Are text messages and IMs killing the English language? Your former English professor may have thought so, citing the common use of abbreviations like “LOL” as a sign of the “dumbing down” of our culture and perhaps of the coming apocalypse. However, experts who study the history of language are more inclined to see SMS-speak (also known as “computer mediated communication” or CMC for short) as part of the natural evolution of the English language.
For example, Sali Tagliamonte, linguistics professor at the University of Toronto, told the Toronto Star that complaints about CMC are no more than the linguistic version of “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” She says:
“People have always complained about the kids’ use of language. But there are never going to be any changes in language, made voluntarily, that impede understanding. The kids are further ahead in language exchange than older people.”
According to Tagliamonte, people start using new words primarily because they fill a need – in this case, the need to communicate using a keyboard as quickly and concisely as possible.
The idea that CMC is part of a natural evolution of the English language rather than a threat to its existence is also supported by the results of a study from an international research group reported in Science Daily. The study divided people into small groups and then required them to communicate with each other using only pictures as opposed to spoken words. The groups developed communication systems that gradually grew more complex, eventually even including abstract concepts. According to Science Daily:
“The main result of this work is evidence that supports one of the alternative theories explaining the evolution of language, in which collaboration and interaction are critical. Also, it was shown that the most effective ways of communicating can spread through a community like a virus from person to person.”
Young people these days don’t use “LOL” because they are lazy, or because they hate English. It is simply a new word that’s gone viral because it is the most efficient way to express when something is humorous.