ABIHA RASHID argues that we should ‘stɒp tɛstɪŋ peɪʃəns wɪð fɒnɪks’ (‘stop testing patience with phonics’)

The synthetic phonics teaching method was imposed as part of the UK’s national curriculum to draw focus on phonetically sounding out letters and blending them to help drive up their literacy standards (DfE). It has been applied to primary schools (GOV UK) to supposedly teach four and five year olds how to read, write and spell since Sir Jim Rose’s report (2006). This apparently provided evidence of successes with the application of synthetic phonics. No matter how successful a study may be, more evidence of success needs to be provided before such movements should be put in place.

According to the government, ‘all pupils will have learned phonic decoding to an appropriate standard by the age of 6’ (GOV UK) and thus they felt compelled to take this teaching method further and enforce a test on children. The government’s ‘phonics screening check’ was compulsory in 2012 and required Year 1 pupils in maintained schools, academies and free schools to take part (GOV UK). It apparently had benefits, for example helping to identify children who needed extra help so they could receive support to improve their reading skills. However, I believe what has been revealed from such a scheme and test so far has been nothing but a method to put robotic control over little children. This is evidenced in video footage of the phonics check which shows how six year olds are pressurised to say words applying the phonics method (educationgovuk). The pressure of having to sound out something in a confined manner could easily lead them to make errors and lose marks (educationgovuk). The test also uses non-existing words (pseudo-words) which makes it even harder to be successful because if you are testing a child with a word that does not exist there is no meaning or purpose behind using that word and reading should not be made so tricky and pointless. In addition to this, children gain no credibility or recognition for words that are not on the test. For example, when a non-word is presented to a child like ‘sheb’ and a child articulates ‘ship’ in response they would lose a mark (educationgovuk). This should not be the case. The child who articulated a real word without being shown the word shows an aspect of creativity and initiative which should be recognized.

If I reflect upon my childhood, I remember learning literacy with games in circles where we would write poems with all the words we picked up and would read them out if we felt confident enough. With reading, I learnt with a mixture of methods including the famous ‘look and say’ method where you did exactly that to learn. I also recall having to copy words out by covering them and rewriting them from memory. All methods seemed to complement one another, but my favourite way to learn reading was with colour bands using a ‘whole language’ method, where meaning held just as much importance as actually learning to read the word. It made me rather ambitious as a child as I aimed towards the higher colour bands. This method helped me succeed in understanding words and enabled my love for books to grow.

Overall, I agree with 90% of literacy co-ordinators that ‘a combination of all teaching methods should be used’ when a child is taught literacy (Dfe). This is because it is better than learning with only synthetic phonics alone that leads to pressurised situations in which children sit a test that should determine their abilities even though this may not be an accurate reflection. Children should be given the freedom to work with a range of literacy methods which can ensure that they are understanding the words and the context behind the letters and sounds they are being taught.

 ABIHA RASHID, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


DfE (2011) The importance of Phonics: Securing Confident Reading, policy and evidence paper.

Educationgovuk. (2012) Year 1 phonics screening check training video. [Accessed 10 December 2014]

GOV UK. (2012) [Accessed 8 November 2014]

GOV UK. (2013) [Accessed 10 December 2014] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reforming-qualifications-and-the-curriculum-to-better-prepare-pupils-for-life-after-school/supporting-pages/statutory-phonics-screening-check

ROSE, J. (2006) Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading. Nottingham: DfES Publications.




Taboo Language. What is all the fuss about? asks JESSICA LAWRENCE

The dreaded swear word, considered as ‘dangerous’ and ‘immoral’ by many (Battistella 2005: 78). The fears surrounding this kind of language are widespread and not by any means new. A well-known example of a word that was considered ‘taboo’ causing outrage is Eliza Doolittle’s famous line in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ in 1914; ‘Not bloody likely!’ (Battistella 2005: 72). But why is it that certain words cause shock and offence? Why is it that a select few words are deemed wrong or bad?

It seems that many words that are considered ‘taboo’ stem from topics that are considered uncomfortable or hard to talk about. This is highlighted by Allan and Burridge, who explain that “sexual activity us tabooed as a topic for public display and severely constrained as a topic for discussion’ (2006: 144). Other topics that are commonly censored within society are disease, death and killing. Misfortune, even today, is considered as taboo, giving way to euphemistic phrases to avoid ‘bad’ language (Allan and Burridge 2005).

Mohr, however, argues that during the 21st century, so called ‘sexual swearing’ has become less of a taboo, due to people becoming more used to seeing and discussing the human body, in movies, magazines and on TV (2013: 231). Perhaps this is a positive thing; due to the decrease in censorship of certain topics and words, it has allowed a more relaxed attitude when it comes to swearing, leading to the possibility of research into the field of swearing. Today, a range of professionals, from brain scientists to sociologists research into the science of swearing. One result of this is that it has allowed proper research into Tourette’s syndrome, as when it was discovered in the 19th century, doctors had to rely on using euphemisms and work against public perception that understanding swearing was not an acceptable field of study (Mohr 2013).

It’s not surprising that there are several arguments against the use of swearing and taboo language, but there are possibly just as many arguments for the tolerance of swearing. One of the central themes of these arguments is that swear words are only words, like any other word, and it’s the concept underlying the word that needs to be discussed and understood. Another is the freedom of speech of those who choose to use these words. Also, many argue that the use of swear words is essential in some respects in the media such as film and TV, in order to reflect how people actually speak and create realism within the arts (Battistella 2005: 78).

So should we be treating swear words any differently? Despite the increasingly more relaxed attitude towards swearing in the 21st century, it’s fair to say that it is not socially acceptable to use swear words in all contexts, times and places. In some situations, it is fair to say, swear words are not appropriate. According to Allan and Burridge (2005: 30), “whether or not language behaviour counts as good manners will depend on a number of factors. These include: the relationship between speakers, their audience, and anyone within earshot; the subject matter; the situation (setting)”.

Although there are plenty of arguments for and against the use of swearing, it seems to me that when and if to swear is a personal choice – which relies mostly on the common sense of the speaker –  generally most people wouldn’t have a problem using swear words around their friends, or on Facebook, but would presumably avoid using any offensive language if speaking to their parents, teachers, or in any academic writing.

JESSICA LAWRENCE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Allan, K., Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden words: taboo and the censoring of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Battistella, E. L. (2007). Bad language: are some words better than others? New York: Oxford University Press.

Mohr, M. (2013). Holy shit: a brief history of swearing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


‘Thought crime’: Has political correctness gone too far? CHARLOTTE HILL investigates

Political correctness remains, and has done for some time, subject to a large amount of debate. A focus of this debate is the suggestion that political correctness is limiting our freedom of speech. But to what extent is this statement accurate?

Political correctness (or PC) has been likened to that of the fictional language ‘Newspeak’ featured in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. ‘Newspeak’ refers to the specific lexis used by citizens of the dystopian world Oceania, to ensure conformity to the rules imposed by the government. Hughes (2010: p. 62) states that political correctness, as a result of its ties to Communist ideology, is concerned with not just doing the right thing, but thinking the right thoughts. This is synonymous with the primary aim of ‘Newspeak’, which in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, concerned itself with ensuring that citizens of Oceania could only think what the Government wanted them to think.

Allan and Burridge suggest that the aim of Newspeak was to “reduce the number of words in the English Language to eliminate ideas deemed dangerous to Big Brother and the Party” (2006, p. 93). The idea is that if certain words, such as ‘bad’ or those related to liberty, are removed from the lexicon, they are no longer thought of, therefore the individual is unable to commit ‘thought crime’.

As demonstrated by Allan and Burridge (2006) the Orwellian view of euphemism came to dominate public discussion, and it is through this that parallels have been drawn between PC and Newspeak.

In some cases the comparison is accurate. For example, words are discouraged (or even banned – in severe cases) in similar ways. Terms are removed from our lexicon, in much the same way that words are reduced from ‘Newspeak’. Whilst racist and sexist terms tend to be the first examples that come to mind when thinking of political correctness, Allan and Burridge (2006) highlight that this censorship can extend far beyond this. They provide the example of a childcare centre in Australia which banned about twenty words that they considered offensive, including terms such as girl and boy (p.92).

Hughes (2010) suggests that new words formed around PC, for example ‘multicultural’, ‘Eurocentric’ and ‘Afrocentric’ are similar to Orwell’s constructions of ‘thought crime’ and ‘doublethink’ (p. 5).

Chilton describes ‘Newspeak’ as Orwell’s illuminating, if imprecise, notion of making oneself conscious of the deliberate deceptions of language, specifically its role in the maintaining of structures of power (1983, p. 5). Language is used in many instances to highlight, and to strengthen an individual’s / group of individuals’ power. But how does this relate to political correctness? Power (2009) suggests that anyone familiar with the language of government, business and academia would be hard-pressed to deny that ‘Newspeak’ lives today in the “icy banality of bureaucratic language”. She argues that this language serves to confuse individuals with a lexicon that makes all modes of thought, bar the reigning ideology, impossible (Power: 2009).

There are, however, many differences between PC and Orwell’s concept of ‘Newspeak’. For example, when looking at dictionary definitions, PC is represented in a much more positive light than that of ‘Newspeak’. Whilst the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘Newspeak’ as “Propagandistic language”, PC is defined as “conforming to the belief that language and actions which could offend […] should be eliminated”. The primary aim of political correctness appears to be avoiding of offence, regardless of those who feel it has ‘gone mad’. Contrary to that, ‘Newspeak’ concerns itself with control, with no consideration to the feelings of the individual. In this sense, PC allows for a larger scope of freedom to the individual, critiques against the party are allowed, and in this way political opinion is not repressed as it would be for the characters in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Furthermore, the aim of ‘Newspeak’ is to narrow the lexicon to reduce the number of thoughts possible, in contrast, PC is continuously generating a large number of neologisms (See Hughes, 2010).

Intrinsic to this debate is whether language does actually control thought, as is depicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. According to Crick (2007, p. 158) a combination of colloquial language, the common people and common-sense will survive unwavering attempts at total control. In that case, maybe we have nothing to worry about…..

CHARLOTTE HILL, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Allan, K. & Burridge, K. (2006) Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aubrey, C.  Chilton, P. (1983) Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984: Autonomy, Control and Communication. London: Comedia Publishing Group.

Crick, B. (2007) ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four: Context and Controversy’ in Ed. Rodden, J. The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hughes, G. (2010) Political Correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definition : Political Correctness

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definition: Newspeak

Power, N. (28 May 2009) Bamboozle, Baffle and Blindside. New Statesman.

Political Correctness or freedom of expression – a conflict? NATALIE MOORE investigates

Political correctness is widely debated in the media on a daily basis. Some propose that it threatens freedom of expression (Dunant 1994:23) whilst others suggest political correctness has been extremely successful in changing people’s linguistic habits and behaviour (Allan & Burridge 2006: 90).

Battistella (2005: 111) suggests that many live in fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ and its power to offend someone. At no point is overcoming political correctness an invitation to accept discrimination. However, when people question use of everyday lexical collocations such as ‘black coffee’ because it could be interpreted as offensive (Global Language Monitor), then surely we have to question its influence over our freedom of speech? Although the intent itself is to be commended, somewhere a line needs to be drawn.

Muir (2009) argues political correctness results in a united society whereas Gallagher (2013) proposes political correctness has ‘made everyone avoid the topics all together’. So at what point does political correctness go too far? Often comedians are found expanding the limits of political correctness. In The Telegraph online Hodari (2012) summaries some of Jimmy Carr’s most controversial moments. It states that in 2009 Carr ‘stunned’ audiences suggesting we would have a ‘good Paralympic team’ as a result of the numerous servicemen amputees, sparking outrage both in the media and on social networking sites. However, Lampanelli (2013) suggests that without controversy it is fair to suggest that comedy would be virtually non-existent. It poses the question, would Jimmy Carr be so well known if he didn’t make such controversial remarks?  Lampanelli (2013) states that ‘comedy is like music – there are genres and styles for every taste.’ In these instances is it not in the individual’s right to express their thoughts through humorous language? Lampanelli (2013) suggests that often some people are ‘too sensitive’ about language used in jokes. And so the conflict between political correctness and freedom of speech begins to come into question.

Political correctness seeks to prevent offence (Allan & Burridge 2006: 90) therefore it has to be commended as an honourable and well-intentioned prospect. It has remained successful in censoring certain taboo words and labels for minority groups, generating a consciousness of offensive terms. Klotz (1999) suggests that what we chose to say often relies on politeness. If we are aware that a term is offensive then we should respect language and employ self-censorship on our part.

Dunant (1994: 23) describes political correctness as a way to monitor and adapt thoughts. Imposing rules about what people can say consequently affects the way they think. However, with language persistently changing, we have to consider the affect this has on different generations. My grandparents wouldn’t question using the term ‘handicapped’ over ‘person with disabilities’, now the ‘correct’ term of reference (Rose 2004). Older generations have no intention of offending this group of people; it is merely the term they have been brought up to say. Personally, I am more likely to refer to a person with ‘disabilities’ but does this really mean we think about these people differently? Personally, I don’t think it does.

Language is forever evolving and changing in meanings and what is the correct term today could be labelled unacceptable tomorrow. Much of the disapproval surrounding political correctness is a result of the media. It can take a term that begins as a rumour and through a sensationalised medium spark discussion. This often results in the lexical choice being questioned in terms of political correctness and there appears to be constant confusion about what we are and are not ‘supposed’ to say.

Many are divided when it comes to political correctness. Some claim that political correctness hasn’t nearly gone far enough whereas others live in fear of what is to come next. Language is arbitrary in meaning and there is nothing inherently offensive about certain words, it is merely the connotations society attaches to these words. Political correctness creates anxieties about language use and that is a shame. In light of political correctness Battistella (2005: 111) proposes that people feel they have to modify their speech and thought in order not to offend people. So, at what point does this threaten our freedom of speech and thought?

NATALIE MOORE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Allan, K & Burridge, K. (2006) Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Battistella, L. (2005) Bad Language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dunant, S (ed). (1994) The War of the Words: The political correctness debate. London: Virago Press.

Gallagher, B.J. (2013) The Problem with Political Correctness. The Huffington Post [Online], 25 February [Accessed 6 December 2014].

Global Language Monitor. (2006) [Accessed 6  December 2014]. 

Hodari, D. (2012) Jimmy Carr: five most controversial incidents. The Telegraph [online], 19 June     [Accessed 9 December 2014].

Klotz, P. (1999) Politeness and Political Correctness: Ideological Implications. International Pragmatics Association, 9 (1), [Accessed 6 December 2014], pp. 155-161.

Lampanelli, L. (2013) How Political Correctness is Killing Comedy (Guest Column). The Hollywood Reporter [online], 15 February [Accessed 10 December 2014]. 

Muir, H. (2009) In Defence of Political Correctness. The Guardian [Online], 21 December [Accessed 6 December 2014]. 

Rose,D. (2004) Don’t Call Me Handicapped! BBC News [Online], 4 October [Accessed 6 December 2014]. 





Big offences, no offence or on the fence? HELEN SMITH explores the place of political correctness in 2014

“Why is everyone so PC? It’s not my fault if you take offence” – Cheeky rap duo Rizzle Kicks don’t think that a linguistic rapport with political correctness has a place in our everyday language use. So why is it that so much lexis is prescribed by minority groups in order to minimise so-called ‘hurt feelings’ or derogation?

Political correctness and its relationship with taboo language – defined by the OED (2014) as ‘A total or partial prohibition of the use of certain words, expressions, topics, etc., esp. in social intercourse’​ – has been a topic of debate amongst educators, scholars and journalists alike for the past few decades. Take Closer magazine, for example:  their 2013 article ‘The Funniest Examples of Political Correctness Gone Mad’ gives examples of language altered because of its potential offence to minority groups. The author, Anais Rach, gives examples as extreme as a Seattle school’s use of the term ‘spring spheres’ to refer to the April’s annual seasonal treat – Easter Eggs! ‘Spring spheres’ is, according to the author, a more faith-neutral term that can be used by any child, regardless of faith. Now, for a start, Easter Eggs don’t, by means of shape or characteristic, resemble spheres. They resemble eggs. Secondly, it makes perfect sense to argue that Easter Eggs shouldn’t technically be consumed or referred to by those who don’t associate themselves with Christianity – the religion that the holiday and celebrations derive from. Surely non-Christians can’t complain about a faith-specific notion that stems from a Christian belief?  Do ‘spring spheres’ really represent resurrection?

It is, however, fair to say that language alterations such as this have been journalistically sensationalised in their reports of political correctness (as reported by Crystal, 2012: 90). It is undoubtedly a ‘hot topic’ with two strong, opposing sides to the debate -the somewhat ridiculousness of ‘spring spheres’, compared to a disabled person’s perspective of the insults given through use of derogatory terms. Rose (2004) writes that the terms we use to refer to those with disability range from the patronising and condescending – like ‘special’ or ‘different’ – to the downright insulting, outdated and culturally shunned, like ‘retard’ or ‘window-licker’. Whitley & Kite (2009: 511) highlight the current disability-friendly PC term  – ‘people with disabilities’. ‘People-first language’, as Rose (2004) points out, links to language’s relationship with thought: “It’s born of a belief that we’re people first.”  When we utter the word ‘people’ before ‘disabilities’, it is believed that our thought process does the same, without pre-defining a person as ‘disabled’.

As we can see, political correctness is a radical concept that coincides with social change (Fairclough, 2001: 17). As the world around us changes, certain language becomes unacceptable when used to refer to a social group or action. This leaves us with a ‘taboo’ – i.e. a lexical item that, due to a pejorative association with minority groups,  is deemed inappropriate for use in modern-day contexts. The rapidity of social change explains why we hear older speakers still using outdated, ‘tabooed’ terms. My old piano teacher was in his eighties and regularly used the term ‘blackies’ to refer to the keyboard’s black keys (when comparing said keys to people). Whilst most modern language users would deem this entirely unacceptable, it is also easy to spring to Mr Flower’s defence –  in his lifetime, immigration rates shot to an all-time high, social activists in the 60s finally secured African-American rights and  the USA voted in their first black President. Mr Flower’s childhood piano teacher could have uttered ‘blackies’ a hundred times without any students batting an eyelid, but our changing society means that with every utterance we make, cautiousness and the prospect of offence makes us more and more likely to hold our tongue.

It is clear that political correctness has its place in this modern world. It is also clear, however, that it is almost entirely determined by social change. Whatever euphemisms we use, the language we use remains as arbitrary – we’re still referring to the same entities, even if we are ‘softening the blow’. Where will political correctness take us next? Maybe ‘spring spheres’ are on their way out – we could, after all, be deeply offending ‘sfairesphobics’ (those with a fear of spheres)!

HELEN SMITH, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Anais Rach, J. (2013) The funniest examples of political correctness gone mad. Closer. 27 September [online]. [Accessed 24/11/2014] 

Crystal, D. (2012) The Story of English in 100 Words. London: Macmillan.

Fairclough, N. (2001) ‘Political correctness’: the politics of culture and language. Discourse & Society. 14 (1) pp. 17-28.

OED Online (2014). Oxford University Press. [Accessed 17/11/2014] 

Rose, D. (2004) Don’t Call Me Handicapped! BBC News. [Accessed 17/11/2014] 

Whitley, B. & Kite, M. (2009) The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. London: Cengage Learning.


How gr8 iz txtng? AMY SARGESON investigates

The first text message was sent in 1992 by Neil Papworth wishing Richard Jarvis a “Merry Christmas” (Arthur 2012) and ever since then, text messaging has become a global phenomenon. In fact, in 2011, Alexander (2011) claimed that 60% of human beings are active ‘texters’ – that’s approximately 4.2 billion people! Nevertheless, not everyone is keen on the idea of texting. Many linguists, teachers and parents believe texting is dumbing down literacy and are concerned that it is affecting students’ schoolwork. But can sending a text really affect how well you do in school?

Ross (2007:4) shows that many teachers in America believe students are making countless mistakes in writing assignments because of the abbreviated language they are using in text messages and bringing into the classroom. Pew Internet & American Life Project also conducted a survey involving US teens and found that 64% admitted that ‘some form of texting has crept into their academic writing’ (cited by Lenhart et al, 2008).

In terms of texting affecting UK students, the BBC (2003) provided its online readers with the following essay written by a 13-year-old Scottish schoolgirl: “My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & th 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 pic” (translation: ‘My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York, it’s a great place’). This is just a short extract of the full essay the schoolgirl wrote, but it seems to show that in this instance text message shorthand is being used in the completely wrong context, as traditionally, you are taught to use Standard English when writing an academic essay.

However, Crystal (2008:151) implies this essay may not have even existed. Then again, McIntyre believes it does not matter if this essay is real or not; as what is important is that examples like this generate “a moral panic concerning the falling standards in literacy” (McIntyre 2009:12). Plester, Wood and Joshi (2009) conducted a study to find out whether texting is actually the cause of the alleged falling standards of children’s literacy. They used 10 to 12-year-old participants and found that there was actually a “strong association between textism use and phonological awareness” (Vosloo 2009:3). This seems to show that maybe texting can actually be a good thing, as it helps children to understand how to pronounce words (for example the ‘textism’ ‘2nite’ shows how to pronounce the word ‘tonight’).

In addition, even though a lot of people are concerned over text messaging affecting literacy, McIntyre (2009:123) proposes that these people are forgetting how our writing can change as a result of what kind of circumstance we are in. If children are really using text-message shorthand (or ‘textisms’) in their academic work they need to master ‘the more appropriate register of English’ (McIntyre 2009:124).

Although there are examples of students using ‘textisms’ in their schoolwork, children often make other mistakes in their writing. As Crystal suggests, these mistakes are not a result of the use of text messaging, they are “evidence of carelessness or lack of thought rather than a systematic inability to spell and punctuate” (Crystal 2008:153).

In my opinion, to say text messaging is affecting literacy is quite extreme, as in my academic career I have never witnessed anyone using textisms (including myself) in academic work. There are many examples of text messaging affecting literacy, but there are also many linguists (for instance) who believe text messaging is actually a good thing. I for one do not believe text messaging is something to worry about, especially in terms of literacy.

AMY SARGESON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Alexander (2011) Ansonalex.com. [Accessed 18th November 2014].

Arthur, C. (2012) Text messages turns 20 – but are their best years behind them?. The Guardian [online]. 3rd December [accessed 18th November 2014]. 

BBC (2003) Is txt ruining the English Language. BBC News [online], 6th March 2003 [Accessed 7th November]

Crystal, D. (2008) Texting: The gr8 db8. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lenhart, A. et al. (2008) Writing, Technology and Teens. Pew Internet & American Life Project: Washington D.C.

McIntyre, D. (2009) History of Engish. Oxon: Routledge.

Plester, B. Wood, C. & Joshi, P. (2010) Exploring the relationship between children’s knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 27(1), pp.145-161.

Ross, K. (2007) Teachers say text messages r ruining kids’ riting skills. American Teacher, 92(3), pp.4

Vosloo, S. (2009) The effects of texting on literacy: Modern scourge or opportunity? [Accessed 8th November 2014].


Linguistic vandalism or efficiency? CHRISTIN KLUGE explores the pros and cons of text-messaging

News about the influence of mobile phones on children can be read everywhere. Since the rise of text messages, the ‘new language’ users have been labelled as being “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago … pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary” (Humphrys, 2007). The way it is presented, it seems inevitable that in the near future pupils will not only use this style in writing but also in speaking. The question is, does texting lead to a decay in literacy?

Woronoff (2007) claims that when spelling skills are not yet established, heavy use of texting will harm the ability to spell. On the contrary, what about all the abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms that we use regularly in our writing and speaking? Seldom people make the effort to say “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” for NATO or “British Broadcasting Corporation” for BBC. Nevertheless, they are accepted and fully integrated in the English language. As the world is developing, the demand for more vocabulary rises, and it needs to be quick to write as we live in a fast-paced society.

On the one hand the problem seems obvious. There is a proverb –  “a three must be bent while it’s young”. It’s not unusual to assume that children who first learn to write text messages will stick to the spelling later, which worries parents and teachers. However Prof. Crystal (in Kleinman 2010: 3) states that “in fact only 10% of the words in an average text are not written in full.” This is just the tip of the iceberg. Pupils don’t seem to be able to differentiate between informal texting and formal assignments in school. According to Lenhart et al 2008 (cited by Vosloo 2009: 2), “64 percent of US teens confessed that some form of texting has sneaked into their academic writing”. This opens an opportunity for teachers to speak about the right usage, says Professor Sterling (in Lewin 2008).

On the other hand there is history. More specifically, there have been many changes and shifts in languages during centuries. Today, no one could imagine speaking like Shakespeare or not having a standard dictionary. Why is it that modern texting is feared? Back when you needed to send a telegram for long distance communication every character was required to be spent wisely. One of the reasons for abbreviations in the last 20 years was to keep messages under the 160-character limit (Crystal 2008: 5-6). In times of smart phones and constant internet connection this is no longer required but it still saves a lot of time.

Kemp and Bushnell (cited in Verheijen 2013: 590) argue that fluent texting leads to better literacy skills. It seems that composing, understanding and replying to a text message correctly can only be achieved by people with great literacy skills. In contradiction to Woronoff (2007), Crystal (2008: 162) suggests that those skills are mandatory as “children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness”. Without the knowledge of their offspring, parents lack the skill of decoding a text message. Can it be called decay if one requires better literacy skills?

Should we be worrying about our language? For now no clear results are found in case studies. Before we jump to conclusions there is a need for more research. Up to this point past studies are not comparable. Possible topics could include longitude studies with the same children during primary school or if the same impact of texting occurs in other languages. If there is decay, one way of slowing it down is to improve other parts of literacy. One possibility would be giving children books for Christmas instead of the newest gadgets!

CHRISTIN KLUGE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Crystal, D. (2008) Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. New York: Oxford University Press

Humphrys, J. (2007) I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language. Daily Mail [online], September 24 [Accessed 3 November 2014], 2.

Kemp, N. Bushnell, C. (2001) Children’s Text Messaging: Abbreviations, Input Methods and Links with Literacy. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, pp. 18–27.

Kleinman, Z. (2010) How the internet is changing language. BBC [online], 16 August [Accessed 22 November 2014]

Lenhart, A., Arafeh, S., Smith, A., & Macgill, A. R. (2008) Writing, Technology and Teens. 

Lewin, T. (2008) Informal Style of Electronic Messages Is Showing Up in Schoolwork, Study Finds. New York Times [online], 25 April [Accessed 22 November 2014]

Verheijen, L. (2013) The Effects of Text Messaging and Instant Messaging on Literacy, English Studies, 94:5, pp.582-602.

Vosloo, S. (2009) The Effects of Texting on Literacy: Modern Scourge or Opportunity?Shuttleworth Foundation. pp.1–8.

Woronoff, P. (2007) Cell Phone Texting Can Endanger Spelling. Articlesbase [online], 6 December [Accessed 3 November 2014]