FreshAngles: High School Views

SparkAction
August 17, 2003
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English Teacher's, Beware
by Andrew Chong


Cn u r33d dis? F u cn, thn u've prob IMed sum1 b4.

Translation: "Can you read this? If you can, then you've probably instant messenged some one before." Such slang is commonly used when teens chat through instant messaging (IM) programs such as AOL's AIM, ICQ, or MSN Messenger, or phone-to-phone text messengers. Could this online jargon be a danger to the English language?

One poor teacher in Britain had to suffer through this 13-year-old's essay about her summer vacation: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 : kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc."

Translation: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend, and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York, it's a great place."

Not surprisingly, many educators have begun to wonder if English is deteriorating; to the uninitiated, online conversations are barely recognizable as English. A collection of abbreviations, acronyms, and phonetic replacements make up a kind of Internet short-hand text that has been dubbed hax0r-speak by some, in imitation of the hackers, programmers, and other computer geeks who have been using the Internet to communicate since the early 1980s.

They have become notorious for their use of improper grammar and slang in their messages and programs. This was due in part to the fact that some computer geeks didn't, and still don't, know how to write properly. But many jargon terms were created to accelerate typing or even to look cool.

Nowadays, many teens who chat online have adopted some form of abbreviation. Even the popular search engine Google lists hax0r as a possible selection in its language preferences. Here is a short list of common hax0r phrases:

wut's ^? - What's up?
lol - laughing out loud
rofl - rolling on the floor laughing
:) - smiling, happy
:( - frowning, unhappy
;) - winking, joking
4eva - forever
y? - why?
u - you
brb - be right back
g2g - got to go
plz - please
pos - parent over shoulder reading conversation
ttyl - talk to you later
j/k - just kidding
l8r - later

Teachers worry that the popularity of hax0r will affect the English language in life outside the Net. The language has been leaking from online chats into everyday conversation; teens have been known to spell out lol as "el-oh-el" or jk as "jay-kay." And just look at the competition held by Ship of Fools, an online satirical Christian magazine, to shorten the Lord's Prayer to 160 characters or less. The winner, British college student Matthew Campbell, wrote this:

"dad@hvn, ur spshl. we want wot u want &urth2b like hvn. giv us food & 4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz. don't test us! save us! bcos we kno ur boss, ur tuf & ur cool 4 eva! ok?"

But concern over hax0r may be premature, according to Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics professor at Stanford University. "There's nothing new about truncation," he says. "The telegraph came in the 19th century. Everybody was alarmed about its effects on the language. 'People will leave out definite articles from now on,' or, 'They won't put tenses on their verbs because of the influences of the telegraph." But that's not what happened." The first typewriters, arcade games, computer word processors, and even rock and roll songs received similar responses.

Although the possible implications of language evolution are real, they have never before occurred on such a large scale over a short period of time. "Every technology of communication brings with it its own characteristic linguistic games and tropes and way of saying things," Nunberg says, "and IM is just another one of those." s0 hax0r is still kewl.


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