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on 6 February 2009
How this for a bit of reflexivity: I'm composing the initial draft of this review on a mobile phone. Admittedly, a full qwerty keyboard-toting BlackBerry and not an old school mobile, so not with the numeric keypad limitations of the usual SMS utilising device but, still, typing-one thumbed while I cling on to a tube strap on an underground carriage with my other hand does put the debate into context.

This is an interesting enough, quick read, but it lets itself down in a couple of presentational respects and also in scope.

Firstly, the title and sale. Already on reviews on this site there is a debate between those who find the book a bit dry and dusty and those who point out it is written by a linguistics professor, so you shouldn't really expect anything else. I suppose composing its title in textspeak was an obvious (if somewhat unimaginative) marketing ploy, but the cheap laugh it gets trades badly against its implied presentation as a book of limited ambition and sophistication - one of those impulse buys at the counter that will wind up on the cistern in the loo, rather than a book you'd buy for its own sake.

As it happens, this is a thoughtful and insightful book written (for the layman - I didn't find it dry in the slightest) by an academic and published by Oxford University Press. But the way OUP has elected to market may cause it to fall betwixt cup and lip.

But - assuming we are meant to treat it as a substantive entry - that leads onto some substantive reservations.

Firstly, I'm not so sure what's so distinctly interesting or permanent about SMS texting over instant messaging, email, discussion forums, blogs, twitter and the manifest other forms of electronic communication that have emerged over the last twenty years that it deserves separate treatment.

To be sure, SMS text has produced some unique artefacts, but it has borrowed more ("LOL"s, preposition abbreviations and emoticons are more prevalent in IM and forum posting) and those few artefacts that are unique (as Crystal recounts) are a function of transient technological limitations inherent in the particular format which are likely to be superseded. As data entry technique and information technology evolve (and they already have: things like predictive text, qwerty keyboards on PDAs, and forthcoming inevitabilities like voice recognition) the SMS idiom will almost certainly wane. I suspect, like the facsimile, it is destined for a short but incandescent trajectory through the communicative cosmos.

Secondly, limiting himself as he does, David Crystal is obliged, in a short book, to look at relatively uninteresting aspects of a minor medium (like texting in a foreign language - it takes him a few pages to illustrate this works much like English does - which is no more than the slightest sober reflection would suggest) at the expense of bigger topics of far more interest and relevance to the whole medium of electronic communication. The linguistic implications of non-destructive abbreviation are significant - but again, more so in the world of general electronic communication (where Larry Lessig's book Code: Version 2.0 or Doug Hofstader's I Am a Strange Loop are far more fascinating) and not SMS in particular. The fact that, almost overnight, we have converted our language by means of ASCII into a numerical code which can thus be manipulated, processed and treated is a revolutionary insight, but by limiting himself to texting where those implications amount to very little, Crystal can't really joint the debate.

Finally, Crystal's motive seems to have been to take wind out of the sails of the sorts of grumpy old men (Guardian op-ed columnists and commentators like John Humphrys) who claim (much as they and their kind have done about email, typewriters, television, immigrants, slang, hip hop, cockneys, and even the great vowel shift) that this new blight is destroying all that is precious our language. That's obviously horse-puckey: that it is evolution and not destruction isn't really news, and this isn't debate I'd bother engaging in even as a media commentator, let alone as an academic. No one takes these old curmudgeons seriously anyway.

There is enough in this book to make it worth reading through, but that won't take you long, and it probably would have been better pitched as a feature article in a Sunday paper. Where it could have taken on the Grumpies on their own turf.

Olly Buxton
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on 10 January 2013
David Crystal is a well respected semiotician and this book is perfect for reading for those doom-mongers who are convinced that the SMS is the end of civilisation - as was TV, rock'n'roll and probably even Radio 4 when it first started. Crystal sets SMS in its linguistic historical setting recounting how abbreviations, shortening of words and slang are not new - even that Stratford chappie used to do it! Apart from the solid scholarship the book is written is an accessibly form and gives some wonderful examples of the what txng can do as a literary genre in its own right - see the section on SMS poetry.
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I am one of those people who never got into the whole texting craze, primarily because I hardly ever use my cell phone and I rarely chat with my friends online. Even when I do, I try to write in full sentences and be as clear in my prose as possible. However, I am not beyond ever condescending to the new texting abbreviations, and would occasionally pepper my chats with LOL, ROTFL, and of course ', nor would I begrudge my interlocutors when they do the same. So, I am not someone who gets too flustered with texting as such. It's texting that happens in inappropriate settings that really gets to me. I like to interact with people in various online forums, and when they write whole essays in txt-speak, and I find myself spending more time decoding what they wrote than on the content of their arguments, then I take an exception to this whole business of texting.

I am writing all this in order to give you my overall perspective on texting prior to reading this book. My attitude could be summed up as ambivalent to weary. So I decided to pick up this book and learn more about texting from a professional linguist, someone who has invested a great deal of time to study texting habits and put it in a perspective of language use and development in general. And for the most part, David Crystal does a wonderful job at that. The book is filled with nice and illuminating examples, the parallels to previous changes in our use of language were appropriate and thought provoking. The book does a great job in convincing me that there is really nothing either deviant or inappropriate about how texting came to be. And I was also convinced that people who txt are not ruining the English language nor are they hurting their own writing skills. However, the book does not deal at all with the use of texting in online discussion forums, my own personal pet peeve. But other than that, it is a very well written book. It also provides an illuminating and handy glossary of main terms, as well a list of text abbreviations from eleven different languages. These are fun to look at and an interesting glimpse into how other languages deal with texting.

If you ever have to come across texting in your daily life (and who doesn't these days), and whatever your attitude to texting may be, you could benefit from reading this interesting little book.
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on 31 December 2009
David Crystal has once again put together one heck of a page-turner. His new book Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 touches upon nearly everything that has to do with texting. Some believe texting to be a threat to the English language. Here, Crystal pours oil on troubled waters as he argues that texting could even be advantageous the youth. He reasons that teenagers first have to understand language before they can start playing with it. He dwells on the peculiarities and the distinctiveness of texting, some reasons why people do it, and some thoughts on social groups. Moreover, he focuses on the content of text messages, and he also gives a brief overview on how texting works in other languages than English. While doing so, Crystal remains scientific as he draws his conclusions based on sheer facts, but he does go into too much linguistic detail.
In sum, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 is an absolute must read for anyone who is interested in how the new media affects language.
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on 23 July 2013
What a clever man. As always this book is written with a very experienced, open and ever inquiring mind, which is why his books never fail to please.
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on 23 January 2011
The problem with teaching 'Language and Technology' at A level is that the technology and our interaction with it is changing so fast that there is virtually no established texts that are available for the general reader. Google Scholar is all very well, but it takes hours of searching to find only abstracts of academic papers. So, hats off to Crystal then, who has collated much of the research from the past ten years and synthesised it down into a very readable resource for enjoyable reading and also for giving us teachers something solid to base our lessons on rather than something published six or seven years ago that is now as redundant as a Betamax copy of Jaws.

Crystal is as usual authorative, engaging and here is certainly going out on a limb and offering a coherent and well argued case that texting is an interesting, positive influence on our beautiful language and provides heaps of evidence as to why John Humphrys et al are bleating old has beens who speak from a position of delicious ignorance.

Buy this for fun and buy it so you can shut people up when they start talking rubbish. Oh yes, and as a great teaching aid.
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on 20 January 2013
I read this book for academic reasons for my job, but found myself personally interested in the phenomena of texting and messaging which is all around us today. As a teacher, I had thought that texting and internet searching had improved literacy and understanding of language rather than increasing illiteracy, and i was pleased to have this observation confirmed. Lots of little snippets, such as the grammar error 'would of' instead of would have, used by the poet Keats, not the fault therefore of texting, although we see here that the way texters play with words and sentences can be similar to how poets manipulate language.
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on 13 February 2011
I don't text but found this book fascinating. A long admirer of David Crystal this took me along a different route to usual and I am delighted.
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on 14 June 2013
Hilarious! Well written and humorous with plenty of history of the pre-texting era - makes you think hard and re-evaluate your opinions...
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David Crystal, the current Archimandrite of Pop Linguistics, has again come up with the goods. It's reasonably brief and light, however for those studying GCSE Spoken Language or A-level Language and Technology modules, it's an essential research and analysis too.
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