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Answer by Balaji Viswanathan, product manager at a venture-funded startup creating new markets:
When someone writes in standard English, I can use just my eyes to read without any vocalization. My eyes will quickly scan the text and will stop only at unfamiliar words, errors, or new information. This way, we can quickly read at 400 words per minute to focus on just the new information and can be more efficient at what we are doing.
When someone writes in textspeak, I’m forced to vocalize, and my lips are 10 times slower than my eyes. That means, instead of 400 WPM, I would be forced to read at 40 WPM. Also, my eyes would instinctively call out all the textspeak as “errors,” and I would be forced to stop at each word. Imagine a car pulled to a stop every 10 feet. It will make the passengers throw up. This is why people say they get disturbed seeing txtspeak. It is literally disturbing.
This difference is not so significant for a 10-word text message or a tweet. I might read your text message without any difficulty. However, when you are writing a 50,000-word novel or a 500-word passage, this difference can be excruciating. I will either throw the text out or will hate you if you force me to read it. My eyes stopping to read each word will strain me to no end.
That’s the reason why you will get a lot of hate for using textspeak in front of a learned crowd.
Why do my eyes see the textspeak as errors? It is because it is not a part of a standard that I’m used to. Why is it not a part of a standard?
Textspeak might squeeze or pack too much information in a very short space, causing quite a bit of discomfort. It is like drinking fat. On the other hand, eating whole grain and fiber is healthy for you, as they act as fillers and help digest things. Same way with language—some of the redudant characters might help understand things.
Many of us read 50,000 or more words on a normal working day. That is roughly 18 million words a year and more than 1 billion words in a lifetime. We are so used to standard English. Imagine repeating something a billion times—it becomes etched in your mind. Forcing textspeak might be like forcing every English speaker to learn a new language and waste years mastering the language. That is probably not a worthy investment just to help a few people cut a few seconds in typing.
English is an extremely diverse language, used by the world’s only superpower, the second-largest nation by population, and a nation that once had the world’s largest empire. I don’t know any other language that has this diversity—an influence of Norman, Saxon, Celtic, Brittonic, French, Latin, and all the colonies that Britain had. It is not easy to get all of them agree to drastic spelling changes.
People like the way it is for a number of reasons—tradition and culture, for instance. Of course, there will be an addition and deletion of a few words, but nothing too drastic. For centuries, many have tried to simplify spellings—. It was backed by the world’s most powerful person of his time (Teddy Roosevelt) and supported by the richest people of the time (such as Andrew Carnegie), but the movement failed in 1906. People simply loved the existing language so much. If Teddy Roosevelt helped by Carnegie and others couldn’t do it then, I don’t think anyone can.
All our books are in standard English. It will take an insane amount of time to convert them all to txtspeak and make every writer forced to use the new spellings.
In short, textspeak is not likely to replace standard English in the foreseeable future. Before that happens, we will have very advanced voice recognition engines that will help the lazy typists. Thus, until that time, don’t use these things in front of a learned crowd, unless you are really constrained by space.
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