In the midst of complications due to an aging population, it is hard to imagine the impact of youth culture. Youth culture still has a big impact on American culture today, especially the specialized language characteristic of youth culture. Chatspeak and 13375P34k (leetspeak) are becoming more and more common among the youth. Many educators believe that they are detrimental to the youth’s writing skills, but they fail to realize the deep rhetorical strategies these two dialects employ.
With every movement there is a countermovement, and chatspeak is not an exception. Educators worry that technology would lower youth’s writing standards by encouraging them to use common abbreviations (chatspeak) when conveying ideas. There is a general consensus that chatspeak should be limited to informal situations, and students should use formal English in schoolwork. Amazingly, even some young students share this opinion, such as Silver Birch, a thirteen year old Canadian student believes that chatspeak “greatly lowers vocabulary and the ability to spell words properly” (Birch).
Is it possible for chatspeak to overcome its countermovement and survive as part of standard slang? Writers and educators are split on this issue. Those who disagree argue that “there are instances where slang can be used in dialogue” and the writer can use slang in “order for dialogue to appear natural,” whereas “chatspeak is very limited” and does not have a place in writing (Abao). However, there are others who acknowledge the dynamics of language: “[a]s language change, it is possible that some of the chat speak may be accepted” (Zhang). Therefore, because chatspeak is “evolving as a human mode of communication” and “either now or eventually, there would be a number of rhetorical strategies used” with chatspeak (Seig). The main problem is the majority of chatspeak users are teenagers, and most of the resistance stems from adults who do not understand the language. As technology develops, adults cannot ignore the influence of teenage lingo, and it is possible for chatspeak to gain popularity and acceptance.
Many people are using instant messaging instead of email or telephone to communicate to friends, family, and even co-workers and teachers. According to America Online, a popular provider of instant messaging software, instant messaging “usage ran 90 percent among those age 13 to 21; 71 percent for ages 22 to 34; 55 percent for ages 35 to 54; and 48 percent for 55 and older” (Walker). This form of communication limits the expression of ideas to pure text, so it is hard for users to express emotions such as happiness, sadness, sarcasm, etc. To solve this problem, people use emoticons, or smileys, which are ASCII art where “short sequence[s] of printable characters is used to resemble a facial expression and convey an emotion” (“Internet slang”). This method is particularly effective because an emoticon such as “T_T” which is a picture of the face of a crying person, with tears actively running down his cheeks, conveys the sense of sadness much better than the typed words “I am sad and crying.” Instant messaging users also use a plethora of common and easily understood acronyms and abbreviations to make an instant messaging conversation flow at as quickly as a normal spoken conversation. “Probably the most commonly used example of this is ‘LOL’, which means ‘Laughing out Loud’” (“Internet Slang”), which employs both the convenience of acronyms and the visual expression of laughing. With the development of chatspeak, people can effectively carry on more than one conversation with instant messaging programs. Talk about multitasking!
A phenomenon occurring among the youth now is the incorporation of chatspeak in common dialogue. This is partially due to the expressions that are hard to convey emoticons or even abbreviations. For example, if a person wants to sigh, it is easy to convey that over the phone. However, there is no way to convey this simple expression in text, so many people use asterisks to denote actions and tones, so they use “*sigh*” to express the act of sighing. This notation can be used for a number of actions and sounds, such as groaning, yawning, ranting, and shaking fists. Many youths who use instant messaging often would actually say “sigh” while simultaneously sighing in normal, real life conversations. This deliberate verbalization of a verb is very natural, and can go almost unnoticed. This contradicts the assertion that chatspeak cannot be used in dialogue because it is not natural (Abao). Spoken chatspeak is not limited to action verbs. Acronyms and abbreviations are also “finding [their] way to normal conversations outside of internet use” (“Internet slang”). From the example used earlier, “LOL” can be pronounced either letter by letter “or phonetically, as an acronym (‘Lawl’)” (“Internet slang”). It is highly probable that instant messaging lingo can be the new spoken slang.
Another popular but slightly less known internet language is 1337, short for 13375P34k or leetspeak. The word itself “is a degenerative form of the word ‘elite’” that was first “used as an adjective” that “carries the same meaning [of elite quality] when referring to either game prowess or, in original usage, hacking expertise of another person” and then used “as an expletive in reaction to a demonstration of” gaming or hacking (“Leet”). The language 1337, as exemplified by its name, uses gratuitous amounts of numbers and symbols in place of letters and sounds (“Leet”). Critics argue that 1337 is just a glorified form of chatspeak, and thus even more detrimental to teens’ language and writing skills. However, this is not true because 1337 is far from being as mainstream as chatspeak and does not focus on simplifying language for convenience. For example, “‘Bob rocks’ is weaker than ‘Bob r0xx0rz’ (note spelling), which is weaker than ‘Bob is t3h r0xx0rz’ (note grammar), which is weaker than something like ‘OMFG D00d Bob is t3h UBER 1337 R0XX0RZ’” (“Leet”). This complication of the phrase “Bob rocks” and turning the verb “rocks” into a noun and back to a verb adds more emphasis on just how much Bob “rocks” by making the phrase longer. Also, the person who writes that phrase automatically assumes only people who “rock” would be able to understand what he said because there is a general assumption that people who do not know 1337 are not 1337. For this reason, using 1337 in instant messaging often sets a certain mood in the conversation, just like how using gangster slang in a novel sets a certain mood in the novel.
13375P34K employs a number or rhetorical strategies that are not readily recognizable. Unlike chatspeak, which generally simplifies words that are already in the spoken language, 1337 has its own jargon that cannot be expressed in formal English. A popular example of this is the word “pwned,” which is derived from the word “owned” since “the letter p on a QWERTY keyboard is riht next to the letter o,” it is likely that a person to type p instead of o when typing quickly and “was eventually embraced by Leetspeakers as an intentional misspelling” (“Leet”). “Pwned” and “owned” generally refers to the “domination of a player in a video game or argument (rather than just a win)” (“Leet”), and there is no real word in formal English that conveys the same tone and meaning of that word. 1337 also uses rhyming and rhythm for added emphasis on words, such as “r0x0rz your b0x0rz.” But, just like chatspeak, 1337 is also making its way into spoken language outside of internet use, although it is not as prevalent as chatspeak yet.
Chatspeak and 13375P34k are still highly rejected in academic writing, but even that may be changing. “New Zealand high school students may use text speak on national exams” so they can “communicate more ideas faster” (Kepner). English is a vernacular language, so it is constantly evolving as people change. As the current youth age into adults, chatspeak and 1337 will be used more in spoken language, and the current adults will be more compelled to join this epidemic. These two forms of lingo will become more and more accepted and their rhetorical uses will be recognized. It is very possible for more countries to follow New Zealand’s example.
Abao, Jane. "Slang and Chatspeak: Where They Belong." ITalk News 5 July 2006. 5 May 2007 <http://www.italknews.com/view_story.php?sid=6693>.
Birch, Silver. "Is Technology Lowering Today's Writing Standards?" Writer's Window. 6 Nov. 2004. 5 May 2007 <http://english.unitecnology.ac.nz/writers/writing.php?id=31335>.
"Internet Slang." Wikipedia. 2007. 5 May 2007. Keyword: Chatspeak.
Kepner, Alison. "Txt Spk Iz Fst & EZ So Y Not Uz I in Skul?" The Wilmington News Journal 23 Dec. 2006.
"Leet." Wikipedia. 2007. 5 May 2007. Keyword: 1337.
Nasser, Zeid. "The ‘Instant Messaging Gap’ Between Young and Old." Zeid Nasser's Tech Blog. 19 Dec. 2006. 5 May 2007 <http://zeidnasser.blogspot.com/2006/12/instant-messaging-gap-between-young.html>.
Seig, Mary T. E-Mail interview. 4 May 2007.
Seig, Mary T. E-Mail interview. 4 May 2007.
Walker, Leslie. "Instant Messaging is Growing Up." MSNBC 2 Sept. 2004. 5 May 2007 <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5898217/>.
Zhang, Mindy. E-Mail interview. 3 May 2007.
Critiques are welcome!