Archive for March 9th, 2010

March 9, 2010

YfL3: Txtspk

This week I was old and grumpy. Also, I’d like it to be known that the bizarre grammar of the last line of the print edition was my own fault entirely.
An edited version of this appeared in yesterday’s EdEx.


Txtspk: A form of speech used mostly in the communication of text messages via mobile phone or sometimes Email or online chat. (

I am not a pedant. I like to think of myself as a reasonably liberal-minded person where language is concerned. As fond of the English language as I am, it’s hard to be a purist about a language of which James Nicoll has said “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary”. Standardised spelling is a comparatively recent development in the history of the language, and I’m only really fussy about grammar when the lack of it obscures meaning. No one need worry about confusing “who” with “whom” or “will” with “shall” in my presence, and I will even be tactful enough not to point out that you should have said “Arun and I” instead of “Arun and me”.

In addition, I have even embraced the language of Lolcat. For those of you unfortunate enough to have missed out on this phenomenon, I refer to an internet trend of adding funny captions to pictures of cats (see for examples). These captions have evolved their own grammar and patterns of spelling and I am quite prepared, delighted even, to go along with them.

Yet if there is one thing guaranteed to make me sound like the curmudgeonliest of language purists, it is txtspk.

I realise that txtspk is born of necessity. No one wants to have to send multiple SMSes unnecessarily, and it’s only natural that people should try to cut down on the number of characters they use in a word. I have no real quibble with abbreviations like “l8r” or “b4”. I think they look unattractive, but they get the job done – that is how “later” and “before” sound. I’m less tolerant towards the type of txtspk that consists of removing all the vowels. Disemvowelling your words may help you to send longer messages, but since the person who received them is left with the daunting task of trying to work out what you’re trying to say, it could hardly be called efficient.

But the specific form of txtspk that sets my teeth on edge? Substituting “d” for “th”. L8r and B4 both reflect the way the words are pronounced, but I’ve never heard someone ask “what is dis?” or “who did dat?”, much less “where is da coffee?”. Unfortunately, when someone I know sends me such a message I find myself wondering if they do actually talk that way. And then I imagine them doing so, and I’m never quite able to get that out of my head. I’m sure there are accents that allow for this particular substitution of consonants, and I’m sure they sound charming. But with the average urban Indian accent to talk of dis, dat and de oder? No.