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Are Text Messages Destroying Our Language? - Facts & Infographic

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A Brief History of Text Messages

Since ancient times, when people used to send smoke signals as means of communicating from afar, it has been our desire to communicate quickly and effectively.


Timeline -

In 1792, Semaphone Telegraphs were set up across France to send messages via mechanical signals


In 1837, American inventor Samuel F. B. Morse conducted the first successful experiment with an electrical telegraph. The telegraph promoted use of abbreviations as each character transmitted cost the sender


In 1876, Alexander Graham bell invented the phone taking communication across the world many notches up

In 1946, the first mobile telephone came into use and was installed in a bus

In 1950, pagers were introduced in New York City. Text pagers have a 140 character limit

In 1973, Motorola produced the first mobile phone

In 1982, emoticon first came into use.

In 1984, GSM set up the system for sending and receiving text messages

In 1992, Neil Papworth sent the first SMS from a computer

In 2000, the first SMS mobile news service was set up in Finland

In 2003, American Idol allowed voting through SMS via AT& T


In 2006, Twitter, the micro blogging site was founded. Twitter was based on the text message system but restricted characters to 140.


In 2009, Sonja Kristianes won the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest message typing. The same year WhatsApp, a free texting app service was founded


Last month, in December 2012, Short Messaging Service (SMS) celebrated its 20th birthday. On December 3, 1992, the first ever text message was sent from a computer to phone on a GSM network. The text message read ‘Merry Christmas’. 22 year-old Neil Papworth, an engineer by profession used his computer to send the first text message to Richard Jarvis' Orbitel 901 mobile phone on the Vodafone network but did not receive a reply because the technology to send texts from a phone had not yet become available. Nokia first made text messaging possible from the phone in 1993.


When text messages were introduced mobile phone networks initially allowed them to be sent for free. SMS could, however, only be exchanged by people on the same network. The next year, in 1994, Vodafone launched a share price alert system. In 1995, the T9 dictionary system was introduced making "predictive" texting possible. Based on the letters the user typed, texts could be composed easily. Text messaging started to take off this year.


Text Messaging – A Global Phenomenon

By the February of 2001, the UK alone was sending over a billion text messages each month. Service providers had figured out that messages could be charged according to the number of bytes that were shared. Standard 10p per text earned mobile networks a revenue of about £100 million each month.


From 1.8 trillion text messages sent in 2007, worldwide estimates suggest 6.1 trillion text messages or SMS were sent in 2010 and about 8 trillion in 2011. This comes up to about 15 million each minute. In 2013, it is expected that 10 trillion text messages will be sent. It is anticipated that text messaging is likely to earn mobile network service providers about $726 billion.


Over 95% of cell phone users between the ages 18 and 29 send and receive text messages. In the US, 95% young adults between the ages 18 and 24 own cell phones and 97% of them text daily. On an average this group sends over 109 SMS each day. 86% of total mobile users in the US send or receive text messages every week. Almost 30% of mobile phone users in the country interact with a brand via text message


95 to 98% of text messages received are read within minutes of their receipt. In terms of the revenue involved, text messaging is still the largest mobile marketing channel. According to a study in the US, paper coupons are ten times less likely to be redeemed than mobile coupons sent via text messages.


In 2011, it was estimated that over 77% of the world owns cellphones – with over 5.3 billion handset in circulation. Text messaging seems far from dead.


How Did Textese Develop?

This (160 characters) is perfectly sufficient” - Friedhelm Hillebrand


Textese, or the system of shortened words, acronyms, garbled grammar, and abbreviations used to communicate over text messages or SMS. Brevity is key to Textese given the 160 character limit to most text messages. The system of communication has also come to be called txt-speak, txtese, txtspk, txtk, texting language, txtslang, txt lingo, SMSish, or txt talk.


In 1984, communications researcher, Friedhelm Hillebrand did a research on the average length of sentences we use to communicate. His study of random sentences used in communication revealed that including the use of punctuations, periods, and spaces most sentences were less than 160 characters.


At the time when SMS technology was being developed for cell phones, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was chaired by Hillebrand. The early hardware used to transmit text messages had a capacity restriction and set the limit at 140 bytes, or 1120 bits. GSM soon designed a system that could encode characters with 7 bits each. Thus a maximum transmission size of 160 characters could be achieved. Early text message transmissions came to be restricted at 160 characters.


SMS originated from radio telegraphy in radio memo pagers. The protocols including the character limit came to be defined as part of the GSM standards in 1985. Other mobile technologies such as ANSI CDMA networks and Digital AMPS eventually adopted these protocols and retained the limit on characters sent.


With this technological limitation and with mobile networks starting to charge for the texts sent, the language used to communicate over text messages underwent a revolutionary change. Vowels started to be dropped and word started to be phonetically abbreviated (such as ‘later’ to ‘l8r’ and ‘great’ to ‘gr8’). Standard expressions found acronyms (‘Oh my God’ became ‘OMG’, ‘Bye For Now” became ‘BFN’). A need to express the reactions in words was felt and words such as ‘LOL’ (laughing out loud), ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) became commonly used. Another significant inclusion was that of emoticons such as ;) :P and :O to denote expressions.


Fall of Standard English

Does texting affect grammar and spellings? According to a study in the US, students of what is now being called “Generation Txt” – 6th to 8th graders – grammar assessment scores dipped as texting increased. The use of acronyms and word adaptations such as ‘l8r’ for ‘later’ led to a decline in the spellings of school children.


According to a study in the US, people who text very often are less likely to accept novelty in language and learn new words. Traditional print media is likely to expose people to creative usages of the language and to introduce new words into a person’s lexicon, something that text message users are unlikely to develop.


Most schools across the world have blanket bans on the use of cellphones in class. In the US, 62% K -12 schools have prohibited cell phones from classrooms and 24% from school grounds.


According to a report by an English teacher, Michael Schut, students who text often tend to drop consonants, drop vowels, and drop punctuations from standard written English. Over 10% of the essays submitted have textese, he says. In 2003, The Telegraph, UK reported that a Scottish school girl had written an entire essay in “phone text shorthand” leaving millions gravely concerned. The incident led the Scottish Qualifications Authority to sit up and take notice of the influence of text messaging on English.


According to Thaindian News, SMS language has not only changed the way we communicate but also influenced the way names are spelt in the country. "Most parents these days are drawing on the cool SMS and email spellings, by eschewing traditional spellings for versions such as Alex-Zander, Cam’ron, Emma-Lee, Ozkah, Thaillah and Ameleiyah" says the report. In Australia, social analyst, Mark McCrindle, revealed that in the year 2007, the name Jayden was spelt in 12 ways, Aidan in 9 ways, and Amelia and Tahlia in 8 ways according to birth registrations.


Is Changing English Destroying English?

Not everybody, however, believes that texting is ruining the language. According to a 2008 report in The Guardian, less than 20% of the text messages originating in the US looked at showed abbreviated forms or acronyms. In Norwegian only 6% text messages used abbreviations. According to the report, Linguistics Professor David Crystal says that texting improves English spelling and writing among students. Besides, the use of abbreviations does not affect the grammatical structure of phrases and words.


"People think that the written language seen on mobile phone screens is new and alien, but all the popular beliefs about texting are wrong. Its graphic distinctiveness is not a new phenomenon, nor is its use restricted to the young. There is increasing evidence that it helps rather than hinders literacy" - Prof. David Crystal (The Guardian)


It is undeniable that with the popularity of texting technology, the English language has undergone much change. Linguists, however, argue that change could be deemed natural evolution rather than destruction or a decline.


In 2010, Paul Jury wrote in the HuffingtonPost


New technology spawns new words, just like all new culture does. But to argue that this is a bad thing is to deny the very flexibility that makes language useful. Just ask two guys who probably added more words to the English language than anybody, William Shakespeare and Noah Webster


In 2012, the US National Texting Championship involved 100,000 contestants in an attempt to text quickly, completely and without any error. 17 Year-old Austin Wierschke won the competition by texting 149 error-free words in 39 seconds.


Beyond English

The changes in spelling and language that text messages brought about is not confined to English. In acknowledgement of changing times, the 300 year-old Royal Spanish Academy, the institution in charge of regulating the Spanish language, is currently considering changing a number of words. The elimination of accent marks on a number of words such as “este” (this), “aquel” (that) and “solo “(unaccompanied) seems to be the consequence of text message usage.


SMS or text messages may not be a huge threat to regional languages, though. According to a report in The Herald Sun, young people find text messaging an attractive way of reviving their regional languages and dialects which may be under the threat of more dominant languages. In the Philippines, teenagers find it “cool” to text in Kapampangan and such languages which may be dying out.



In 2011, students at a mobile interaction design class at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) in Lausanne, Switzerland came up with an idea for EasySMS - an application that could help illiterate people read, compose, and decipher text messages using a set of action and object icons. Far from destroying language, this application could have immense potential in teaching illiterate people to read, write, and communicate efficiently with the help of cellphones. Here’s what the students have to say about the application and its design “About 700 million illiterate people in developing countries are currently excluded from the benefits of text messaging. Most of them reside in rural areas in which mobile phone coverage and ownership is growing rapidly and SMS are cheap or even free. EasySMS application empowers illiterate people to read, compose and send text messages through available text-to-speech solutions to their contacts. The composition of messages is facilitated through pictograms and previously received messages. Contact identification is aided by visually search-able avatars.”


The Top 50 – IMO

In March 2011, the Oxford English Dictionary added a number of abbreviations commonly used in text messaging. These include OMG, LOL, FYI, IMHO, and WTF. Other words added in 2011 are ‘cyberbullying,’ ‘bloggable,’ ‘scareware,’ ‘sexting,’ ‘clickjacking,’ and ‘feature phone.’ Here’s our list of the top 50 SMS acronyms in use.



As Far as I Know




Bye For now


Best Regards


By the Way






For F–k’s Sake


F–k My Life


Face To Face


For The Loss


For The Win




For What It’s Worth


Hat tip


Hope That Helps


I Don't Care


In My Humble Opinion


In My Opinion


In Real Life


Joint Venture


Just Kidding


Laughing My Ass Off


Let Me Know


Laughing Out Loud


Not Safe For Work




Oh My F–king God


Oh My God


On My Way


On The Other Hand


Parents Are Watching


Please Text Back


In reply to


Rolling On The Floor Laughing




Read The F-ing Manual


Situation Normal All F–ked Up


Son Of a Bitch


Shut The F–k Up


What's Up?


Too long; Didn’t Read.


Too Much Information


Thank You Very Much


That's What She Said


signifies a quote from


What The F–k


What The Hell


Your Mileage May Vary


You’re Welcome



Texting Apps

In September 2013, Mashable had enlisted the 5 popular apps which allowed free texting.

imo - Aloows free texting and instant messaging through Facebook Chat, AIM, Skype, and Google Talk

Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia


KaKao Talk - Supports free texting in 12 different languages, exchange of photos and videos

Available on: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Bada, and Windows


WeChat - Free texting and voice messaging, photo exchange

Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows phones, and Symbian platforms


Pinger - Free texts, voicemails, and photos from 100 countries

Available on: iOS, Android, and Windows


Currently, WhatsApp Messenger is one of the most popular cross-platform proprietary messaging apps available for smartphones. It is available for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, and Symbian phones and as of August 2012 was handling 10 billion messages each day.

textPlus - textPlus offers free and unlimited messaging across platforms.

Available on: Windows phones, iOS, and Android.

























Are Text Messages Destroying Our Language

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Bill Spicer Executive VP, MapXL
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