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

References

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]

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

  1. bethwinner says:

    I completely agree that because no studies have given any definitive evidence to support either side of the argument that it’s hard to make a decision for yourself.

    I have a feeling that this debate will be going on for a very long time, but do you not see the high percentage of US teens that have used some form of text speak into their academic writing as an issue in itself?

    For me texting is a way of communicating in a quick and informal way, so do you think we should now be more focused on teaching children the different styles of writing? From a young age we are taught in the difference between writing an essay and typing an email, and in my opinion this should also be done with texting. If a child thinks that it is appropriate to use text speak in academic writing then that is partly down to the teachers and parents for not teaching the correct writing styles. I’m not saying that we should be taught text speak, but taught when not to use it.

    In my opinion there is nothing wrong with texting and I just see it as a further evolution of language. No matter how negative people are about texting, it isn’t going to go anywhere so I think it should be embraced as another development in language rather than be accused of ruining a language altogether.

  2. Charlotte Hill says:

    Hi Christin,
    What would you expect to see from the longitundal study that you propose?

  3. Do you personally believe that fluent texting leads to better literacy skills? Or do you think it has a negative influence over how children speak/write?

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