‘Texting dulls spelling’, it’s a ‘habit forming menace’ and it ‘influences kids to spell incorrectly’, are just some of Woronoff’s (2007) views on the influence of text messaging on children’s literacy, (see Wood, Kemp and Plester, 2014: 24). These views are unfortunately shared by many others. But why?
These claims about texting and its ‘negative’ impact haven’t just popped out of nowhere. Instead, various articles and books decided to worry their audiences, by including audacious statements like ‘texting dumbs spelling’ without backing them up with any empirical evidence.
Professor Clare Wood’s ‘Text Messaging and Literacy Development: The Evidence’ (2011), highlights where this cause for concern stemmed from, and why parents, teachers and even examiners must fear no longer. Wood includes a study conducted by Vicky Bell which claims there was a negative relationship between children’s frequency of text messaging and their CAT (Cognitive Ability Test) scores. The findings from this study were extremely interesting and surprising to Wood, so she decided to analyse it more closely.
Whilst closely analysing the results from the CATS scores, Wood found that children did surprisingly well on one aspect of the test, the translation exercise. The exercise required the children to convert text message talk into Standard English. This showed that the children had a good understanding of abbreviations, which prompted further research. Additionally, according to Wood, Kemp and Plester (2014: 25), Powell and Dixon (2011) suggest that textisms / abbreviations provide a partial cue to the spelling of the word they represent, and that because they transgress conventional spelling rules by including numbers or omitting vowels, they do not interfere with people’s stored memories of word spellings. So does this mean abbreviations are harmless?
Wood and her colleagues carried out a number of studies which contradicted the original findings of the Vicky Bell study. Instead, they found that there was no evidence to suggest that texting and abbreviations harm literacy development. In fact, the studies revealed that if a child is already using their mobile phones for texting, it will support their literacy via phonological development.
If someone has sent a text before, then it is likely that that person has used at least one textism. There are various types of textisms such as: orthographic-contractions (message-> msg); phonological (through-> thru); acronyms / initialisms (talk to you later-> ttyl); clippings (going-> goin); letter / number homophones (see-> c, to/too-> 2); combined letter / number homophones (later-> l8r); emoticons / symbols (happy-> J); pronunciation representations (going to-> gonna); omission of capitalisation (Hannah-> Hannah); and repetition of letters (so-> sooooo). I know I’m guilty of using at least half of these! Due to the high demand for rapid communication, these textisms were gradually created over time, but it does appear that they are somewhat outdated nowadays.
Clark (2008) revealed that a survey carried out by Teachers TV found that 59% of teachers said they can understand text-message speak, the abbreviations and their meanings. Texting is incredibly popular, and a fantastic means of fast communication, so I am glad I have had the opportunity to defend it in this blog. I hope after reading this that you feel relieved, and that the act of pressing buttons on a keypad will inevitably not impact negatively on your literacy or spelling.
HANNAH GAYTON-HONEYWOOD, University of Chester, UK