How social media influences language

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If you could keep up with the above conversation, you are probably either a parent keeping abreast of your child’s communication methods or a member of the more youthful side of our society and a strong ‘mother-tongue user’ of it.

When texting, a lot of people use what is referred to as techspeak. Techspeak includes shortcuts and the omission of non-essential letters, resulting in “wud” for “would”. The shortcuts include acronyms (e.g. “LOL” for “laugh out loud”), emojis (pictures) and homophones (e.g. ‘gr8’ for ‘great’). (

Some people may find this fairly new evolution in language a source of information or an opportunity for linguistic research and analysis, but many academics and researchers say that texting is having a detrimental effect on normal grammar rules and on learners’ linguistic abilities.

Recently a study has been conducted to determine the perspectives of Grade 8 and 9 educators in Gauteng regarding the possible influence of text messaging on certain aspects of learners’ written language skills. The results indicated that in the educators’ opinion, SMS language (or texting) has a negative effect on Grade 8 and 9 learners’ written language skills in English as a Home Language. These educators pointed out that SMS language may cause learners to end up with diminished knowledge of Standard South African English. (South African Journal of Education © 2011 EASA Vol 31:475-487)

It is a fact that language is not static but evolves over time, and that these changes are greatly determined and influenced by the users of the language. So isn’t texting just an evolution of the English language that should be embraced rather than shunned as a threat to the purity of the language? In the book Txtng The gr8 db8 (published by Oxford University Press), linguistics professor David Crystal makes it clear that in his opinion, texting is not a bad thing for language.

John McWhorter’s TED talk (2013) offers an interesting take on this debate. His perspective is that texting is a form of spoken language rather than a form of writing. There is usually quite a difference between how someone speaks and how they write a formal piece of text. Thus it makes sense to see the two areas of language as separate organisms. McWhorter is not worried about the influence SMS language has on the youth or society as a whole and thinks that “civilization is fine … worldwide people speak differently from the way they write, and texting – quick, casual and only intended to be read once – is actually a way of talking with your fingers”.

Let us know what you think by commenting on this article.

Written by Marzanne Janse van Rensburg


One Response

  1. Shirley Sanby

    September 9, 2016 11:59 am

    Interesting debate, and even more interesting in our particular situation where techspeak is based on English, while that is not the first language for so many youth. How does the use of sms language influence the understanding of English, both written and spoken? Is the language an evolution into a 3rd form? Thanks for a thought-provoking read.


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