display | more...

From the nephew, regarding a Magic the Gathering card I offered him.

From: Nephew
Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 5:09 PM
To: Tato
Subject: Re: Hey dude.

yeah trade? my internet has been down so i havent been able to send any one amy mail 4 a while. so what u want 4 it k.g2g bye

My response (only slightly edited.)

OK. I'm going to seem old and adulty to you, but I have to say that I hate chatspeek. Chatspeek is what I call that style of using "4" instead of "for" and "u" instead of "you"; ignoring capitalization, and disregarding grammar and spelling. You used it in your emails to me.

y, unkl tato? whats rong w it?

On the one hand, I get that it's important for any generation to invent its own style of communication as part of its sense of identity. I get that. Every generation does it, much to the consternation of their elders. We did it. Your generation is the first to go through adolescence with chat and cell text. Chat and text needs to be informal, so you want to be quick and easy; to try and make it as fast and seamless as a spoken conversation. Thus, chatspeek. Cool, I get that. But...

That only works in chat.

Allow me to lay out 3 big reasons why:

1. It says "I'm too busy for you."
In an email, where speed and efficiency are less critical than texting, chatspeek works against you. It reads like you don't really have the time for the other person, i.e. that you've got more important things going on. Kind of like "iv got only 2 secs for ths email. heres what i want kthxbye." If you're trying to be a good friend, or ask for something, the reader's thinking "I'm not even worth the time to spell? And you want what from me?" You're going to make less headway with people who think you don't really care about them.

2. The reader asks "Does he know any better?"
Language is one of those giant social agreements--like manners--that has a baseline. In language that baseline is spelling and grammar. If you fall below that baseline by using bad spelling and grammar, it could be because either you're uneducated and don't know any better, or because you're just being casual. And while I will give you the benefit of the doubt, not everyone will. Other people may just think you don't know any better, and they'll treat you worse for it.

3. Communication benefits from accuracy and redundancy.
This is deeper, but important enough to say. And I know it's oversimplified. You can use language to either be expressive or communicative. When you're trying to express something, like writing a poem or a rich story, you can use ambiguity to your advantage. One phrase can have many meanings. But when you're trying to communicate thoughts accurately, like in an email or letter, ambiguity can muddy your message. As you get older and wiser and you want to communicate complex thoughts about the complex world we live in, you'll need that accuracy in your language.

The particular habit of chatspeek's reducing words to as few letters as possible has communication risks. In a word with three letters, when one letter gets mistyped, you're able to figure out what it was by the context of the other letters. When the whole word is a letter, you have to infer meaning from the context of the message, and that's not always possible. One typo can break or change your meaning. So, in general, when you increase the letters-to-meaning efficiency in a language, you make it harder to recover from errors. Language needs all that extra "noise" to account for inevitable errors. Chatspeek is too "efficient" in this way.

+ o ya whn u dv8 from teh baseline it tkes lnger 2 deci4, = pain in teh s.

So in short, be in control of your language. It’s a tool. Get to know what style works best in which medium and for which people: chatspeek only for chat rooms and text messages with friends, and keep a more careful style for school work and email. Especially with Uncle Tato, who holds the Angel of Despair as ransom.

OK, on to your actual questions...