IN RECENT times a moral panic surrounding text message language and the alleged effects it is having on literacy skills has arisen (Crystal 2008). This comes as no shock when it has been reported that approximately ninety-nine percent of young adults in the United Kingdom, aged between sixteen and nineteen, use a mobile phone (Ofcom 2008, cited by Durkin, K. 2011). Approximately one in three of these young adults send more than one hundred text messages a day (Skills Development Scotland 2010, cited by Durkin, K. 2011).
The debate, whether text messaging harms literacy skills, has surfaced due to accusations from critics such as Woronoff (2007), who assumed that “exposure to texisms will inevitably affect children’s memory of the correct form” (Wood et al 2014:23). He argued that children are more prone to commit errors due to their minds still being in the formation stage, a stage which adults have already past. However, theories conflict with one another. Wood (2014) argues that studies such as Brown (1988) and Dixon & Kaminska (1997) reveal that when adults are exposed to an incorrect spelling of a word it can result in a decline of their ability to spell the correct form, thus suggesting textisms have the ability to affect all.
Conversely, there are many opposing arguments against the claims of negative effects of textisms. Plester et al (2009) argue that there is no negative relationship between text abbreviations and spelling ability. Crystal (2008) even claims that there is a significantly positive correlation of the impact textisms have on literacy skills. This is due to a good phonetic awareness being required. He also pointed out that ‘text language’ has been noted long before mobiles were invented. Rebuses were used in the Middle Ages where pictures and letters would represent sounds (Barry, 2002). This is supported by Coe and Oakhill (2011) who claims that the better the reading ability, the greater the text abbreviations used.
So, assuming that phonological awareness is required for the construction and decoding of textisms (e.g. Adams, 1990, cited by Wood, 2011), what about people with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, who have trouble with phonemic awareness and phonics? Veater, Plester and Wood’s (2011) findings suggest that people with dyslexia tend to avoid text abbreviations which require phonological processes and in turn use more initalisms and symbols. Durkin, Conto-Ramsden and Walker (2011) noted that adolescents with an SLI (specific language impairment) are less likely to respond via text messaging and when they do respond it tends to be shorter than those without.
Nevertheless, Wood (2014: 32) states that “young people with language impairment may benefit both linguistically and socially from support in becoming more fluent in producing and reading text messages”; consequently the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ seems very applicable within the field of literacy. Crystal (2008: 157) agrees stating that “additional experience of writing [is] a help, rather than a hindrance”.
Thus, there seems to be a sufficient amount of studies which give evidence to back up the argument that text messaging has a positive effect on linguistic skills regardless of whether they have a SLI or not. Could this evidence be a step towards teaching this ‘text messaging language’ in schools?
GEORGIE LAWRENCE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK
Barry, J. (2004), Richard Stanihurst’s De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis. Renaissance Studies, 18: 1–18. Accessed on: 02/11/13. Available from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0269-1213.2004.00047.x/abstract
Durkin, K., Conti-Ramsden, G. & Walker, A. J. (2011). Txt lang: texting, textism use and literacy abilities in adolescents with and without specific language impairment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 49–57.
Ofcom (2008) Media Literacy Audit: Report on UK Adults’ Media Literacy. Accessed on 30/10/13. Available at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/media-literacy/medlitpub/medlitpubrss/ml_adult08/
Plester, B., Wood, C., & Joshi, B. (2009) Exploring the relationship between children’s knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology,27, 145-161
Skills Development Scotland (2010) Skills Development Scotland Research Uncovers Young People’s Communication Habits. Accessed on: 01/11/13. Available at: http://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases//skills-development-scotland-research-uncovers-young-people%E2%80%99s-communication-habits.aspx?>http://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases//skills-development-scotland-research-uncovers-young-people%E2%80%99s-communication-habits.aspx
Veater, H., Plester, B., and Wood, C. (2011) ‘Exploring the relationship between text message abbreviations and literacy skills in children with dyslexia’. Dyslexia 17, 65-71. Accessed on: 02/11/13. Available from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2012.08.026