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Lost In Translation

by fatweb

By Kate Pierson

C u 2mo @ skool l8rz

Was that acronym loaded, abbreviation based, colloquial communication lost on you? Did you find yourself, through squinted eyes, having to dissect each particle of meaning in order to translate the full idea of this chatspeak?

Fear not, you’re not the only one on whom these code words are lost in translation. But if the global prevalence of this form of communication is a tell-tale sign of what’s to come – you, and the rest of modern civilisation, best be brushing up on your text lingo, because the written word’s been put through the language blender and has emerged in a completely different form.

While this might be a dramatic revolution of the English language, it’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last time language has become aquainted with change. Fact is, our mother tongue has undergone an ongoing literal and audial metamorphosis since the dawn of communication. Some changes have been organic, others circumstantial and many intentional.

It was the study of linguistics that emerged in order to understand and document the evolution of our languages.

In the momentum of the millennium, this new strain of language has been born from the advent and globalisation of technology. Fondly referred to as SMS, txtese and chatspeak, ‘text’ as it is most commonly identified, has grown from infancy to adulthood in a technological heartbeat, befriending millions of friends the world over along the way.


These techno-savvy friends have played their part in shaping, influencing and personalising this breed of language. After all, it’s human nature to re-engineer the wheel. In this case, text language has been developed to accommodate the more contemporary lifestyle and from slight nuances to dramatic substitutions (like swapping letters for numerals), the presence of text language in varying strains is now ubiquitous.

It has found its way into many written forms of communication, becoming a default setting in most people’s dialect. Because when you’re a material boy or girl in a material world, as most are these days, conversing in text is considered the contemporary, cost effective, time efficient mode of expression.

And sure text has its benefits, but following the November 2006 political controversy sparked by ambiguity over the existing NCEA examination protocols, there has been great discussion in the media here and abroad, regarding how this paradigm shift may affect, or has affected, the education sector.

This debate brought questions of educational ethics to the fore, as traditionalists like the National party spoke out against the speculated changes to rules and regulations of NCEA examinations. Former education spokesman Bill English damned any relaxation of formal language utilised in exams, saying text language had only been devised as a means of social chat.

In response to the swirling speculations, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority spoke out to voice its active discouragement of candidates using abbreviations in their examination scripts and NZQA deputy chief executive Bali Haque said at the time, contrary to widespread rumour, there had been no change to the authority’s policy in regard to abbreviations in exams.

The NZQA was clear in its stance that colloquial language of this nature could compromise how effectively participants demonstrated their understanding of a subject. “The candidates’ priority at all times should be to ensure their answers are clearly understandable to markers. The best way to do this is to use standard English,” Haque said.

Almost four years on from this debate, the relationship between text and education is still being explored with questions regarding the negative impact of text on the English language circulating in the media midst.

Doctor Libby Limbrick, head of the University of Auckland School of Arts, Languages and Literacies department and the chairperson of Storylines, has introduced an interesting perspective into the conversation

“Text is becoming like a dialect,” she says. “It is not replacing, nor should it ever replace conventional language. We accept different cultural and community dialects in the playground and this is the same thing. Text language is an additional form of communication as opposed to a substitute.”


Doctor Limbrick says while text language is not appropriate or acceptable when written communication is the focus of the task at hand, she says it can be a strong tool for generating ideas. “There is no reason why it cannot be used to generate communication, but it is not appropriate for a presentation of the facts in a carefully structured and formal report or story. Because often, very fine nuances of meaning are lost in a text message and even in an email.”

Viewing texting as a secondary language and mode of communication for particular purposes is the best way to contextualise its place and presence within the education system and in the wider society, she adds.

“Text can be used positively and powerfully in education within an appropriate context. It is a useful tool if used well because it also makes students think about the sounds of language.

“For instance, when they are a substituting the word ‘ate’ with the letter eight, they are recognising these are similar in sound. Texting helps students play with language and helps them explore their phonetic awareness.”

Doctor Limbrick says looking at the social benefits of texting in an education environment is also important and she acknowledges the value of text as a medium for those who cannot always communicate with ease in the school environment.

“Students with hearing impairments have been relatively isolated in past years, but with texting and abbreviated language they can socialise, network and build relationships that were difficult to build before,” she explains.

So, to text, or not to text? That is the question.

Is there an answer? Not a definitive one.

Until a direct correlation between texting and a decrease in human intelligence is established, this new breed of language and the technological mediums through which it is delivered, will remain a relatively harmless technological tool. Except of course, the potential threat of repetitive strain injury attached to what’s known as TMT – too much texting.

And as for text language and its presence in the education sector, it will be deemed a niche or a nuisance.

It simply depends on who you’re asking.

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