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Verbal Energy: Predictable chaos on our cellphones

'Predictive' software and the way language works

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Early in the morning the other day, I awoke to a BBC commentary by an earnest young man from New Zealand. The problem he was elucidating was that the predictive language feature on his mobile phone is not properly attuned to the Kiwi slang he likes to use in his text messaging.

New Zealanders, he said, are big fans of text messaging, or texting. But he gets frustrated when the software on his phone, which is supposed to save him keystrokes by anticipating what he's trying to say, leads him down other paths instead.

The problem, he had determined, is that the dictionary built into his phone is from an American company, and so is based on American English, which is not what he speaks.

Why should a handful of people in America decide on the dictionary that goes into his phone, he asked.

His plaint is a reminder that it's a great big world out there, and that English may be ubiquitous, but that it comes in many varieties.

Last June, PC World magazine explained the "T9" system the Kiwi was complaining about in an article:

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