SMS & Its Negative Effects on Language

Written by james holloway Google
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SMS & Its Negative Effects on Language
SMS text messaging often uses its own distinctive language. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

SMS, or text messaging, has grown in popularity since the late 1990s. By 2008, over 4 trillion text messages were being sent every year. As it grew in popularity, SMS gained its own distinctive language, often called SMS speak, text speak or txt spk. Text speak is widespread, and some writers have criticised its effect on the English language.

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Origins of SMS

Because text messages are transmitted over networks designed for telephone calls rather than data transfer, the messages must be limited in size, usually to 140 bytes, which can contain about 160 characters. In order to save space, text message users adopt abbreviations from Internet slang, such as "lol" for "laughing out loud" or "idk" for "I don't know." In addition, new abbreviations, often involving numbers, have become common, such as "2nite" for "tonight." "2nite" also avoids the difficult letter-combination igh, all of which are on the same key on a phone keypad, meaning the same key must be tapped repeatedly.

Effects on Everyday English

Some abbreviations originally used in text speak have become common in other areas. The common abbreviation "u" for "you" appears in song titles such as Pink's "U + Ur Hand," although this usage was not unknown before SMS became popular. In some cases, students have begun to use SMS abbreviations in written work. A brief controversy erupted in 2006 in New Zealand when speculation arose that students would even be allowed to use SMS speak in exams. However, these rumours were quickly quashed.


Writers and language experts have come out against the use of SMS abbreviations. British journalist and broadcaster John Humphrys has said that texting is "wrecking our language" and has called its users "vandals." Linguistic traditionalists worry that text speak will reduce users' ability to write correct English sentences, and will harm their spelling and vocabulary. Because SMS speak originated from the need to send very short messages, it discourages complex vocabulary and prevents the creation of longer, more sophisticated phrases.

Other Negative Effects

In other countries, there are concerns that the prevalence of text speak tends to Americanize the way its users write. For example, French and German text speak includes abbreviations such as "lol" and "brb," which are based on English phrases ("brb" stands for "be right back"). Early SMS messages could not represent the accents used in Polish spelling, leading many people to omit them. This practice is now beginning to turn up in writing outside of SMS. In other languages, as in English, SMS speak simplifies and abbreviates language, thereby robbing language of its subtlety and complexity.

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