The above news posting made me feel sick. For a while, I considered writing a piece about how instant messaging, e-mail, and SMS has tainted the value of the printed word, but I often felt that the situation was not as urgent as I originally suspected. When I first heard someone actually say "Lol" in a spoken conversation, I knew things were bad, but I thought we were still some years away from disgusting constructions like "2B? NT2B?"
How wrong I was. I'm not part of that generation where computer ownership was considered a luxury for most high school children; we were expected to submit most things typed and printed. However, back then, we still used our pencils most of the time. We were accustomed to writing out entire words, articulating our feelings with a healthy supply of adjectives. Abbreviations were frowned upon, and we were aware that contractions weakened the language already. Consider the following two statements; it is clear which one is stronger.
"I won't eat this spinach."
"I will not eat this spinach."
The contraction used in the first statement weakens the emphasis of the negation; I would expect that with enough coercing, I could convince the writer of the first statement to eat the spinach. The second statement, however, signifies a bold defiance against spinach-eating that one would take all the way to the grave. For example, it would have been much less effective had William Wallace told the Englishmen that "You can take our lives, but you can't take our freedom." in Braveheart. That he explicitly says, "You can not take our freedom" emphatically suggests that this mans freedom was not something he would compromise under any circumstances.
You will not find many contractions in classical texts. They became common because of tongue laziness, as pronouncing too many syllables can quickly become tiresome; now, it is a perfectly common and normal part of speech. Lots of abbreviations have also been accepted as common enough to be used in formal writing. Nowadays, we do not even know what the acronyms mean, but still use them in our writing.
It is possible, perhaps likely, that common internet and SMS terms like "lol", "brb", and "l8r" will embed themselves into regular grammar in the same way. Some may say that this is just the natural evolution of language, and there is no reason to prevent it. However, many of these terms are incredibly stupid and ingenuine, and for the later generations who have been writing like this all their lives, that lack of authenticity will likely weaken the language even further.
Seriously, who actually laughs out loud when they type "lol"? Is there anyone who actually rolls on the floor laughing after typing "rofl"? Originally intended as abbreviations, these have become terms in themselves now which have been corrupted even further through contructions like "lolz", "loooooll!!11", and "rofflez!!"; these are indications that mainstream acceptance of the original terms has already begun. I do not want to even get started on the unpronounceable, meaningless terms like "pwn", which is at least two mistakes away from actual English.
Text messaging on mobile phones, or SMS, has made things far worse. Nowadays, most mobile phones are advanced enough that users can send full sentences, without resorting to abbreviating every second word. However, the culture of abbreviation in mobile technology has been so pervasive that these habits have persisted, and it is considered uncool to actually write out entire words. Grammar and spelling is so 20th century, after all. I remember watching a cousin of mine in India chatting on MSN. When accidentally writing "How are you?", she promptly deleted her last two words and wrote "How r u?" instead. After all, those pesky vowels sure complicate things.
For Muslims, the Islamic greeting of "Assalamu'alaykum" has not been spared from this corruption. This is a beautiful greeting which is shared by over a billion people worldwide, irrespective of language, culture, or sect; there is probably no other phrase in any language which matches the prevalence of this greeting. Every once in a while, however, I will get contacted on MSN Messenger with the message "aa". Many Muslims will reply with "ws", to imply "Wa'alaykum assalam." Our greeting is beautiful, "May Peace be with you." The more people use "aa" and "ws", the more likely this greeting will go the ways of "Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem", which has been reduced to a meaningless "786" in much of the Muslim world.
For those of you who continue to spell out words entirely in their instant messaging conversations, kudos to you. You will find me responding accordingly. But if you insist on "aa"ing me, then I can not promise you a meaningful discussion. And if you ever say "rofl", you better be rolling on the floor, laughing. Otherwise, I will have a very hard time believing anything else you say.
Update 8.1.2006: Apparently, research has proven my assertions false:
Texting helps teens' grammar | The Globe and Mail
The ironic part is the "verbing" of the word "text" in the title of the article, which is a grammatical failing in itself.