• Yelena McCafferty

Do you get the language of the youth?

When the Artefact magazine offered to interview me on the subject of acronyms, I was delighted to take the opportunity. In my final year at university many moons ago I wrote a course paper on abbreviations as a means of linguistic economy so I should know a thing or two about it. As we chatted with my interviewer Stella, we dug into how older abbreviations were replaced by neologisms on the basis of relevance and how differently they were perceived by various generations at any one time.


In fact, the word generation itself has its own acronym – gen. The new gen favours shortened words as youngsters live much faster lives and tend to do many things, such as messaging, on the go. Look at their electronic conversations and you will find them strewn with abbreviations such as GG, IDK, OIC. Some, such as PPL, DM, NP, WTF have even been picked up by older generations, and again for one reason: saving time on typing. For an acronym to “stick” it’s got to be simple and spread fast. It can spread across continents and across languages as online interactions are almost limitless now.


LOL is now widely used across the board, however initially it wasn’t understood by everyone to mean “laughing out loud”. Back in 2012 it transpired that the former prime minister David Cameron thought it to be "lots of love". It sounds just as funny to me now as it did then, still we mustn’t laugh: to err is human.


A new type of shortened language has posed a particular problem for British parents who struggled to understand the language of their darlings on social media and in mobile messaging. In 2017 Humberside Police even issued a sexting dictionary to parents to help them decrypt the code words children use to exchange explicit messages.


Some experts claim textspeak can seriously harm teenagers’ ability to develop language and grammar skills. The situation even reached the point when a number of UK universities tell lecturers not to mark down student work for spelling errors. The policy of Hull University says marking down incorrect spelling, punctuation and grammar could be seen as “elitist”: students from poorer backgrounds or whose mother tongue isn’t English shouldn’t be disadvantaged.


As youngsters ignore punctuation and in certain circumstances consider the full stop to be rude or too sharp, language is evolving just as fast as their lives. You can listen to my interview about how the language is a reflection of modern life on the website of the Artefact magazine.


[Tip: At Talk Russian it's not unusual for us to translate text messages from Russian into English if required as evidence for court hearings. These messages often contain acronyms and slang words; please contact us enquiry@talkrussian.com for a quote.]

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