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Video: Rajend Mesthrie Links Victorian Poetry to “SMS-speak”

Rajend Mesthrie

Linguistics professor Rajend Mesthrie, author of A Dictionary of South African Indian English, featured earlier this year on M-Net’s Carte Blanche in an episode entitled “English Evolution”, where he spoke about colloquial English and the history of SMS-speak. Surprisingly, there are quite a few Victorian experimental poems laden with phrases resembling SMS-slang. An example of this is the poem “An Essay to Miss Catherine Jay” of which the first few lines read:

A Dictionary of South African Indian English“An S A now I mean 2 write
2 U sweet K T J,
The girl without a || [parallel],
The belle of [U T K]”

Mesthrie explained that SMS-speak offers a “new freedom” – but only in a particular domain. “I hardly have students who write SMS-speak in their essays. They know they will fail, they know it’s not appropriate, and they don’t do it. If an entire essay was written in ‘SMS’ then one would need to examine that and see if it is really creative. If the essay was about SMS-speak and they wrote it in SMS, I would champion that kind of creativity.”

Carte Blanche

Read a transcript of the programme:

And its such creativity that interests Rajend Mesthrie, professor of linguistics nearly 10 000km away at the University of Cape Town. We asked him what he thought of this use of letters and numbers – and the link between Victorian poetry and what is known as “SMS-speak”:

Prof Rajend Mesthrie (Linguistics Department, UCT): “It’s a new freedom, but it’s a freedom in a particular domain. I hardly have students who write essays in SMS-speak in their essays. They know they will fail, they know it’s not appropriate, and they don’t do it. If an entire essay was written in ‘SMS’ then one would need to examine that and see if it is really creative. If the essay was about SMS-speak and they wrote it in SMS, I would champion that kind of creativity.”

In fact Professor Mesthrie even sees a definite place for the use of slang in English.

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Image courtesy the Sunday Times

 

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