For years the language of instant messaging or text speak (txt spk) has been targeted in the popular media as hard evidence of the ongoing decline in literacy. In 2003, The Daily Telegraph published an article about a 13-year-old girl who allegedly wrote an English essay in txt spk shorthand, which baffled her teacher. The article stated that the girl’s essay began with the sentence:
“My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we usd 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.”
Translation: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York, it’s a great place.”
In a 2007 article for the Daily Mail, John Humphreys compared txt spk “vandals” with Genghis Khan, and accused them of “pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary.” Other accounts of the ongoing moral panic caused by the vile instant messaging shorthand are numerous.
For years, scholars have been challenging such widespread txt spk misconceptions. One of the leading scholars in this field is David Crystal, who gave a number of talks and wrote a book “Txtng: the Gr8 Db8” in an attempt to dispute the myths of the new communication technologies.
Contrary to the popular beliefs, Crystal claims that the language of instant messaging does operate according to rules, many of which have existed for decades or even centuries. According to Crystal “Texting may be using a new technology, but its linguistic processes are centuries old.” This claim has recently acquired a new dimension, with the uncovering of 20 notes hand-written by Queen Victoria in the last four years of her life.
The letters addressed to Victoria’s Commissioner at Balmoral, James Forbes reveal the Queen’s fondness for using abbreviations such as “wh” for “which”, “shd” for “should”, “abt” for “about” and “wd.” for “would”. Spokesman Andrew Currie commented: “The writing is quite untidy and the abbreviations are interesting — a sort of early form of texting that suggest Queen Victoria was 100 years ahead of her time.”
This fascinating collection soon to be auctioned off is definite proof of Queen Victoria’s fondness of shorthand and rebuses alongside many of her contemporaries, among them the celebrated author Lewis Carol. Such historical finds again show what linguists have been claiming for years: instant messaging shorthand is hardly a novelty, it has existed for centuries, and it has always been limited to a specific context and/or medium.