texting and the world


But the lists also suggest that texting has accelerated a tendency toward the Englishing of world languages. Under the constraints of the numeric-keypad technology, English has some advantages. The average English word has only five letters; the average Inuit word, for example, has fourteen. English has relatively few characters; Ethiopian has three hundred and forty-five symbols, which do not fit on most keypads. English rarely uses diacritical marks, and it is not heavily inflected. Languages with diacritical marks, such as Czech, almost always drop them in text messages. Portuguese texters often substitute “m” for the tilde. Some Chinese texters use Pinyin—that is, the practice of writing Chinese words using the Roman alphabet.

But English is also the language of much of the world’s popular culture. Sometimes it is more convenient to use the English term, but often it is the aesthetically preferred term—the cooler expression. Texters in all eleven languages that Crystal lists use “lol,” “u,” “brb,” and “gr8,” all English-based shorthands. The Dutch use “2m” to mean “tomorrow”; the French have been known to use “now,” which is a lot easier to type than “maintenant.” And there is what is known as “code-mixing,” in which two languages—one of them invariably English—are conflated in a single expression. Germans write “mbsseg” to mean “mail back so schnell es geht” (“as fast as you can”). So texting has probably done some damage to the planet’s cultural ecology, to lingo-diversity. People are better able to communicate across national borders, but at some cost to variation.

more from The New Yorker here.