I haven’t quite decided whether ‘txt tlk’ will remain classifies under the ‘youth speech’ category or whether it merits one of its own, in any case there is probably much to be said about it. We tend to forget that text messaging was almost an afterthought for mobile phone manufacturers in the 90s who never thought people would bother to write out messages when they could call, yet the medium has revolutionised not only social interaction but language too.
Remember the days when each text cost 10p and every word had to be carefully thought out so as not to go over the designated letter limit and take your communication into the pricey 20p bracket ? Those constraints were surely the first push towards the elimination of vowels and the reduction of phrases to the bare first-letter essentials. Today those restrictions have been blown away; digital communication is instantaneous, limitless and practically free.
Yet text language has continued to evolve. You thought ‘LOL’ just meant ‘laughing out loud’? You must be getting old. And how about ‘slash’? Something you do with a knife? Or the verbal equivalent of one of these – / ? Not quite. Luckily for you there are serious academics studying this stuff, like Anne Curzan at the University of Michigan whose snappy article on the new use of ‘slash’ you can read here. Language is indeed evolving, and whether you like it or not, however hard you attempt to shove it into a time-freezer, it will continue evolving with the new generation.
As it so happens, the new generation is texting a lot, and they are finding ways of translating elements of human interaction imperceptible across long distances (body language, empathy, glances, blushes…) into text speech. And I’m not just talking about emoticons. Here is John McWhorter explaining it all, from how ‘lol’ has become a pragmatic particle signaling empathy, to how ‘slash’ is used as a ‘new information marker’ or topic-changer. He also shows you why you should stop moaning about all this and get with the lingo if you want to hang with the cool kids.