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