David Crystal: an analysis of Texting and Twitter by Britain’s preeminent linguist

British linguist David Crystal has a lot to say about Twitter. If you have 30 minutes to spare … maybe skip the latest episode of The Bachelor or Survivor … I’d encourage you to listen to him debunk some myths about Twitter and texting. I’d especially encourage you to listen to him if you’re still scratching your head wondering what kind of creature tweets. I would particularly encourage you to invest 30 minutes to listen to Crystal if you are the kind of person who stands up in the middle of a conference and asks why we should care about communicating to a bunch of people who have nothing better to do but to spend their days typing into a smartphone. And I know you’re out there.

Some myths, explained:

  • People actually don’t abbreviate in text messaging and Twitter as much as one might think. This is partially because Texting and Tweeting isn’t a uniquely youth phenomenon.
  • Abbreviations like CUL8tr aren’t anything new .. Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria played around with these language rebuses
  • Young people don’t leave letters out because they can’t spell … in fact, the best texters are often the best spellers, simply because they get tons of practice. They leave out letters because « it’s cool ». Following the fashion is a socially bonding experience.
  • Texting and Tweeting in fact gives young people more motivation to write and read.
  • Students aren’t translating text-speak into their schoolwork and exams, contrary to popular belief.
  • There is an artistic dimension to the evolution of Texting and Twitter. Crystal cites Twitter poetry contests as an example.
  • Many of the sentences in a Tweet are actually quite long – you can get 30 words into 140 characters and there are often 20 word sentences in a Tweet.
  • Twitter has become more of an information exchange mechanism than it was when it first launched as a « What are you doing? » platform.
  • Twitter has value in that, among other things, it accelerates the transmission of information.



David Crystal believes teachers have an important role to play in Internet management. For young people, the electronic technology is central and the book is marginal. This isn’t going to change, so, according to Crystal, it must be managed and used in a way that becomes motivating for young readers.

According to Wikipedia:

Crystal is the author, co-author, or editor of over 100 books on a wide variety of subjects, specialising among other things in editing reference works, including (as author) the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987, 1997, 2010) and the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995, 2003), and (as editor) the Cambridge Biographical Dictionary, the Cambridge Factfinder, the Cambridge Encyclopedia, and the New Penguin Encyclopedia (2003). He has also edited literary works, and is Patron of the UK National Literacy Association. He has also published several books for the general reader about linguistics and the English language, which use varied graphics and short essays to communicate technical material in an accessible manner


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