Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 Hardcover – Jul 1 2008
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He combines an extraordinary knowledge of linguistics with a gift for popularizing. TLS. A highly consumable work of pop linguistics. Los Angeles Times Excellent. Crystal presents a compelling argument in favour of texting as a force for linguistic ability. Melissa Katsoulis, The Times
About the Author
David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written or edited over 100 books and published numerous articles for scholarly, professional, and general readerships, in fields ranging from forensic linguistics and ELT to the liturgy and Shakespeare. His books include the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2nd edn 1997), the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2nd edn 2003), Words, Words, Words (OUP 2006), and The Fight for English (OUP 2006).
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Top Customer Reviews
I try to stay ahead of the crowd when it comes to technology, but I have resisted text messaging - and cell phones in general - for some time now. Having spent four years working at a helpdesk, I pretty much hate telephones; many is the time I've cursed the name of Alexander Graham Bell over the years. I do have a cell phone now, but it's only because my parents foisted one on me; unfortunately, they didn't add text messaging to their plan, so I've never really been able to play around with that technology. Working on a university campus, though, I'm certainly aware that the text messages are flying all around me all day long, and I want and need to learn more about the subject. I'm also aware, albeit tangentially, that the quality of student writing seems to be headed in the wrong direction in recent years, and I've been inclined to agree with those who blame that decline in part on the rise of text messaging.Read more ›
I am writing all this in order to give you my overall perspective on texting prior to reading this book. My attitude could be summed up as ambivalent to weary. So I decided to pick up this book and learn more about texting from a professional linguist, someone who has invested a great deal of time to study texting habits and put it in a perspective of language use and development in general. And for the most part, David Crystal does a wonderful job at that. The book is filled with nice and illuminating examples, the parallels to previous changes in our use of language were appropriate and thought provoking. The book does a great job in convincing me that there is really nothing either deviant or inappropriate about how texting came to be. And I was also convinced that people who txt are not ruining the English language nor are they hurting their own writing skills.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book itself wasn't what I thought it would be, though. Crystal's observations are provocative, but it really does advocate a texting-is-perfectly-fine argument. (The back cover blurb says "You decide.")
However, there is one thing that Crystal makes absolutely clear: texting is not much different from other forms of technology that have been introduced, and which came under critical fire. The telegraph and telephone are two prominent examples. I can think of another one: medieval manuscript abbreviations, where words were habitually shortened in order to save space on expensive parchment. Rather than dampening our literary spirits, these things seem to have promoted reading and writing.
In sum, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 is an absolute must read for anyone who is interested in how the new media affects language.
The hype about texting; How weird is texting?; What makes texting distinctive?; What do they do it?; Who texts?; What do they text about?; How do other languages do it?; Why all the fuss?; Glossary; Appendix A - English text abbreviations; Appendix B - Text abbreviations in eleven languages; Index
Crystal is a professor of linguistics in the United Kingdom, and he's spent considerable time and effort studying the subject of text messaging. His main argument is with those who decry "text speak" as the death knell of proper writing skills. He reaches the exact opposite conclusion in his opinion. The ability to shorten, abbreviate, and combine sounds to create written communication has been around as long as language itself, and the core skills involved in creating text messages are the same as a person would use for any other written form of communication. The hysteria of those who don't understand it is countered by solid statistics and research provided by Crystal. In fact, there are entire competitions devoted to creating poetry that is restricted to the 140 character limit often imposed on SMS text messages. While some win the contest with full words (just not very many of them), others push the boundaries of texting and create emotional works using sentences like "txtin iz messin, mi headn'me englis". While not a "language" that would be officially recognized as such, it's difficult to believe that someone couldn't figure out exactly what was meant in those lines. And really, that's the goal of communication.
I found some of the material interesting, as well as his non-gloom-and-doom attitude quite refreshing. But it bogged down at times when it came to detailed statistics about who does what most often. A serious student of linguistics might be interested in knowing how women and men differ in their texting, or how the different age groups might approach it. But from my techo-geek perspective, I found myself in rapid skim mode more often than not. I feel that your enjoyment of the book will be based on proper expectations. If you want a scholarly approach to the subject backed up by research, it's great. If you're more interested in a "hacker's" view of texting, then you may be left wanting...
This is an interesting enough, quick read, but it lets itself down in a couple of presentational respects and also in scope.
Firstly, the title and sale. Already on reviews on this site there is a debate between those who find the book a bit dry and dusty and those who point out it is written by a linguistics professor, so you shouldn't really expect anything else. I suppose composing its title in textspeak was an obvious (if somewhat unimaginative) marketing ploy, but the cheap laugh it gets trades badly against its implied presentation as a book of limited ambition and sophistication - one of those impulse buys at the counter that will wind up on the cistern in the loo, rather than a book you'd buy for its own sake.
As it happens, this is a thoughtful and insightful book written (for the layman - I didn't find it dry in the slightest) by an academic and published by Oxford University Press. But the way OUP has elected to market may cause it to fall betwixt cup and lip.
But - assuming we are meant to treat it as a substantive entry - that leads onto some substantive reservations.
Firstly, I'm not so sure what's so distinctly interesting or permanent about SMS texting over instant messaging, email, discussion forums, blogs, twitter and the manifest other forms of electronic communication that have emerged over the last twenty years that it deserves separate treatment.
To be sure, SMS text has produced some unique artefacts, but it has borrowed more ("LOL"s, preposition abbreviations and emoticons are more prevalent in IM and forum posting) and those few artefacts that are unique (as Crystal recounts) are a function of transient technological limitations inherent in the particular format which are likely to be superseded. As data entry technique and information technology evolve (and they already have: things like predictive text, qwerty keyboards on PDAs, and forthcoming inevitabilities like voice recognition) the SMS idiom will almost certainly wane. I suspect, like the facsimile, it is destined for a short but incandescent trajectory through the communicative cosmos.
Secondly, limiting himself as he does, David Crystal is obliged, in a short book, to look at relatively uninteresting aspects of a minor medium (like texting in a foreign language - it takes him a few pages to illustrate this works much like English does - which is no more than the slightest sober reflection would suggest) at the expense of bigger topics of far more interest and relevance to the whole medium of electronic communication. The linguistic implications of non-destructive abbreviation are significant - but again, more so in the world of general electronic communication (where Larry Lessig's book Code: Version 2.0 or Doug Hofstader's I Am a Strange Loop are far more fascinating) and not SMS in particular. The fact that, almost overnight, we have converted our language by means of ASCII into a numerical code which can thus be manipulated, processed and treated is a revolutionary insight, but by limiting himself to texting where those implications amount to very little, Crystal can't really joint the debate.
Finally, Crystal's motive seems to have been to take wind out of the sails of the sorts of grumpy old men (Guardian op-ed columnists and commentators like John Humphrys) who claim (much as they and their kind have done about email, typewriters, television, immigrants, slang, hip hop, cockneys, and even the great vowel shift) that this new blight is destroying all that is precious our language. That's obviously horse-puckey: that it is evolution and not destruction isn't really news, and this isn't debate I'd bother engaging in even as a media commentator, let alone as an academic. No one takes these old curmudgeons seriously anyway.
There is enough in this book to make it worth reading through, but that won't take you long, and it probably would have been better pitched as a feature article in a Sunday paper. Where it could have taken on the Grumpies on their own turf.
David Crystal's novel dives into the worldwide phenomenon of text messaging. He samples texts from other languages, discusses how it came about in such a short time, why people text at all, what they text about, and does his best to allay any fears that texting is causing the destruction of language.
From the start, it's clear that David Crystal is no hack - he's studied linguistics for many years, authored and co-authored several books, and is even a proponent of a new field of study, "internet linguistics". There is no one better to discuss the global impact of texting.
The writing style of this book weighs heavily on the side of research; there are several annotations and references to websites and other research papers. Some of the chapters only get a cursory glance, such as "the hype about texting" while others, such as "what makes texting distinctive" go into much more detail and give examples of how texting uses at least six combinations of features designed to provoke emotions, shorten words, omit letters, and so forth.
To widen our understanding, David Crystal mentions several non-conventional uses for text messaging: Amber Alerts, texting championships, texting poetry competitions, mobile phone books, and several others. He talks about the usage of texting in several countries, and even discusses how it meshes/clashes with cultural folkways and mores.
But is it out to destroy language? It doesn't seem like it. Since texting requires sophisticated abilities in reading, writing and comprehension, people who lack these skills aren't likely to adopt texting as their preferred method of communication.
Using his singular wit, David Crystal poses that if texting was proposed with the pitch below, it would never have existed at all:
"I have this great idea. A new way of person-to-person communication, using your phone. The users won't have a familiar keyboard. Their fingers will have trouble finding the keys. They will be able to send messages, but with no more than 160 characters at a time. The writing on the screens will be small and difficult to read, especially if you have a visual handicap. The messages will arrive at any time, interrupting your daily routine or your sleep. Oh, and every now and again you won't be able to send or receive anything because your battery will run out."
After the 8 chapters are finished, there are 2 appendices. The first discusses English text abbreviations, and the other shows text abbreviations from 11 different languages.
If you're interested in linguistics, or if you've ever sent a text message, this book will definitely entertain and educate you.
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