AMANI NIAZ asks: ‘Is texting and CMC detrimental to literacy?’

For many years there has been an ongoing debate as to whether computer-mediated communication (CMC) and texting are imposing detrimental effects upon our literacy skills. Some say that it does have an impact on literacy and others believe that it does not and that it is simply just another form of the English language. In some ways it encourages the younger generations to explore and play with language, through the use of, for instance, contractions and acronyms. However some argue that it has been proven to affect the literacy skills of some young people.

“The popularization of CMC spread after the launch of the World Wide Web in 1990”  according to Tagliamonte and Denis (2008, p. 5). Due to the rising popularity of online messaging services and websites such as MSN and Facebook new forms of language became increasingly used. Crystal states that “people found the linguistic novelty to lie chiefly in the slang and jargon of its enthusiastic proponents, as well as in their penchant for playing with language and for breaking conventional linguistic rules of spelling and punctuation” (2004, p. 64).

As this was the new trend more and more people started to use this form of language. It was something new and intriguing. So intriguing in fact, that not just teenagers but also adults started to use it to seem somewhat cool….

According to the Daily Mail (2010), “[a]dults mimicking teen-speak are to blame for spreading sloppy English which is putting the future of the language at risk”. However, has it really put our language at risk? Today my believe is that text-message abbreviations are on the decrease. This could be due to the introduction of smartphones. In the early 2000s pay-as-you-go phones were commonly used. This type of phone had a limit to how much text you could send in a message. If you went over the limit you had to pay extra. Thus abbreviations and contractions were frequently used. Nowadays with smartphones and iphones, there is no limit to the amount of text we can input into a message. Also mobile phones now contain autocorrect, which automatically corrects a words spelling. Thus text language is less frequently used as messages are largely made up of full words and sentences.

However, some have argued that this form of language has been seen to venture beyond children’s technological devices and has become frequently used within their everyday language. Mphahlele and Mashmaite (2005; cited by Verheijen, 2013, p. 587) found that “[s]tudents fail to distinguish contexts in which text language is acceptable”. As texting is used by many on a day to day basis, this has become a linguistic norm for the younger generations. This may lead to it appearing in their schoolwork. Some are extremely concerned that texting is found in writing requiring more formal Standard English and gives the impression that young people are unable to distinguish when they are able to use it in a satisfactory circumstance. A study by Pew Internet & American Life Project found that “[n]early two-thirds of seven hundred students surveyed said their e-communication style sometimes bled into school assignments” (Lewin, 2008, p. 1) and “about half said they sometimes omitted proper punctuation and capitalized in school work” (Lewin, 2008, p. 1). Surely they must have some sort of knowledge to know when it is appropriate to use textisms?

Bernard (2008) found that “[s]ome teachers are not banning mobile phones from the classroom, as they believe it allows for more opportunities”. If the increased use of texting is detrimental to the English Language and is also harming students’ grades, then why are some teachers encouraging the use of mobile phones within the classroom? Evidently this is going to be harmful to students’ education. It will not only cause distractions, but also lead to text language becoming even more frequently used within the school environment.

As regards to the wide spread use of phones, Crystal (2004 p.81), stated that “[t]ext-messaging is often cited as a particular problem. Children of the future will no longer be able to spell, it is said.” This claim could very much be true. Children are becoming lazier now with language use. Technological devices have autocorrect built into them therefore they do not have to spell for themselves.

Overall I feel the technological advances in recent years have had an undesirable effect upon the younger generation’s literacy skills. More people have become extremely reliant on technology due to its popularity. I firmly believe that boundaries have to be put in place for when it is and is not acceptable to use this form of language, particularly for students who use this form within the school environment.

What do you think?

 AMANI NIAZ, English Language student, University of Chester, UK


Bernard, S. (2008). Zero-thumb game: How to tame texting. Retrieved November 17, 2015.

Crystal, D. (2004). The language revolution (1st ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press

Lewin, T. (2008). Informal style of electronic messages is showing up in schoolwork, study finds. The New York Times, April 25. Retrieved November 17, 2015.

Mphahlele, M., & Mashamaite, K. (2005). The impact of Short Message Service (SMS) Language on Language Proficiency of Learners and the SMS Dictionaries: A challenge for educators and lexicographers. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning, 161-8.

Tagliamonte, S. & Denis, D. (2008). Linguistic? LOL! Instant messaging and teen language. American speech 83 (1), 3-34.

Daily Mail (2010). Informal style of electronic messages is showing up in schoolwork, study finds. Retrieved November 17, 2015.


3 thoughts on “AMANI NIAZ asks: ‘Is texting and CMC detrimental to literacy?’

  1. Jo Close says:

    There’s a lot to think about here, Amani. People do seem to be more reliant on mobile technology these days, and it is possible that this is indirectly affecting their language skills because they have less time to read as a result of spending more time interacting on social media, watching videos online etc. I feel that some language skills such as punctuation are understood better by people who read more. Would you agree?

    As for mobile phone use in educational contexts, would you support banning mobile phones from university classes and how do you think your peers would respond to such as ban? I’d be in favour of this, although I’m not sure I’d see an improvement in students’ writing skills as a result or if it would even be possible to measure a possible correlation between writing skills and mobile phones being used in class. I’d be interested to hear others’ views on this.

  2. Maddison Symes says:

    I think you have made some really good comments here Amani, especially your point that due to the increase of smartphones and no longer having to have a limited number of characters, more of us are using standard English. Personally, I only use slang for humour, but usually text using standard English and correct punctuation.

    Despite this, I feel that a number of linguistic processes are used so frequently that users are unaware of their non-standard language use, including myself. For example, abbreviations, formed by the omission of letters, are used in everyday language. One type of abbreviations is a linguistic process known as apheresis, the dropping of the beginning syllable/s of a word. For example some shorten ‘internet’ to ‘net’. I believe it is easy for this to have an effect on literacy skills, due to the fact these forms have been around for a long time and are often used without a second thought. On the other hand, I do feel that is difficult to blame this entirely on CMC as it is easier even in spoken language to abbreviate terms such as ‘telephone’ to just ‘phone’. Even those who are not familiar with ‘text speak’ use this form. Therefore, I feel slang would still exist to some extent without CMC. At the same time, I can understand that there are many slang terms that this does not apply to, for example ‘nvm’. In everyday language, it would be unlikely for someone to use this form as opposed to actually saying ‘nevermind’.

    Whilst young people now have access to smartphones and do not need to shorten their vocabulary in that respect, some forms of CMC such as Twitter have been on the increase and do have character restrictions. I have witnessed a number of Twitter users, including celebrities, who use abbreviations in order to fit what they want to say within the 140 characters given. As a result of this, it is understandable that CMC is continuing to have an effect on literacy levels, especially among young people. With the use of smartphones means that Twitter is equally as accessible as texting, so whilst users may not be using slang in texts, they may be using such language on Twitter and other forms of social media that is available to them.

    In response To Jo’s comment, I completely agree that the time used on social media can effect language skills. Many of us did not have access to a lot of this technology when we were younger, and I think the introduction of this technology and social media websites is the reason why I no longer read as much as I used to when I was younger.

    With regards to banning mobile use in University classes, I feel this would benefit students in the sense it would allow them to be more focused on the seminar or lecture. However, students will still be using their phones outside of the classroom, and so the use of CMC will still have the capacity to effect literacy levels.

    Whilst I agree with Amani that certain boundaries should be put in place and that young people especially have become reliant on advances like autocorrect, I believe that the English language is in a flux, and many changes are unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your beliefs – are inevitable.

  3. Erika Butler says:

    I like the changes. I’m glad to see brevity and flexibility entering the language. Has anyone ever considered that changing the standards might be better than trying to ban a valuable piece of technology from the classroom?

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