TEXTING, since its advent in 1992, has become well rooted in our daily lives. It started as a useful communication tool, as well as a bit of fun, being used between friends and writing in ‘secret code’. But now fears of a decline in literacy have become more prominent, and a lot of the blame has been attributed to texting. Is this really fair?
It is common to adapt our language when texting or communicating via an electronic device, also known as CMC (computer mediated communication). When people send texts to friends they may write something like ‘wuu2’ instead of ‘what are you up to’ or ‘c u l8r’ for ‘see you later’. Texters usually want to send messages quickly, and shortening words or purposely misspelling for ease does this. This is also done to fit in with peers who text this way too. There is the fear that this ‘new language’ may replace Standard English and young people will become unable to use our language ‘properly’.
So, is this really a problem? Woronoff (2007) thinks so. He describes texting as a “habit forming menace [which] can influence kids to spell incorrectly”. There has been evidence to support this claim. For example, The Daily Telegraph (2004) published an article entitled “Pupils resort to text language in GCSE exams”. It explained that some teens misspelt words and used textisms in their GCSE papers. Despite this, The Daily Telegraph then later published an article in 2011 supporting the opposite point of view. The heading read “text messaging ‘improves children’s spelling skills”.
Tagliamonte & Denis suggest that “computer-mediated-communication […] is not the ruin of this generation at all, but an expansive new linguistic renaissance” (2008: 27). They are suggesting that this new variety of our language is an exciting development.
Crystal (2008: 162) also claims “children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness”. Being able to write in text language comes after mastering standard writing. We should therefore see texting as an addition to our language, not a replacement.
There have also been studies conducted on the topic over the years. Varnhagen et al. (2009) studied 40 adolescent texters between the ages of twelve and seventeen and measured their spelling ability. In conclusion to their study, they “are optimistic that spelling ability is not adversely affected by instant messaging” (2009: 731). They suggest that those who used more abbreviations and other features of texting were better spellers.
So, what is the answer? There may always be a divide in opinion, but the evidence is there. As long as it is made clear that text language is not to be used in formal contexts, and is simply an addition to our language, there will not be a problem. Perhaps texting has become an easy target to blame for the decline in literacy. If we look closely, texting and computer-mediated-communication provide additional practice in reading and writing and help children to learn the relationship between spelling and sounds. Although texting has taken off, it will never take over. As far as I can see our language is safe.
MEGAN IRVINE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK
Henry, J. (2004) Pupils resort to text language in GCSE exams. The Telegraph [online] 7 November [Accessed 3 November 2013], 1. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3346533/Pupils-resort-to-text-language-in-GCSE-exams.html
Paton, G. (2011) Text messaging ‘improves children’s spelling skills’. The Telegraph [online] 20 January [Accessed 4 November 2013], 1. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8272502/Text-messaging-improves-childrens-spelling-skills.html
Woronoff, P. (2007) Cell phone texting can endanger spelling. Retrieved 23 October 2013 from: http://www.articlesbase.com/cell-phones-articles/cell-phone-texting-can-endanger-spelling-276413.html