Monday, November 3, 2008

Scholarly Book Abstract

David Crystal. Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: OUP, 2008.

David Crystal’s new book has presented the issue of the “linguistic phenomenon” of text messaging. His main thesis is that much like music crazes, cultural movements, and every other new and possibly disruptive introduction to the cultural sphere is met with raised eyebrows, so this current aversion to text messaging and what it is “doing to our society” will soon fade into the distance, standing alongside other norms akin to the rock and roll and low-rise jeans. To Crystal, all of these myths surrounding the negative associations with text and instant messaging are unfounded, or are at the very least open to discussion that is not happening frequently in the public sphere. Much like the majority of scholarly research that has been done in the past that pokes fun at the idea that text messaging is the newest evil in our society, Crystal simultaneously statistically verifies that the prevalence of the more obscure text messaging trends (ie those only found in text-message dictionaries online) are really not as common as one would think, and that the majority of text message acronyms tend to be used for the sake of brevity and convenience and as a space-saving device rather than out of sheer laziness or illiteracy.

David Crystal lays out his book and divides his thesis into several separate questions, mostly surrounding the nature of what texting is and what makes it distinct from other forms of language and communication; why there’s a hype about it; why people participate in the practice/mode of communication; who are the ones who participate in this form of CMC (computer-mediated communication); and the way in which other language utilize texting. This study is different from most in that it explores not just e-English but also the ways in which other nations and languages (Arabic, Finnish, French, Cantonese, to name a few) utilize text messaging norms such as word truncation and acronyms. Basically a collection of the majority of scholarly studies that have been done on the topic of texting, Crystal’s text lays out important questions attempting not to leave out any details.

The majority of the terms defined by Crystal are present within the text. He does not have a glossary at the end of his text, only an index. If there is a term that he chooses to abbreviate throughout the text, he will introduce it in its full form. Even terms such as SMS (short message service) are spelled out within the text so there is absolutely no confusion on the part of the reader, who might run the risk of becoming lost in acronym land. The majority of the terms used here are not new to his text; these terms are used by both industry professionals and by the common man. He speaks of some technologies that everyone may not be familiar with, such as MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) and Japanese DoCoMo (a mobile operator within Japan). This book is certainly written for the layman, and therefore does not leave much to be confused. He does an excellent job of explaining all of his terms, and since this text is an important work that should be read by anyone interested in participating in the CMC discourse Crystal does not write to confuse the reader.

One of the areas where I feel this text fell short was in the realm of redundancy. So many articles have been written in this topic that is it difficult to read another that is simply a long-winded article that could be published in a magazine. On that note, it is a book that needed to be written and presented to the public without presumptions that the audience will primarily be a scholarly one. Crystal is smart in presenting this text that is steeped in information in the way that he has chosen, but he certainly could have used to include more data and a more concise corpus much like has been done in the empirical research surrounding sentence structures and lengths (see Article Abstract #2). While there are some portions of Crystal’s book that focus on numbers, for me it wasn’t enough to maintain a well-written and well-founded ground.

I believe that David Crystal’s text Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 is important to the field of Media Studies and to the research I hope to continue in this field during my time at The New School. I am interested primarily in the way in which linguistics and new media play off of each other, work together, and create these opposing discourses within the public sphere. It is important that we ask these questions about the nature of the media with which we are interacting, and equally important that the answers to these questions be well founded in research and data. This text, along with other studies that have been done which are extremely similar to this text, attempts to bring to light truths about the tendencies and trends of those who communicate and function within the sphere of and with the devices of new media.

It is important to recognize the way in which we as humans use language in every facet, whether that be in the papers and personal letters we write, the lectures we give, the films we choose to make, the voices and the language we utilize to convey our points in the public and private realms. David Crystal concludes that texting does not damage writing skills; in fact, he presents studies that prove that those who participate in text messaging could quite possibly be very gifted writers. Text message word truncation and the use of acronyms is actually fairly creative, and is usually used a means of saving time when writing and saving space on a small computerized plastic screen on cellular devices. And besides, these acronyms and some of these word truncations have actually been used for years: take for example RSVP, VIP, SWAK, etc. Text messaging is no more destroying the English (or for that matter, Arabic, Finnish, French and Cantonese) language than the Internet is destroying interpersonal communication and interaction. Look at social networking sites: would one who fell out of touch with a former classmate or family member have as much luck finding them again without the help of Facebook? I think not. In this way, Crystal’s work (along with the myriad other books he has written) is an essential addition to the metadiscourse of CMC.

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