Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Past Tense of Text

What is the correct past tense form of the verb to text?

This question has come up quite a bit recently in conversations I have had with friends. Because I generally prefer to view language descriptively rather than prescriptively, I was thrilled to see David Crystal's response to the question on his DC Blog post titled "On texted vs texed".

Following are some excerpts from his post that provide a condensed answer to the question:

... when text became a verb again in the 1990s, in the modern sense, it followed the normal pattern, and texted is the form given in all the dictionaries. So the interesting question is, why has an alternative form developed. ...

... Pronunciation is probably part of the answer. ...

... adding an -ed ending alters the pronunciation dynamic. We now have two /t/ sounds in a rapid sequence
, as we had in broadcasted, and that could motivate people to drop the ending. Speakers generally prefer shorter forms. ...

... Whatever the reasons, we do now find forms such as texed and tex'd being used with increasing frequency. I think it's only a matter of time before we find it being treated like broadcast in dictionaries, and given two forms.

In regards to the above mention of "two /t/ sounds in a rapid sequence", the past tense -ed suffix can be phonetically realized as /t/, /d/ or /Id/depending on the final sound of the root morpheme and depending on the speaker's dialect.

Compare the words walked, buzzed and rested.

For most people walked will end in /t/, buzzed will end in /d/ and rested will end in /Id/.

The only time the -ed suffix is vocalized as /Id/ is when the final sound of the root morpheme is a /t/ or /d/.

Returning to Crystal's mention that "speakers prefer shorter forms", I suppose a case could be made for two different analyses of the phonological shortening of the verb texted.

1. The root-final /t/ is omitted thus the -ed suffix is pronounced as /t/.
2. The -ed suffix, which is more commonly realized as /t/ than /Id/, is deleted.

Quite the phonological conundrum, isn't it?

I still say /tektId/.


The Ridger, FCD said...

Text is joining that large class of monosyllabic irregulars whose past and present are the same: put, quit, shut, pet (for many though not me yet), let and so on.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Even better: there seem to be many who make "tex" the present and "text" (texed") the past.

Laura Payne said...

The Ridger, FCD - Now that you mention it, I have noticed that present tense usage too.

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