Txt tlk – the advent of modern literature?

As the media would have it, apparently my ‘m8s’ are filling up my inbox with ‘ C U @ pub?! : ) : ) XxX’. It is often a topic of heated dispute whether we are desecrating the English language in our youthful exuberance or if the older generation should just get with it. The irony is that my mum uses text slang more than I do. My phone is more likely to be struck with a case of ‘WHR RU??XXX’ from my parents than my peers. There is a patent difference between the perceived use of language in text message and actual use, and consequently we could be in danger of overlooking an emerging text-literature movement.

Either in an effort to talk to me in my own language or maybe out of a self-indulged love of abbreviation, the baby boomers have failed to notice my lack of ‘txt tlk’. According to linguist David Crystal, 70-80% of texts are written in Standard English. Yet texting remains an undeniably lazy student-friendly method of communication, allowing us to procrastinate hours away, find our friends in crowded clubs or spinelessly dump significant others.

With the rise of unlimited text messaging it is no longer necessary to cramp messages into 154 characters in an effort to preserve credit. But the concept of condensed communication had lingered. Inspired by a casual context in which we can play with language and disregard grammar clichés text is becoming an art form in its own right.

Thanks to the media panic over the corrupting influence of text, mutinous competitions have sprung up celebrating text as an art medium. From The GUARDIAN to T-Mobile (yes…that very same GUARDIAN that published ‘The Horrors of Text Speak’) text competitions which encourage a complete neglect of grammar are becoming widespread, with fabulously diverse results. The winning entry in the Guardian’s text poetry competition highlights this wonderfully.

I left my pictur
on th ground wher u walk
so that somday if th sun was jst right
& th rain didnt wash me awa u
might c me out of th corner of yr i & pic me up
Emma Passmore

Poignant poetry has been created through deliberately deviant use of grammar. Their shameless abuse of syntax is a beautiful and striking feature. The prosaic has become the poetic.

Yet the abbreviations that are such a distinct feature of Emma’s poem are markedly absent from my own inbox. Dr Kevin Harvey, discourse and corpus expert at the University of Nottingham, told us that research has shown the rebus is in fact uncommon in text message use. Text literature is not only fast becoming a distinctive art genre but is diverging from actual text messaging.

‘Txting’ has changed the way we communicate and the way we perceive literature. Creative play with boundaries of grammar and laconicism are the only limits within this emerging genre. Indeed the weekly ‘Txt Lit’ competition makes a point of not using ‘the abbreviated language associated with mobile phones’. Dr Harvey comments that “using abbreviated form is a source of creativity” and “compels you to be compact and succinct”.

These skills are reminiscent of the haiku. A flattering comparison – haikus are notoriously brief
and notoriously difficult to compose. As time is increasingly escaping us in our fast-paced lifestyles it is no coincidence that the up-and-coming art form can be read in seconds.

Born from a method of correspondence itself, text literature has the power to communicate intimate, poignant and disquieting messages in fewer words than it takes to order a Dino’s. As Harvey says “There is no reason a text cannot be inspiring”.

Jenna Hutber


Leave a Reply