text language

According to Pew Research Center, young adults aged 18 to 29 are more likely than their elders to have read a book in a year (Perrin, 2015). During the recent few years, there were many successful movies based on young adult books than ever before such as Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars and The Book Thief. As I mentioned in my essay Are Teenagers Still Reading, according to the studies in North America, Generation Z continues to read.  In the U.S., one in four tweens (6-12 years old) and one in five teens (12-18 years old) reported reading for pleasure regularly (Sun, 2018). Contradictory to the general expectation, these studies suggest that the younger generation does not stop reading due to the development of technologies. However, with the development of technologies and social media, text languages and internet slangs had been used frequently in teenagers’ everyday life. This leads to my next concern about publishing for teenagers: when publishing a book for teenagers such as a YA title, how shall writers or editors deal with the invented text language and the internet slangs? Moreover, for publishers, is there any other unconventional ways to incorporate the technologies?

 

In 2015, a researcher in London surveyed 52 students around 14 or 15 years old and analyzed the impact of using standard English or non-standard English on adolescent identities. She found that the teenagers surveyed tended to use non-standard English such as a dialect to express their ‘true’ selves and to “construct a collective identity” (Brady, 2015). In fact, 96% of them identified that they would speak standard English only with adults whereas 90% of the students could “switch between standard English and non-standard English” (Brady, 2015). By using dialects among themselves, they would distinguish themselves from adults. Opposite to what the researchers expected, most of them would not associate speaking standard English with a high and privileged class; instead, they associated it with adulthood or authority (Brady, 2015). For writers or editors who want to publish a YA title, this finding indicates that using non-standard English such as a dialect would help their young readers identify with the character and feel more related to. An example from classic works would be Trainspotting written by Irvine Welsh. This novel is about a group of drug-addicted young adults and was told as a collection of short stories. Each chapter was narrated by one of the group members through their first-person perspective or narrated by the author. The author wrote the entire novel in a mix of a heavy Scottish dialect and Standard English, not only for the conversations among the group members but also for the entire narrating. The author will switch between standard English and Scottish dialects depending on the character and the situation. For example, when the protagonist Renton is narrating his everyday life with his friends, he will use Scottish accent whereas when he is interacting with an authoritative figure during an interview, he will speak in a formal language (Zikmundová, 2014). This created certain difficulty for readers who are not familiar with Scottish dialect but the author’s “specially devised orthography has been detected as a tool for characterizing his protagonists” (Zikmundová, 2014). For contemporary YA novel writers and their editors, they may also consider incorporating the online “dialect” of teenagers – text language and internet slangs – into their works. Lauren Miracle’s Internet girls series – consisting of three titles ttyl, ttfn and l8r, g8r (as a non-native speaker of English, I have no idea what they stand for even though I identify myself as a millennial) – will be a good example demonstrating how YA novels evolve with the trend.

 

However, parents were outraged by the Internet girls series and even tried to ban the books, not only because the books depict teens with drugs, sex and alcohol, but also because the books were written in text language (Wellman, 2012). Some teachers and parents may worry that frequently using non-standard English may hinder the teenagers’ ability to learn the correct grammar or spelling or the correct way to write. Nevertheless, a researcher had done a study with a group of primary school students and secondary school students, they found that there was no negative association between the using incorrect language in the texting messages and their performance on a grammar test (Wood, Kemp and Waldron, 2014). The researchers suggested that the impact of ‘lazy’ language use when texting may have been overstated. Teenagers deliberately violate grammar when texting or when talking on social media to save time and they know what is correct (Wood et al., 2014). For parents angered by the Internet girls series, this finding may help them at least not worry about the language usage in the books. For teachers, they should continue to teach their students the conventional rules of formal written language and improve the students’ awareness of the contexts. Also, for YA novel writers and editors, the implication will be the same. When working on a YA novel, they should consider what the book is about, what the age range of the audience is, whether the book is for entertainment or education. Then the writers and their editors should make their own judgement according to the context. If the book is for adolescents’ leisure reading, then maybe incorporating text language and internet slangs is acceptable or even encouraged. However, a teen YA novel writer suggested every YA writer use teenager’s languages wisely. If not, then young readers may feel awkward rather than connected (Margolin, 2016).

 

The development of technologies does not only challenge the language usage in YA novels but also inspire new methods for reading. In my previous essay Are Teenagers Still Reading, I mentioned the Hooked app as an example. Hooked is a horror-story reading app designed for a younger generation. On Hooked, each story would be told by text messages or online chats. Rooster app is another untraditional reading app like Hooked. Founded by an American journalist Jennifer 8 Lee and her fellow writer Yael Goldstein Love, Rooster app is designed for the younger generation who are used to read on phone. Each month, Rooster will pair a classic fiction with a contemporary work and recommend the pairs to the users. They will deliver the books to users’ phones in a 15-min read instalment that will fit in people’s daily commuting time or a short break from work. Users can choose when they would like to receive the instalments during the day (Fiegerman, 2014). Though this app is not specifically designed for teenagers, it provides an example of how reading adapt itself with technological trends. Another innovative example is the cell phone novel (or text-messaging novel) in Japan. About a decade ago, a Japanese author named Yoshi published his novel Deep Love entirely through text-messaging. His readers (mostly young females) would send suggestions back as the story unfolded and Yoshi may follow some of the suggestions. It became a huge success at that time and later the novel was made into a movie which continually inspired many other Japanese authors to write through text messages (Crystal, 2008). I am not suggesting that publishers in other countries should copycat the exact same format; rather, I would like to provide the example to show how text messages can influence the young generation’s reading, not only by inventing a new language style but also by challenging the format of reading.

 

From my research, I am glad to find the answers to the questions I proposed at the beginning. I believe that along with the modern linguistic development, contemporary YA novel writers and editors should be encouraged to incorporate text language and internet slangs into their works according to contexts. This will help their intended audiences to identify with the characters. Besides adapting the writing language, contemporary publishers should also consider incorporating text message as a new format of reading. They should not take the new format as a replacement of the traditional way of reading, but as an alternative method that brings diversity and dynamic into the ecology of publishing system and may even help to promote reading to teenagers who are not into reading a print book.

Bibliography

Brady, Jude. 2015. “Dialect, Power and Politics: Standard English and Adolescent Identities.” Literacy 49 (3): 149–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/lit.12058.

Crystal, David. 2008. “2b or Not 2b: David Crystal on Why Texting Is Good for Language.” The Guardian, July 4, 2008. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jul/05/saturdayreviewsfeatres.guardianreview.

Fiegerman, Seth. 2014. “Rooster App Is Like a Book Club for Busy People.” Mashable, March 10, 2014. https://mashable.com/2014/03/10/rooster-reading-app/.

Margolin, Jamie. 2016. “What Not To Do When Writing YA Books (Advice From a Teen Writer).” WritersDigest.com. February 15, 2016. https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/what-not-to-do-when-writing-ya-books-advice-from-a-teen-writer.

Merritt, Anne. 2013. “Text-Speak: Language Evolution or Just Laziness?” The Telegraph, April 3, 2013. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/9966117/Text-speak-language-evolution-or-just-laziness.html.

Sun, Melody. 2018. “A Closer Look at the Gender Ratio of the Master of Publishing Program.” PUB 800. https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2018/10/a-closer-look-at-the-gender-ratio-of-the-master-of-publishing-program/.

Perrin, Andrew. “Slightly Fewer Americans Are Reading Print Books, New Survey Finds.” Pew Research Center. October 19, 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/19/slightly-fewer-americans-are-reading-print-books-new-survey-finds/.

Wellman, Victoria. 2012. “America’s Most Hated Books? Controversial Tween Novel Series Written Entirely in Text Message Shorthand Tops New List.” DailyMail.com. April 11, 2012. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2128256/America-s-hated-books-Controversial-tween-novel-series-written-entirely-text-message-shorthand-tops-new-list.html.

Wood, Clare, Nenagh Kemp, and Sam Waldron. 2014. “Exploring the Longitudinal Relationships between the Use of Grammar in Text Messaging and Performance on Grammatical Tasks.” The British Journal of Developmental Psychology 32 (4): 415–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjdp.12049.

Zikmundová, Michaela. “The Language of Trainspotting,” bachelor’s diploma thesis., Masaryk University, 2014. https://is.muni.cz/th/lrirg/BA_Thesis_Zikmundova.pdf