I've sidetracked somewhat here, but what got me going was the Egyptian tweeters.
A few years back, before bbs’s (blackberry messages) and iPhones existed, an indisposed student sent her university professors a collective email. The wording was along the lines of, “I will b hospitalized 2day. I won’t return to university b4 next week. Thank u 4 understanding.” This was an email sent in a university environment, not a text message to one’s buddy.
Her professors were stymied, so they quickly congregated to discuss the email and how to react. They decided to first call in the student and let her know that this kind of writing was unacceptable, and two, to ask the communication professor of that program, me, to emphasize email netiquette as part of the required business writing course of that program.
When I called in the student, she was surprised that this kind of writing wasn’t the norm, and defensively explained, “But this is how I always write.” Again she was told that there is a difference between standard, professional English and text messaging your friends. Her professors expected the former.
However, the point is that this student personifies a generation’s way of thinking and writing. This is the writing she sees and is accustomed to. If a generation considers this normal writing, how will it affect languages and their evolvement in the long run?
Since then my opening spiel in my business writing courses every semester has had an add-on. Not only does it focus on the norm—avoid jargon, clichés, slang, gobbledygook, etc.—but steer clear of text messaging in professional or academic writing.
Text messaging has arrived to stay and whether the academic and professional languages will prevail over this tidal wave remains to be seen. If your job description entails receiving any kind of writing, u r in 4 a surprise.
And now we have Twitter. Twitter limits one’s comments to 140 characters. 140 characters in the world of words are not much. As you keyboard your message, you watch the 140 characters vanish into thin air in front of your eyes, character after character. So what does the wise writer do? The writer comes up with new concoctions that eliminate letters, shorten words, add ampersands, use abbreviations and contractions, and delete articles, prepositions, and punctuation.
Did the Twitter whizzes imagine that they would be instrumental in language revolution?
The shortening phenomenon started off by changing words to letters and numbers: two and to became 2; see became c; and you are became u r, but gone are the days of such minor changes. The Twitter generation is brilliant in finding ways to abbreviate and collapse words phonetically.
Then accents come in to play, too. English-speaking Egyptians have major problems pronouncing the sound “ð” as “th” in mother. It was easier to abbreviate it to “z,” the actual sound they utter. Hence, on Twitter, Egyptian style, the has been obliterated altogether and the comments are doused with “z’s”: Egypt set n example 2 z world.
Twitter has also forced Egyptians to resort to writing Arabic in Latin letters. Leeh keddah? means how come? This is all fine, but an Egyptian tweeter may resort to the three languages in the same tweet: Arabic, Arabic in Latin letters, and English, which is extremely confusing, a new mixture steering both Arabic and English languages on different courses.
The Arabic language is also under the gun. Egyptians want to write in English but since English does not have certain sounds, they resort to numbers that resemble “in look” the letters in Arabic. Egyptians have started using 3, 7, 7’, 2, and many other numbers to represent these Arabic sounds—7aram 3leek uses not only Arabic written in Latin letters but also numbers for sounds that don’t exist in Latin.
He or she who ?’s this new phenomenon is correct in being unable to 4c z consequences. Where will this tsunami take us? Where will z languages b in, say, 10 years’ time? Will z language fork n2 2 different 1s, 1 used 4 professional and academic English, and z other for everyday use, especially in tweeting & txt messaging?
Wait and see. In the meantime, we marvel at technically driven changes in language usage that are both generational and global.