While I was in Manchester, I was surprised at how stunted and illegible the local students’ mobile phone text messages usually were. Every text message is limited to 160 characters or spaces, and if you exceed that, the phone company will charge you for two messages. Since the students are really cheap (except for when it comes to buying beer or clothes), they tend to compress their messages as much as possible. And this becomes such a habit that they do it, even when they don’t have to. So an typical text message would read:
“Soz4takn so long2getbak2u. un4tun8ly I dnt tink ill b abl2make it 2nyt”
Or: “Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it tonight.”
Apparently, people paid to be appreciative of the finer points of the English language are rather concerned with this steady deterioration of the language. And now, they’ll have even more to worry about, with an initiative by an English student telecommunications provider. They have introduced the concept of text education – the teaching of immortal English literature through the medium of text messages.
As their press announcement says, the service will start in January 2006 and will offer an easy way for students to learn or remember the classics.
Of course, in order to fit significant quotes from, or the central plot elements of such works as “Jane Eyre”, “Pride and Prejudice” or “Catcher in the Rye” into a single text message of a 160 characters, some cramming is needed.
I’m pretty sure that these messages will only help people who’ve read the books already, otherwise, any attempts to decipher the following might be severely impeded.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice:
5SistrsWntngHsbnds.NwMenIn Twn-Bingly&Darcy Fit&Loadd. BigSisJaneFals4B,2ndSisLizH8s DCozHesProud.SlimySoljrWikam SysDHsShadyPast.TrnsOutHes ActulyARlyNysGuy&RlyFancysLiz.SheDecydsSheLyksHim.Evry1GtsMaryd.
Translation: Five sisters wanting husbands. There are two new men in town – Bingley and Darcy. They are handsome and wealthy. Big sister Jane falls for Bingley, but second sister Elizabeth hates Darcy because he is proud. Slimy soldier Wickham says Darcy has a shady past. It turns out that he’s actually a really nice guy and really fancies Elizabeth. She decides that she likes him. Everyone gets married.
John Milton, Paradise Lost
devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war. pd’off wiv god so corupts man(md by god) wiv apel. devl stays serpnt 4hole life&man ruind. Woe un2mnkind.
Translation: The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war. He is angry with God and so corrupts man (who is made by God) with an apple. The devil remains as a serpent for the whole of his life and man is ruined. Woe unto mankind.
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
FeudTween2hses–Montague&Capulet. RomeoM falls_Translation: A Feud between two houses ‚?? Montague and Capulet. Romeo Montague falls in love with Juliet Capulet and they marry secretly but Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin and is banished. Juliet fakes her own death. As part of the plan to be with Romeo she writes him a letter but it never reaches him. Everyone is confused and both lovers kills themselves.
The poetic value of sentences like “Evry1confuzd—bothLuvrs kil Emselves” should not be underestimated, and the service is being supported by John Sutherland, a professor emeritus of English literature at University College London, who states “Take the dot mobile ending to Jane Eyre for example – MadwyfSetsFyr2Haus – Was ever a climax better compressed?”
or in just-so-few-letters:
txtmsglitt cr8s nw ptry 4 the msd-up Brit-Yth&ofrs nsyt on tek-cult 2! chk-it!