The recent announcement by the Assessment Qualifications Alliance that 10% of English GCSE marks are to be awarded for comprehension of text messaging lingo has attracted a fair amount of commentary. To many, the move represents the ultimate in dumbing down.
I can actually see both sides of the coin here. Like many old-skool writas, I'm often shocked by poor standards of literacy and tut-tut about anything that undermines standards. On the other hand, there's no doubt that these truncated forms of English are here to stay and play an important part in modern communication. So perhaps I ought to be giving the AQA exam innovation an enthusiastic smiley emoticon and multiple exclamation marks.
How the hell is it going to work in practice though? Exams are usually set by middle-aged people who know a lot about a particular subject. They are then taken by young urchins who don't know jack. If the exam is about SMS language, however, the people setting the questions are likely to be at a severe disadvantage. Their textbook texting will probably lag several years behind the word on the street. In fact, the examiner will start to look very much like your father on the day he decided to have a bop at the local discotheque.
There's another potential issue, which is to do with where we finally decide to draw a line in the sand. If Twitter or other similar microblogging platforms become ubiquitous over time, for instance, will we conclude that school pupils need to be tested on the relevant linguistic conventions?
"OK, class. We looked last time at the basic tweet. Today, I want to concentrate on how to RT and give props to the original poster."
It could never happen? I wouldn't be so sure. Who, ten years ago, would have predicted that text messaging would feature in exams? If you had suggested the idea, everyone would have been like lmao and wtf.