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on 20 February 2009
I have been reading books by Prof Crystal since I was at university and hold him in regard. This one, I rate as "mildly interesting" and never astonishing. That is it supplies a framework and basis of fact around a set of observations and insights which I could quickly have come up with myself if forced at gunpoint to write an essay on the subject. No "wow, I hadn't thought of that" moments,and rather a lot of padding (such as international text practices).
Crystal sets up the bogeyman view that the phenomenon of texting (3 times the revenues produced as Hollywood) is ruining the use of language and then proceeds to dismantle it. But did anyone really believe that texting was a threat to literacy? The argot of texting borrows from and lends to general language just as other technologies have done, or as trade and migration do.
The ergonomic limitations of the traditional phone keypad have prompted creative shortcuts - which Crystal usefully categorizes as logograms, pictograms,rebus,initialisation,contraction and abbreviation. All of these existed before and have merely been incorporated. The telegraph, ham radio (with its Biggles like over and roger) and IM have also spawned shortcuts and indeed the telegraph required its whole new morse code. Restrictions can promote creativity - Crystal cites the discipline of the sonnet form as a parallel. The proliferation of qwerty keypads and touchscreens on mobile devices will no doubt lead to further evolution of txtspk.
The social implications of texting deserve more attention, though perhaps these go beyond the linguistician's domain. The human's marginal propensity to communicate as the cost and technological barriers come down is shocking. Whole patterns of social interaction have changed. How often is one surrounded by people happily texting or emailing in public spaces while simultaneouosly cocooned in their ipod sound systems and generally oblivious to the people actually there around them? So, we communicate more but interact less?
There are some interesting observatons: for example on how woman tend to differ from men in texting (longer, more grammatical, more emoticons, politer - am I surprised?) or why the US took longer to catch up (lack of common standards, driving are cited, though the broader availability and lower costs of alternative media may also have played a role). But, as I say, mildly interesting, hardly astonishing.