‘Txtng dnt harm uz!’ ANNA JOHNSON asks ‘Is texting dumbing down literacy skills?’

     WITH THE rise of the text-messaging phenomenon in the past ten years, it is not surprising that controversial issues have emerged regarding the impact of texting on literacy skills. Wood, Kemp & Plester (2014) point out that there are more mobile phone subscriptions than people in the United Kingdom, with texting being significantly more popular than talking on the phone. A new shorthand form of speech that is convenient, allowing you to communicate fast has caused much debate from educators and literates, as to whether or not texting is affecting literacy skills.

      Fisher and Williams (2006) found that in their Year 4, 5 and 6 classes, abbreviations used in texting such as ‘u’ for ‘you’ and ‘plz’ for ‘please’, are being adapted in formal styles of writing, highlighting the concern that many teachers believe texting is negatively effecting children’s literacy skills. According to Lee (2002, cited in O’Connor 2012) “teachers say that papers are being written with shortened words” and children are doing this unintentionally; naturally writing shorthand in essays where standard English should be used. Will children eventually use shorthand speech all of the time, as they are so used to seeing it? Woronoff (2007) believes that as children’s reading and writing skills are not established fully, “exposure to textisms will inevitably affect children’s memory of the correct form” (Wood, C. et al 2014:23). What about adults’ literacy skills? Wood, C et al. (2014) argues that if adults are exposed to a misspelled word it can result in laziness about spelling and therefore they can easily adapt to the new word and disregard the correct spelling. Consequently, they are arguing that text messaging will change the way we spell and use words in formal contexts.

     On the other hand, there are arguments towards the advantages of text messaging on literacy skills. Crystal (2008: 162) states “Children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness”. Therefore children must have phonetic awareness in order to use abbreviations such as letter and number homophones. “Evidence from examiners and others suggests that the vast majority of students are well aware of the difference, and do not use textisms in their writing” Crystal (2008: 166). This emphasises that instead of dumbing down literacy, it can improve skills and exercise brains, by bringing a new format of written speech into the English language. Who says that text messaging has brought about abbreviations? In fact, Proysen (2009) specifies that passages from the Middle Ages contain many abbreviations due to the high cost of writing materials, which has not altered Standard English, thus neither will text messaging.

     Both arguments offer valid opinions and reasons as to whether text messaging is dumbing down literacy skills. However I agree with Crystal (2008: 164), that “texting is just another variety of language”. It is causing much debate; similar to the introduction of the computer that was believed to reduce the chances of children being able to exercise handwriting skills, although there has never been any evidence to prove this. Text messaging is simply an evolution of technology creating a new form of language, and as long as children and adults are able to distinguish when to use formal and informal English in the correct context, texting will not dumb down literacy.

ANNA JOHNSON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK.


 Crystal, D. (2008) Texting: The Gr8 Db8. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.

Fisher, R., & Williams, M. (2006) Unlocking Literacy: A Guide for Teachers. Great Britain: David Fulton Publishers.

 Lee, J. (2002) I Think, Therefore IM. New York Times, 19 September 2002.     Available at:             http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/literacy/articles/instant-messaging/ Amanda O’Connor 2012

Proysen, S. (2009) The Impact of Text Messaging on Standard English. [Accessed 14 May 2009], pp. 32. Available at:            https://bora.uib.no/bitstream/handle/1956/3320/56404526.pdf?sequence=

Wood, C., Kemp, N., & Plester, B. (2014) Text Messaging and Literacy – The Evidence. USA: Routledge.