Grandma's Tales

October 9, 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 6:42 pm

One of the students wrote this.

ma’m tanq 4 goin thru our papers nd guidein us….ur class was really great..u must’ve got tat 4m umptee number of people….still i cant stop tellin u nd d whole lot of people readin tis…it was d most lively class i’ve ever been in…i guess tats d same 4 d rest of ma frenz thr…eagerly awaitin ur next class ma’m…

I fell in love with it. A note like this tells me a host of things. But first, thank you for the kind words.

[1] I’m amazed at the way our teenagers have taken to this abbreviated version of English which I’m tempted to call SMSish.
[2] I appreciate the effort that goes into symbolising/abbreviating the language. The Sumerians and Egyptians (a complicated one called hieroglyphs) began writing in symbols. Their symbols matched the objects they were supposed to stand for. Over the millenniums that followed, the symbols were simplified and codified. Pictograms gave way to ideograms and then to letters with specific sounds. Letters were put together to form words and words were put together to form meaningful sentences. English went for the Roman script and has had its own evolution since Chaucer’s time – old English, middle English and Modern/Standard English.
[3] GenX is now giving the language a new version. Very astutely they discovered that the pronunciation did not have a one-to-one correspondence with the way words were spelt. It was all wrong! Why do you need silent letters? Why is “o” pronounced differently in “go” and “do”? So, they would set it right and use the new, improved version for personal correspondence.
[4] A mix of symbols and words, SMSish is uniquely phonetic. You take a word and replace it with a symbol or an abbreviation that you think is closer to the sound of the word as it is generally pronounced. “For you” becomes “4 u”.
[5] I have a theory or two on how/why our kids cottoned on to it. [a] In the early days of the Internet you paid for its use by the hour. Better finish your writing as quickly as you can. [b] SMS has to be done fast. That’s the whole idea behind it. S stands for “short”. [c] Who has the time to read anything any more? B brief r b O. [d] Hey, that’s what they are doing in the US, yaar!

Fine. Hats off for the innovation. But it has a couple of major problems. [1] To replace a word with its new phonetic symbol, you need to spell it correctly. “Four” can be 4 pretty easily, but 4m cannot stand for “from”, d cannot replace “the” and so on. If you are looking for words that sound the same, “ds” doesn’t qualify as “these”. So you are falling into the “no-correspondence” trap all over again. [2] You need to know the correct or standard pronunciation and the standard spelling of words. Only standard spelling can make it clear which word is being used. [3] In the absence of a uniform method of abbreviation, how is the note-receiver supposed to get the right word? For example, should “thank you” be written as “tanq” or “tan q”? What is “thr”?

There, that puts me in the Stone Age. Thank you.

Unless done with a lot of thinking and care, it all becomes a matter of guesswork. Or is that the fun part?


  1. i ttly gree with u b/c smtms it bcms a gr8 headch smplfyng wrd
    4m what u sy d genx shd be converted to geny
    because as you said rightly in our law class (great class ma’m) we cannot live in the 21st centuty without the Y

    Comment by Varun Chablani — October 9, 2006 @ 11:28 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Varun,
    So you would go to any length (or headache)to abbreviate. That’s loyalty to a trend. But we really cannot call it “simplifying” or even “smplfying”, can we? Reading it certainly is not simple, sigh! As for Y, well, it depends on what is “Y”.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 10, 2006 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

  3. ma’m..i never thougt my comment would turn into one of your blogs……actually i was pretty disappointed when i cudnt find my comment there the next time i came…..well thr is supposed to be there…nd wats wrong with tanq??? its the same as we say thank you….may be it can be put this way..than kyou….!!!!

    Comment by pramoditha.k — October 17, 2006 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Pramoditha,
    I am absolutely fascinated by this new language youngsters have developed. To me this attempt to match spelling to pronunciation shows a lot of innovation. Your “than kyou” proves my point. You have come out with a better, unambiguous version! “Thr” may be there but the uninitiated may not know how to pronounce it. You are looking for a short, easily understood version, aren’t you? Keep trying and who knows, you may hit upon a perfect one with a total match between the spelling and the pronunciation.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 17, 2006 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

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