fingers? in either case, reducing the number of letters would be an advantage. On the other hand, maybe they are just having fun!

  22. Sili said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

    Now I'm curious as to whether someone can dig up diatribes against telegraphese as language corruption.

    Personally I use the occasional abbrevation (usually in the form of replacing silent letters – we have an awful lot of those in Danish – with apostrophes) if my message only goes a few characters over the size limit. I don't use my phone nearly enough to make unlimited txts profitable, so if I notice I do try to drop a few letter either through abbreviation or reformulation.

    I do have to admit to disliking blog-replies and the like without capitals, though.

  23. Ken Brown said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

    Breffni, I think you are right. Text is not used as a cheaper but inferior alternative to voice calls, it is used differently. It isn't going away soon.

    I abbreviate a lot in text, but then I can't bear to use T9 (or any real-time spell-checker or predictive dictionary). Every time I've found myself using a phone with it turned on I've been unable to text until I discoverd how to turn it off. It makes me unreasonably angry. I'm writing, not this bloody machine!

    Not joking – I have never successfully composed a message with T9. Its far too difficult for me. And it always chooses the wrong word.

    But I'm over 50 and I've been sending more emails a day than I have been making phone calls since I was in my 20s. So half a lifetime of typing it myself has perhaps stuck me in the mud in a way younger users find strange.

    I found that "essay" quite funny. A good koke. I bet its a lot more creative then most work secondary school teachers really do have to mark.

  24. Forrest said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

    An earlier post on Language Log asked whether it should be Chinese, or Chinian, pointing out that some people see the -ese suffix as derogatory. It's interesting, having read that, to notice that two commentors point to "telegraphese" as historical l33t sp33k that failed to destroy the English language a century ago…

  25. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

    Forrest: I wouldn't read too much into that. The -ese suffix is used not just for full-fledged languages but also specialized registers, as in headlinese, newspaperese, officialese, etc. So telegraphese (and textese) fits right in. Would you prefer telegraphian (and textian)?

  26. Randy said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

    Karen:

    It can be taken as a given that email doesn't require the same level of formality as written letters, or, as you say it, email is email. However, when I talk to someone, or when someone talks to me, registers change depending on the relationship. My students speak to me differently from how they speak to their peers and how my peers speak to me, and I speak differently to my professors from how I speak to my peers. I do expect that these different registers in speech would transform to different registers in email. I don't demand it. It's just unexpected when it doesn't happen.

    Ken: "I can't bear to use T9 (or any real-time spell-checker or predictive dictionary). Every time I've found myself using a phone with it turned on

    I've been unable to text until I discoverd how to turn it off. It makes me unreasonably angry. I'm writing, not this bloody machine!

    Not joking – I have never successfully composed a message with T9. Its far too difficult for me. And it always chooses the wrong word."

    I never had the patience figure out the predictive text with my Motorola phone. I recently got an LG phone which has a different type of predictive text that I find much easier to use. It's now my default text entry method, and most of the time it picks the right word.

    In Bell Canada's 'Mobility' publication they have the following example of a dialogue using Windows Live on a cell phone:
    ——————
    WONDERKID SAYS
    hr @ d tavern. hu iz n?*

    MISSCREANT SAYS
    can't. report du? 2moro

    WONDERKID SAYS
    sc%ter how bout u? ask Sam 2 cum t%.

    SCOOTER SAYS:
    sam's n, i'm n. jst txtD vanessa. she'l MEt us ther l8r.

    MISSCREANT SAYS
    i can't b L out. i'm comin – bt onLE f sc%taz buying

    They give the same conversation in standard spelling:
    WONDERKID: Happy hour at the tavern. Who's in?
    MISSCREANT: Can't Report due tomorrow.
    WONDERKID: Scooter, how about you? Ask same to come too.
    SCOOTER: Sam's in. I'm in. Just texted Vanessa. She'll meet us there later.
    MISSCREANT: I can't be left out. I'm coming – but only if Scooter's buying.
    —————–

    This dialogue seems very contrived to me. Some of the txt spk doesn't even make sense from the perspective of efficiency, either in minimizing the number of characters or minimizing the number of keystrokes. Some of their txt spk is harder to type on the 12 button keypad than just writing out the words, and they keep letters that could easily be dropped, like the 'g' of the -ing suffix. In any case, I could imagine some language purist trying to read it, being confused, ignoring it, thus not seeing how contrived it is, concluding that this is how all people write with their phones all the time, and going on a rant about it.

    If I use txt spk at all it is because I am too impatient to type out the whole words.

  27. Jair said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

    I once submitted a high school essay that was full of bad spelling mistakes, abbreviations and such. I did it on purpose out of pure spite for a silly portfolio we had to make in order to graduate. Afterward I told the instructor that I did it on purpose, but I couldn't get him to believe me. I knew it would be accepted because it was at the last minute and they weren't about to stop an otherwise good student from graduating. I wrote three other terrible essays for the portfolio each with a different satirical theme.

  28. TB said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    It isn't a cause of bad spelling: you have to know how to spell before you can text.
    Texting actually improves your literacy, as it gives you more practice in reading and writing.

    I wish you'd tell this to Victor Mair and Mark Swofford, who seem to think that Chinese people using a keyboard to write means that they are illiterate.

  29. TB said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 9:03 pm

    Or, I should say, "Chinese people's use of a keyboard to write means…" I know this place isn't known for prescriptivism, but I think this edit is justified.

  30. dr pepper said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

    The english ending "ese" is equivalent to the french "ais", which is more widely used. I think both are derived from the latin "ensis".

  31. Jadagul said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 2:15 am

    James Wimberley and Breffni, let me throw in another reason keyboards can be better: sometimes they're far, far more precise than spoken communication. I'm a mathematician and sometime coder, and I can attest that it's almost impossible to communicate math purely verbally; when two mathematicians sit down in private and start working, pencils and paper come out almost immediately (hence the stereotypical scribbled-on cocktail napkin). Voice-to-text will never be precise enough, because the words are inherently ambiguous. That is, does "e to the phi plus chi" mean e^(phi + chi) or e^(phi) + chi?

    Similarly, the stories of sysadmins who typed "sudo rm -rf / foo" (which destroys your entire system) when they meant "sudo rm -rf /foo" (deletes a single folder) are legion. Some people will always need more precision and less reliance on linguistic redundancy than voice-to-text conveniently allows.

  32. Stuart said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 2:34 am

    "Voice-to-text will never be precise enough, because the words are inherently ambiguous"

    Never say never. I've been using speech recognition software for the last 5 years, and the strides it's made in that time are astonishing. Dragon now understands well over 98% of everything I say in my very thick Kiwi accent, and each new version is very much better than the previous one. Moore's Law may not apply to speech recognition software, but I still think it more than merely possible that effectively perfect speech recognition is less than 5 years away.

  33. James Wimberley said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 4:52 am

    breffni: "Imagine your typical open-plan office with everyone dictating their e-mails and blog comments instead of typing them."
    Exactly. But why do we need offices? Just have a coffee shop and scriptoria.

  34. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 10:41 am

    "Older people using more abbrevations: could it be that those people either never learned how to type fast, or are having arthritis or other problems in using their fingers? in either case, reducing the number of letters would be an advantage. On the other hand, maybe they are just having fun!"

    Or perhaps they simply hear time's winged chariot hurrying near.

  35. David Marjanović said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    Good that telegraphese was mentioned. In German, telegraphese messed with the grammar! Take ankommen "[to] arrive" for example: "I['ll] arrive tomorrow" is normally ich komme morgen an, but in telegraphese it was ankomme morgen. AFAIK nobody cared. (That said, I was only born in 1982…)

  36. Charlie C said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 12:53 pm

    I have made extensive use of Morse Code, texting, and Chinese pinyin-like input/output conventions. All of them are a response to a low-bandwidth communication methods resulting from immature technological implementations. None of them have damaged my ability to communicate normally, nor, I suspect, the communication skills of any of you (young and old). All will disappear when improved technology makes them unnecessary, leaving behind a few mysterious relics like SOS, LOL, nihao, 8, etc. to be puzzled over by future generations as they complain about voice-recognition algorithms that can’t deal with non-standard accents. 

  37. Nicholas Waller said,

    September 20, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

    In pre-fax 1989, when I worked for Prentice Hall*, our UK ESL/EFL arm published "Telex English" by Palstra, a guide to sending and reading cryptic & thus cheaper telex messages (PLS RSV 1 SGL RM 3 NTS FVR MR N WALLER ARR 10.3.89, and so on).

    Telex and fax are also, of course, devilish abbrs themselves – Teleprinter Exchange, I believe, and Facsimile. I wonder, did people complain when Telex became a[n ugly] verb? (In reprint article I saw in the paper today – The Times – some subeditor corrected double-gold-winner Rebecca Adlington's use of medal as a verb: “Not many come to their first Olympics and [win a] medal."
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/olympics/article4551527.ece )

  38. Jadagul said,

    September 21, 2008 @ 1:22 am

    Stuart: sorry, that was my point. Dragon may get to the point where it's as accurate a listener as a human being with a perfect memory. But certain things require a character-by-character level of precision, in a way that isn't amenable to natural-language processing (since there's no natural language anywhere near). In other words, there's really no way I can think of to read a complex mathematical formula in a way that anyone can process–that's why we have to write stuff down. At the point where your voice input is something like "ar…em…space…dash…r…f…space…forward slash…foo," it's probably easier to just use the darn keyboard.

  39. Randy said,

    September 21, 2008 @ 1:54 am

    To add to Jadagul's point, when I was a student of mathematics, I would often try to listen and write what I thought I was hearing. Then I would look up to the board and realize that something quite different had been written.

    Though, with university classes getting larger and larger at many universities, using any sort of writing surface becomes impractical. Overheads are replacing chalkboards, and powerpoint/pdf slides are replacing overheads, especially in first year classes. These could be composed in electronic format to begin with or converted to electronic format afterwards and distributed to students online, thus bypassing the need for speech-to-text altogether. For example, I taught much of my first year linear algebra class last year using pdf slides myself, despite my better instincts, and posted them online for download.

  40. Stuart said,

    September 21, 2008 @ 4:18 am

    "But certain things require a character-by-character level of precision, in a way that isn't amenable to natural-language processing (since there's no natural language anywhere near). In other words, there's really no way I can think of to read a complex mathematical formula in a way that anyone can process–that's why we have to write stuff down"

    Thanks for clarifying that, sorry for missing your point earlier. I misunderstood the context of your previous post, probably because it was related to maths, a language I speak about as well as I do Etruscan.

  41. Adrian said,

    September 21, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

    In his recent posts Arnold appears to be doubting that texting is dangerous while driving. I'm a born sceptic, but I don't take much persuading that it's unsafe to be typing and not looking at the road while driving.

  42. Arnold Zwicky said,

    September 21, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

    Adrian: "In his recent posts Arnold appears to be doubting that texting is dangerous while driving."

    Not even slightly. Don't DWT.

  43. Stuart said,

    September 21, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

    "In his recent posts Arnold appears to be doubting that texting is dangerous while driving."

    I am pleased to know that I was not the only one to have formed that impression, and even more pleased to learn that I was mistaken in that impression.

  44. Stephen Jones said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 1:34 am

    The SMS texting boom is the unexpected result of marketing decisions to offer this low-bandwidth supplement more or less at cost. The price of cellphone calls is falling, so the need for texting fades.

    I doubt it; as has been said plenty of people text when they could call; jeez, some people even text each other when they are sitting in adjacent tables in restaurants.

    Ultimately keyboards will disappear, except for inattentive kids in classrooms, when we get really good voice recognition software – as good as the human ear and brain.

    The thought of a coffee shop full of people dictating emails, novels and love letters into their laptops fills me with dread; it makes me want to jump into a train carriage full of people shouting on their mobiles.

    Randy, email is email

    Whenever I hear this I want to chase the person who said it round a football field, prodding them with a cattle prod and forcing them to repeat a hundred times, "The medium is not the message." Communication conventions do not change dependent of whether the text is displayed on a screen or on a piece of paper (if this were true you couldn't even print an email). A paper document can be anything from a Post-It note to a legal contract, and the same applies when that document is sent electronically.

  45. Seolyk said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

    I only use TXT speak when i'm being silly in Instant Messages or if i really have to go somewhere quickly then i use 'brb' or 'ttyl.' I use emote stuff too like 'lol' but none of the others (like 'lmao') unless I'm REALLY trying to be silly. when i actually text, my phone has word completion so most of what i use is full words. i really dont see the big deal since only the younger range of those who use TXT speak use it.

  46. Kelly M said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

    Thank you for exposing my own confirmation bias. I had fallen for many of these myths. However, when I get a comment on my blog where the word "to" has been replaced by "2," "for" by "4," and "you" by "u," I can feel myself…in a very visceral way…mentally pigeonholing this reader as someone with whom I probably have very little in common. For one, the person is probably quite a bit younger than I, and secondly…well, yeah.

  47. Izkata said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

    You've been StumbleUpon'd

    And I have to agree with some of the comments that've popped up… My college friends don't use txting shorthand, my less-mature-acting highschool friends used simple things like "u" (although I'm no longer in contact, so I don't know if it continued), but my mom uses it… a lot.

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