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黄涛   2008-11-27 09:01 【 】【我要纠错


  In an experiment, the more adept children were at text messaging, the better they did in spelling and writing.

  The most hotly contested controversy sparked by the text-messaging phenomenon of the past eight years is over truant letters. Textese(Text(手机短信)+ ese(用语))组成, a newly born dialect of English that subverts letters and numbers to produce ultra-concise words and sentiments, is horrifying language loyalists and pedagogues. And their fears are stoked by some staggering numbers: this year the world is on track to produce 2.3 trillion messages——a nearly 20 percent increase from 2007 and almost 150 percent from 2000. The accompanying revenue for telephone companies is growing nearly as fast——to an estimated $ 60 billion this year. In the English-speaking world, Britain alone generates well over 6 billion messages every month. People are communicating more and faster than ever, but some worry that, as textese drops consonants, vowels and punctuation and makes no distinction between letters and numbers, people will no longer know how we were really supposed to communicate. Will text messaging produce generations of illiterates? Could this——OMG(Oh my God)——be the death of English language?

  Those raising the alarm aren't linguist. They are teachers who have had to red-pen some ridiculous practices in high-school papers and concerned citizens who believe it their moral duty to write grammar books. The latter can be quite prominent, like John Humphrys, a television broadcaster and household name in Britain, for whom texting is vandalism and Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, who actually enjoys texting so much she never abbreviates. Britain, one of the first countries where texting became a national habit, has also produced some of the most bitter anti-texting vitriol, textese wrote John Sutherland in The Guardian, masks dyslexia. But linguists, if anyone is paying attention, have kept quiet on this score——until now. In a new book, Britain's most prolific linguist finally sets a few things straight.

  David Crystal's Txtng: the Gr 8 Db8 (Oxford) makes two general points: that the language of texting is hardly as deviant as people think, and that texting actually makes young people better communicators, not worse. Crystal spells out the first point by marshalling real linguistic evidence. He breaks down the distinctive elements of texting language——pictograms, initialisms, or acronyms; contractions and others——and points out similar examples in linguistic practice from the ancient Egyptians to 20th century broadcasting. Shakespeare freely used elisions, novel syntax and several thousand made-up words (his own name was signed in six different ways)。 Even some common conventions are relatively novel: rules for using the oft-abused apostrophe were set only in the middle of the 19th century. The point is that tailored text predates the text message, so we might as well accept that ours is a language of vandals. Who even knows what p.m. stands for? (Post meridiem, Latin for after midday, first recorded by a lazy delinquent in 1666. )

  Where the opponents see destruction, Crystal sees growth. He believes in the same theory of evolution for language as some evolutionary biologists do for life: change isn't gradual. Monumental developments interrupt periods of stagnation, always as a result of crucial external developments. The American Revolution had much greater consequences for the English language than texting has had thus far. The resulting differences between American and British English, Crystal says, are more pronounced than the differences between, say, the language of newspapers and text messages. (Interestingly, there are hardly any differences between American and Britain texting.)

  As soon as linguists began to peer into the uproar over texting, researchers examined the effects of texting experimentally. The results disproved conventional wisdom: in one British experiment last year, children who texted——and who wielded plenty of abbreviations——scored higher on reading and vocabulary tests. In fact, the more adept they were at abbreviating, the better they did in spelling and writing. Far from being a means to getting around literacy, texting seems to give literacy a boost. The effect is similar to what happens when parents chat away to infants or read to toddlers: the more exposure children get to language, by whatever means, the more verbally skilled they become. Before you can write abbreviated forms effectively and play with them, you need to have a sense of how the sounds of your language relate to the letters, says Crystal. The same study also found the children with the highest scores to be the first to have gotten their own cell phones.

  Which doesn't let the teenager who LOLS in a term paper off the hook——but that's not so much a question of language ability as of judgment. It, too, should go the way of all slang ever inappropriately used in a classroom——rebuked with a red pen, not seized upon as a symptom of generational decline. Even if electronic communication engenders its own kind of carelessness, it's no worse than the carelessness of academic jargon or journalistic shorthand. It certainly doesn't engender stupidity. One look at the winners of text-poetry contests in Britain proves that the force behind texting is a tendency for innovation, not linguistic laziness. Electronic communication, Crystal says, has introduced that kind of creative spirit into spelling once again. That heathen Shakespeare would have been onboard.

  (Newsweek <<新闻周刊>>,August,2,2008)


  提出警告的并非语言学家。他们中有不得不批改中学学生试卷中一些荒唐用法的老师,也有认为自己有道德义务编写语法书的忧虑的公民。后者包括相当知名的人物,如英国家喻户晓的电视主播约翰汉氟莱斯,他认为短信是“对文化的恶意破坏行为”。还有《吃、射、走》一书的作者林恩特拉斯,她实际上非常喜欢发短信因而从不使用缩写。英国是首批发短信已成国民习惯的国家之一,但这里也产生了针对短信行为的最激烈尖刻的批评。约翰萨瑟兰在《卫报》上写到:“发短信是针对诵读困难的掩饰。” 但语言学家(如果当中有谁关注此事的话)却至今对此保持沉默。英国最高产的语言学家最终在一本新著中澄清了几件事。

  戴维克里斯特尔所著的《发短信:大讨论》(牛津大学出版社出版)中提出了两大论点:一是短信语言并不像人们想的那样离经叛道,二是发短信实际上使年轻人交流得更好,而不是更差。克里斯特尔通过收集现实中语言例证清楚地阐述了第一点。他分析了短信语言的特殊要素——象形文字,词首字母缩略或缩拼词,缩略词等。他还列举自古埃及文字到20世纪广播中都存在的类似语言应用的例证。莎士比亚随意使用的省音、新奇句法和数千个自造词(他的名字便有6种不同的签法)。即使是一些常见用法也是相对新奇的:常被滥用的省字号撇号的用法规则直到19世纪中叶才定型。重要的是规范过的语言先于短信的出现,所以我们也可以认为我们的语言是恣意破坏文化者的语言。谁知道p.m.代表什么呢?(Post meridiem,拉丁语“中午之后”,1666年由一位懒散的失职者首次记录。)




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