Does texting mean the death of good writing skills? John McWhorter posits that there’s much more to texting — linguistically, culturally — than it seems, and it’s all good news



  • scourge – a person or thing that causes great trouble or suffering
  • artifice – clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others
  • bleed – e.g. the escape of fluid or gas from a closed system through a valve
  • baggy – loose and hanging in folds
  • pragmatic – dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations
  • mundane – of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one


Think about it

Answer the questions below. Pause at the times indicated in brackets.

  • What have you leaned about two components of language: speech and writing? (1:51)
  • What is the difference between spoken and written language? (3:12)
  • Why was it difficult in the past to “write like you speak?” (5:07)
  • Why does … refer to texting as “fingered speech?” (6:19)
  • What has LOL evolved to mean? (8:15)
  • How is “slash” used typically? How is it being used in texting nowadays? (9:43)
  •  What is special about texting? (13:52)


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the missing words. Use ONE word per blank space.

Basically, if we think about language, language ________ existed for perhaps 150,000 years, ________ least 80,000 years, and what it arose as is speech. People talked. That’s what we’re probably genetically specified for. That’s how we use language most. Writing is something that ________ along much later, and as we saw in the last talk, there’s a little bit of controversy as ________ exactly when that happened, but according to traditional estimates, if humanity ________ existed for 24 hours, then writing only came along at about 11:07 p.m. That’s how much of a latterly thing writing is. So first there’s speech, and then writing comes along as a kind of artifice.

[. . .]

Well, if you can speak like writing, then logically it follows that you might want to also sometimes write ________ you speak. The problem was just that in the material, mechanical sense, that was harder back in the day ________ the simple reason that materials don’t lend themselves ________ it. It’s almost impossible to do that with your hand except in shorthand, and then communication is limited. On a manual typewriter it was very difficult, and even when we had electric typewriters, or then computer keyboards, the fact is that even if you can type easily enough to ________ up with the pace of speech, more or less, you have to have somebody ________ can receive your message quickly.


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