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Stop kvetching! Romans and Victorians already used “texting” abbreviations. No impact on their literature!

A previous post reported on the use of technologies for communication amongst kids and teens.

One frequent related complaint is that these tools negatively affect the way kids write. Texting (SMSing as it is called in Europe) is accused of killing grammar and writing skills. These allegations need to be “debunked” once and for all.

1) The brevity that comes with text messages, twitter etc. is a welcome awakening from the verbosity that afflicted us in the late 70s (and then everyone was complaining that kids did not have “synthesis”.

2) The kind of syncopated language modern critics condemn as barbaric, is the same used 2000 years ago in classical Rome. Carving stones was every inch as problematic as texting with your thumb while driving (do not try this at home!) so roman inscriptions are full of abbreviations that make our teen text look like plain english. Look at the following example:

Original (abbreviated)

L Rusticelium Celerem II vir i d iter d r p o v f

 Full text (abbreviations are explained)

L(ucium) Rusticelium Celerem II vir(um) i(ure) d(icundo) iter(um) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis).

Translation: I beg you to elect Lucio Rusticelio Celere as duovir with jurisdicial powers for the second time. He is worth the trust of the city.

Victorians also played with abbreviations  as evidenced in an exibition recently closed at the British Library  ‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices’.

In a poem from Gleanings From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, published in 1867, 130 years before the arrival of mobile phone texting, Charles C Bombaugh uses phrases such as “I wrote 2 U B 4”. Another verse reads: “He says he loves U 2 X S,/ U R virtuous and Y’s,/ In X L N C U X L/ All others in his i’s.”

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