Teachers and parents alike bemoan texting as the fall of literacy, turning writing into an informal landscape that neglects the tenets of language. But during his TED talk, linguist John McWhorter introduced a more positive view of the language-changing phenomenon: Texting is actually a “linguistic miracle happening right under our noses.”
McWhorter argued that language is not necessarily the written word. “If humanity existed for 24 hours, writing only came around at 11:07 p.m.,” he said. So the rest of that time was taken up by the spoken word, the natural conversational tone that doesn’t always come through in writing.
In time, though, texting has made it possible to mimic the cadence of a conversation with its near instantaneous messaging ability. And through this mode of writing the way we speak has led to our language developing things like LOL. Most people don’t use LOL when they’re actually laughing out loud. McWhorter believes it’s become something more subtle than that, a way of communicating empathy without the physical gestures that would normally do that job.
“Emergent complexity, this is what we’re seeing in this fingered speech,” he said.
And that’s a good thing. It’s often tossed around that being bilingual is good for your mind–and even makes you smarter–but so is being bidialectal. McWhorter calls texting an expansion of linguistic repertoire, which will only keep expanding.
“If I could go into the future, to 2033, I would ask to see a sheaf of texts written by 16-year-old girls,” McWhorter says. “I want to see where language has developed since our times.”