Text Messaging: A New Tool in the Struggle for Language Diversity?

Text messaging is quickly becoming one of the most common methods of communication worldwide. In fact, last year in the US, text messages surpassed voice calls in popularity.

However, the Wall Street Journal notes that texting can pose problems for some non-English speakers. Most of the time, when people send text messages, they use software called predictive text to make typing the messages easier.

Predictive text “predicts” what you are trying to type, so you don’t have to press as many buttons. Without predictive text, you have to press numbers multiple times to get to the right letter. This is frustrating enough in English, but it’s even more time-consuming if you’re trying to use a language with a longer alphabet, like Hindi.

As language advocates see it, the problem with text messaging is that influences people to communicate via text message using languages that predictive text software is written for. This is fine for native English speakers, but could be detrimental in other cultures that are struggling to preserve their languages and pass them on to the next generation.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, so far only 80 of the world’s 6,912 languages are supported by predictive text software. Linguistic experts hope that expanding the number of languages available will make it easier for people to communicate in their native languages.

For example, predictive text software is now available for Gaelic. According to Breandan Mac Craith, marketing director for Dublin-based Foras na Gaeilge, an organization that promotes the use of Irish, “They’re fabulous tools for us. It facilitates the Irish language as a communications tool for every day — not just in the classroom.”

However, as mobile phones become increasingly vital parts of doing business around the world, the availability of predictive text is vital for more that just language preservation. According to the Wall Street Journal, “text capability on mobile phones can be vital to economic development and helping people who don’t speak or read English buy and sell goods.”

2 replies
  1. Philip
    Philip says:

    hust a heads up calling Irish gaelic can be very offensive to native speakers as it implies that the language is ths same as other gaelic languages such as Bretan, Welsh, Galig ( Scottish ), Cornish and Manx. Irish like every other language mentioned is very different, calling Irish gaelic is like calling swedish, danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Icelandic all Nordic implying that they are the same. It is acceptable to call our language Irish or Gaelige.

  2. Michael Bauer
    Michael Bauer says:

    It also demonstrates some of the inherent pitfalls. Téacs, while popular initially, soon became obsolete when the tool was not maintained and upgraded properly as technology advanced. In that sense, it’s very dangerous for a small language to “go it alone” with its own stand-alone tool unless there’s a really good long-term strategy in place.
    3 years on, Irish (along with Scots Gaelic and Manx) has re-joined the race but this time by teaming up with an existing, larger project catering for many languages called Adaptxt. Only time will tell how sustainable this one will be but so far, things are looking hopeful with the developers eyeing expansion into Windows Phones. Beò ann an dòchas, as we say!


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