John McWhorter: Texting and the False “Decline” of Language

A few days ago, my roommate and I butted heads over the consequences of loosening conventions in writing. I defended the grammatical principles beaten into me at a young age, while he championed a fluid notion of language that allows for greater experimentation. Soon, it became clear that we weren’t really talking about the same things.

Linguist and Columbia professor John McWhorter’s TED talk on the new frontier of communication illustrates the difference between writing and sending texts, which he sees as a kind of speech. Check out his presentation, called “Txtng is killing language. JK!!!” It made me think more critically about the sort of communication associated with our generation, and how texting – or being a good “texter” – requires a level of savoir faire not typically accorded it.

Do you agree with McWhorter that there are advantages to developing fluency in the language of texting? Can people younger than we are learn the difference between two formal levels of writing? Has society always been distrustful of the vulgar and vernacular? (Will our parents ever grasp the nuances of texting, or will they always sound so unhip?)

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