Texting and Literacy: Tears of joy or tears of sadness (emoji..!). JOHANNA BOISSON investigates

The fast rise of technology has resulted in an increased availability of communication devices to the public domain. This has led to the belief that it has caused a decline in literacy skills. Does the use of technology make the lines between the spoken and written register blur? Or, as Tagliamonte and Denis (2008, p. 5) acknowledge, is there a whole new “hybrid register” that stems from computer mediated communication (CMC)?

Vosloo (2009, p. 2) acknowledges the negative stigma that is received from both parents and teachers as regards texting affecting literacy. Plester, Wood and Joshi (2009; cited by Vosloo, 2009, p. 3) found no association between texting and the spelling scores of 10 to12-year-old children. There was, however, an association between textisms and phonological awareness, suggesting that exposure to a wider variety of types of language, even in a non-academic context, may result in children developing their comprehension of the construction of language (Wood, Plester and Bowyer, 2008; cited by Vosloo, 2009, p. 4).

Crystal (2008; cited by Vosloo, 2009, p. 4) acknowledges that abbreviations in language are constantly used, for example ASAP (as soon as possible), thus textism abbreviations such as BRB (be right back) encourage creativity in language. Verheijen (2013, p. 586) supports this notion that texting allows creativity in language, suggesting that the use of technology and CMC “would motivate young people to read and write” and therefore develop their literacy skills. This is shown by Durkin, Conti-Ramsden and Walker (2011; cited by Verheijen, 2013, p. 589) who found that teenagers had better literacy skills when they were likely to reply to a text message, particularly from writing longer messages and using a variety of textisms.

Craig (2003; cited by Verheijen, 2013, p. 587) believes that “as language naturally evolves these novel creations may eventually become part of the Standard English lexicon”. This has been illustrated recently as the Oxford English Dictionary has announced the word of the year for 2015 as “face with tears of joy emoji” (Parkinson, 2015), which shows that CMC is becoming more accepted. Baron (2008, p. 177) acknowledges that as technology develops, changes to language may occur, such as the introduction of new words to accommodate innovations like email. Also, when neologisms appear, they should be considered rather than disregarded straight away because “distinguishing between language change and language decline is a very tricky business” (Baron, 2008, p. 161).

Although these all demonstrate the positive side to texting and CMC, it has also been shown to have an adverse effect on literacy skills. Geertsema, Hyman and van Deventer (2011; cited by Verheijen, 2013, p. 595) found that students would incorrectly use punctuation and also non-Standard English spellings, which therefore had “a negative impact on student’s academic achievement”. De Jonge and Kemp (2012; cited by Verheijen, 2013, p. 595) state that textisms could be used by some young students to deter from their underdeveloped literacy skills. Although these are differing views of the effects of texting and CMC relating to literacy, it is difficult to definitely determine whether there is an association. Verheijen (2013, p. 596) states that we should acknowledge that different results in studies can be obtained through using different independent variables, such as age, gender and education level of the participants. There will also be differences when considering how familiar a participant is with mobile phones and texting (Verheijen, 2013, p. 596).

So, are the literacy skills of future generations doomed by the existence of communication through technology? Not as much as some may think. There may isolated examples involving children are not being able to distinguish when is suitable to use textisms. However, in my opinion, most children have sufficient knowledge that CMC is in its own category for use. Therefore they would be less likely to use it in academic contexts. In my experience of academia I have not witnessed the use of textisms in any person’s work; it is more likely that someone may make a grammatical or syntactical error, which is something that can be corrected with proper guidance from teachers and thorough proofreading of work. Any encounter with language should be seen as a positive one and we should make the most of using technology to communicate. Who knows where it will take the English Language to next!

JOHANNA BOISSON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Baron, N. S. (2008). Always on: Language in an online and mobile world. New York: Oxford University Press.

Craig, D. (2003). Instant Messaging: The Language of Youth Literacy. The Boothe Prize Essays, 116-33.

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

De Jonge, S., & Kemp, N. (2012). Text-message abbreviations and language skills in high school and university students. Journal of Research in Reading 35(1), 49–68.

Durkin, K., Conti-Ramsden, G., & Walker, A. J. (2011). Txt lang: Texting, textism use and literacy abilities in adolescents with and without specific language impairment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 27 (1), 49–57.

Geertsema, S., Hyman, C., & van Deventer, C. (2011). Short Message Service (SMS) language and written language skills: Educators’ perspectives. South African Journal of Education 31 (1), 475–87.

Parkinson, H. J. (2015, Nov 17). Oxford Dictionary names emoji ‘word of the year’ – here are five better options. The Guardian.

Plester, B., Wood, C., & Joshi, P. (2009). Exploring the relationship between children’s knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27(1), 145-161.

Tagliamonte, S., & Denis, D. (2008). Linguistic Ruin? LOL! Instant Messaging and Teen Language. American Speech 83(1), 3-34. Doi: 10.1215/00031283-2008-001

Verheijen, L. (2013). The effects of text messaging and instant messaging on literacy. English Studies, 94(5), 582-602. doi: 10.1080/0013838X.2013.795737

Vosloo, S. (2009). The effects of texting on literacy: Modern scourge or opportunity? Shuttleworth Foundation (1), 1–8.

Wood, C., Plester, B., & Bowyer, S. (2008). A Cross-Lagged Longitudinal Study of Text Messaging and Its Impact on Literacy Skills: Preliminary Results. Poster Presented at the British Psychological Society Developmental Section Conference, Oxford Brookes University, September 2008.


One thought on “Texting and Literacy: Tears of joy or tears of sadness (emoji..!). JOHANNA BOISSON investigates

  1. Laura Talbot says:

    Johanna, your blog is a very stimulating read, in which you clearly engage with both sides of the debate.
    It is interesting that the OED word of the year 2015 was, “face with tears of joy emoji”, as it is apparent that technology has become embedded into our language, without some of us even realising it. Therefore, I think it is important to recognise the difficulty that children must face in distinguishing what is appropriate for academic writing, when the Oxford English Dictionary are introducing words such as ‘emoji’ as their word of the year. The OED also includes many textisms in their entries. For instance their list of new words for August 2014 included SMH (for ‘Shaking My Head’) and YOLO (You Only Live Once). I agree that most children have sufficient enough knowledge to know that CMC is in its own category for use. But do you think that when academic sources such as the OED include many textisms, that it becomes difficult for children to distinguish what is appropriate for academic use?
    Your conclusion acknowledges that children are able to distinguish when it is suitable to use textisms, but do you think that each academic environment is different? Would you agree that more pressure should be placed on teachers to ensure that children continue to distinguish what is suitable?

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