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Sean Tan

Period 3
Penmanship for Illiterates
Before the invention of cellphones and instant messaging, there was a discernable line
between the spoken word and the written word. Most people did not write in the same manner as
they conversed, and unless talking formally, did not speak in the fashion that they wrote. Without
the technology available, it was nearly impossible to write at the same speed that one talked. The
introduction of cellphones provided the required conditions for society to write like they speak.
With instant messaging, one can communicate in writing at a speed almost simultaneous to that
of a verbal conversation. In 1984, the similar invention of the speakwrite will mechanically write
down messages spoken in Newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Created by the Ingsoc
Party, or the English Socialist Party, its purpose is to fulfill their political and ideological
necessities. In the dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell’s fictitious language of Newspeak
displays similar developments and characteristics in vocabulary to the modern day language used
when text messaging.
Originating from Standard English, both Newspeak and the text messaging language have
taken the conventional rules of spelling and grammar and abbreviated them to create a type of
shorthand. In the case of Newspeak, this transformation occurred in the Party‟s attempt to
prevent society from expressing hostile thoughts towards their government. Syme, a language
specialist working on the newest edition of the Newspeak dictionary, describes the agenda of his
work as, “We‟re destroying words…we‟re cutting the language down to the bone” (Orwell 45).
The limited vocabulary of Newspeak makes thoughtcrime, the criminal act of having beliefs
opposing the legitimacy of the ruling party, literally impossible. For the language of texting, the
change from Standard to Contemporary comes with the limited word use of each text message.
When texting, communicators are forced to limit their complete messages to under a certain

Sean Tan
Period 3
number of characters. This restriction results in the widespread use of abbreviations and
acronyms. In his article, “Is Texting Killing the English Language?” John McWhorter, an
American linguist professor, explains that as a result of the increasing use of abbreviations,
“Texting is developing its own kind of grammar and conventions.” Through the contraction of
the Standard English language, text messaging allows users to communicate quicker while
retaining the meaning of their messages.
Seeing that people write differently than they talk, the ability to communicate in
Newspeak or to communicate by sending a text, naturally leads to apparent differences in the
meaning and application of words. When Syme is outlining the most recent editions of words to
Newspeak dictionary, he states that, “Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by
exactly one word” (Orwell 46). In Newspeak, a single word can describe multiple words with
like concepts. For example, the word “crimethink” describes concepts of liberty and equality.
Similarly, the texting acronym “LOL,” short for “Laugh Out Loud,” has come to have a more
significant meaning and often signals empathy, ease, and equality between communicators. As
McWhorter describes the use of modern day acronyms, “Instead of having literal meaning – it
does something – conveying an attitude.” Another characteristic seen in both Newspeak and the
texting language is that vocabulary words have retained the same spelling, but have adapted in
their definitions to fit the needs of the language-users. This is demonstrated in in Orwell‟s
Principles of Newspeak, an introduction guide to the language, in which he states, “The word
free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as „This dog is free
from lice.‟ It could not be used in its old sense of „politically free‟ or „intellectually free‟” (247).
In the texting language, the meanings of words have also been changed, however these changes
are due to advances in technology or societal life. According to McWhorter, “Over time, the

Sean Tan
Period 3
meaning of a word or an expression drifts…meat used to mean any kind of food, silly used to
mean, believe it or not, blessed.” The meaning and application of language to communicate has
changed to keep at pace with the developments in societies‟ culture.
Due to the constant advancements in the language of text messaging and in Newspeak,
previous generations are finding trouble in understanding these evolved versions of the English
language. McWhorter describes the ever changing language of text messaging as, “a „spoken‟
language that is getting richer and more complex by the year.” In like manner, a majority of
today‟s youth finds it exceedingly difficult to understand the work of Shakespeare. Although
Contemporary English and Shakespearean English are both considered as English, the
developments of the language overtime have created apparent differences between the two. For
example, the quote from Shakespeare‟s Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true,” can
be translated to Standard English as, “And, above all, be true to yourself,” which can then be
shortened to texting language as, “alwz b tru 2 urself.” The number abbreviations used in text
messaging have become so dramatic that the original message of 32 characters is split in half to
14 characters. This drastic development of language can also be compared to Oceania‟s
transition from Oldspeak to Newspeak. In Newspeak, the term “Big Brother” is abbreviated to
“BB” and the Ministries of Love, Peace, Truth, and Plenty, are abbreviated to Miniluv, Minipax,
Minitrue, and Miniplenty. When speaking of the latest Newspeak dictionary, Syme points out,
“We‟re getting the language into its final shape. When we‟ve finished with it, people like you
will have to learn it all over again” (Orwell 45). These developments in language challenge the
conventions of Standard English and make generations who lived prior to the invention of
Newspeak and texting unlikely to understand the language used in modern times.

Sean Tan
Period 3
Through the gradual advancement of technology and societal culture, Newspeak and the
language of text messaging breaks the conventional rules of proper spelling, word definitions,
and vocabulary application in order to create an informal, abbreviated method of writing in the
fashion that one speaks. The shortening of entire words or sentences allows high-speed
communication; the changes in society‟s culture leads to words with multiple meanings and
concepts; and the sustaining development of both languages presents older generations with
complexities in comprehension. Although the English language in its many forms is
continuously changing in order to conform to the needs of the society, its prime purpose will go
on being to allow people to connect through the spoken and written word.

Sean Tan
Period 3
Works Cited
McWhorter, John. "Is Texting Killing the English Language?" TIME 25 Apr. 2013: n. pag. Web.
14 Sept. 2014. <>.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet Classic, 1949. Print.