THE SMS CULTURE has brought about a revolution in India, particularly amongst the younger generation. Bidding goodbye to the vowels and the age-old rigid rules of grammar, the youngsters across the nation have coined a unique lingo that is almost posing a threat to the Queen’s English, which is currently in use. With the whole lot of abbreviations like “C U 2nite” for “ See you tonight” or “C U l8er” for “See you later”, the new generation, with a thumb on cellphones and ‘SMS language’ on the fingertips, has caused a furore amongst the linguists, who see this culture having dangerous overtones. For the linguists, the disease is spreading like ‘anthrax’ or ‘bird-flu’.
From 1994 onwards, after the first ever National Telecom Policy (NTP94 in SMS language!) was announced, India witnessed a series of explosions in the telecom sector - the latest being SMS. By the way, it stands for Short Message Service. This technology has so many takers because (B’Coz in SMS language) it is being considered the cheapest and quickest person-to-person communication mode. While it is considered a truly remarkable success story of a technology introduced in India, it has, at the same time, made a mess of the English language. It was not made intentionally by the youngsters, because, considering the very abbreviation of SMS, the messages ought to be short, crisp and to the point, with limited scope for adjusting typical words like “pneumonia, mayonnaise or polyethylene” on mobile screens. It was for these reasons that SMS language was born.
The ‘new language’ as such has no problem as it is used in communicating the ideas and thoughts. But the way this language is now finding a place in normal English (Queen’s English they call it), has become a matter of concern for the teachers, parents and all those who care for the language and believe in proper punctuations and prepositions.
In the age of cryptic SMS’s and e-mail’s, with scant regard for grammar and zero tolerance approach to punctuation, the university professors, scholars and teachers are horrified everyday at the sight of misplaced commas, apostrophes and colons around them. But the young generation is saying goodbye to those words, which according to them even English scholars at times fail to spell out properly.
According to Prof KB Razdan, former Head of Department, English, Jammu University, the SMS is the corruption of language and murder of alphabets, “SMS language is all artificial - a mockery with the language. This SMS lingo is a challenge and should be stopped.”
Razdan is, however, a staunch believer that SMS language cannot in any way replace Queen’s English. “As long as the language is used to communicate the thoughts, it is okay. But the way it is reflected in the normal usage of language, it is a threat and needs to be discouraged, since the ‘new language’ is full of aberrations and has artificiality,” adds Prof Razdan.
Prof Deepshikha Kotwal of English Department, Jammu University, doesn’t believe that “SMS language” is the corruption of language. She has gone on the record to say that SMS lingo is basically the offshoot of the language itself. She believes that it is a compulsion and one cannot write normal language through cellphones, hence the change has to be accepted.
Kotwal believes that learning is learning and communicating the feeling is a different subject. “The time has come when both the languages are to be put in use and fashioned together - one for the learning and other for communicating,” believes Kotwal, adding that even the present English we speak in India is no longer English but Hinglish. “If SMS is a compulsion, so is the Indian English. Why call it corrupting the language?” she argues.
Nitish Arora, transmission executive, who looks after English programmes on Radio Jammu Kashmir believes that every language undergoes transformation. “The languages grow and they never remain static. Tomorrow, if SMS culture takes over, we have no alternative,” says Nitish.
Nitish believes that no linguist will be happy the way words are misspelled and grammar not adhered to while sending SMS. “But one cannot control it as the languages belong to the masses and if masses accept SMS as a parallel language, one cannot stop this trend,” clarifies Nitish.
Sohail, a young Engineering graduate, believes that SMS language needs to be encouraged, no matter if it replaces the normal language. There are number of other Sohails, who subscribe to the same view.
They argue that words like “thee, thy, though,” which were once used frequently, are no more in practice. “When such words were dropped, can’t we drop typical words like psychology, quadriplegic or pusillanimous and replace them by simple SMS structures for the overall benefit of the student community. After all, what matters is the sense and efforts to communicate. If a doctor understands that a patient is suffering from ‘Nmoonya”, then why use the word with odd spellings (pneumonia) that may make a different sense?” asks Shalini.
Manisha Sharma, a former student of English at Jammu University, believes that present era demands SMS language. “If youngsters feel it is easy in communicating through few alphabets and numbers then why treasure those rules of language which are now unacceptable while communicating the feelings. It will be a difficult situation for the present generation to bridge the generation gap in future if the present lot cannot understand SMS lingo or follow the new rules,” believes Manisha.
Shruti, a student, believes that if words like “bandobast, gherao, chai-pani, dharna, Panchayat, Yeti etc” have become part of ‘lingua franca’ of the world and are easily found in most of the English dictionaries, what is the harm if SMS jargons also finds their place. “Let lexicographers make a parallel dictionary in tune with modern demands,” opined Shruti, adding that traditional English spoken by about two billion people worldwide may have several owners, but certainly they will be in minority with the passage of time.
“Letters are outdated and phone calls boring. SMS is direct and exciting. It is a powerful silent communication tool, very personalized and almost akin to the human touch. If SMS gives all this in just few words, what is harm in having a parallel SMS language based on alphabets and numbers?” remarked Sunil, a student of communication.
However, for Pramod, a medical student, the SMS at times is risky as the other person receiving the broken and already misspelled words, may derive his own ‘nonsensical meaning’, thereby defeating the very purpose of communication. “Such SMS can bring barriers in communication,” he believes.
“SMS is shrt-n-swt. It is gr8 fun & evn bd splng works (SMS is short and sweat. It is a great fun and even bad spellings work),” believes Pratibha, a College student, adding that the language has of late become the modern language that suits all - even the semi-literates.
Lawyers, too, have raised the logical question – can SMS be used in legal documents? The Information Technology Act, 2000 has made it clear that any record sent in electronic form will be admissible evidence in a court of law. Electronic record has been defined as ‘data, record or data generated image or sound or sound stored, received or sent in an electronic form or micro-film or computer-generated micro-fiche’. But one problem will remain with the courts. The problem lies in deciphering of SMS language and converting it into a normal language. The accuracy or “translation” into Queen’s English will provide lawyers an opportunity to drag out cases for years, believes advocate Keshav Thakur.
While linguists curse SMS culture and term it “corrupting the language”, the card sellers, who are affected by SMS greetings, curse this new kind of lingo. They, however, ignore the fact that a simple paper greeting card is 10 times the price of an SMS message. “The cost and speed are turning people away from the plain old greeting cards. Who cares for language? What matters is the cost and economy,” says Ramesh, a bank employee
With change in the mindset, those who believe in SMS culture would try to re-write it in “SMS lingo” after going through this article. That will provide a platform for critics and linguists, who hold English in high esteem, to find out errors in sentence structuring, grammar and spellings in this write-up!