MEGAN ARMSTRONG asks: ‘Texting and CMC: destroying or improving our literacy?’

Since the rise of the internet in the 1990s and the sending of the first text message in 1992, technology has rapidly become essential to our the 21st century lives.  The development of Google in 1998 would also contribute to the changing of the way we live our lives, as the term ‘I’ll Google it’ is used daily by most people I know. In fact by 2007 it was recorded that 3.8 billion Google searches were being made per month in the USA (Baron, 2008, p. 13).

Baron (2008, p. 11) suggests CMC in the 1980s included email, chats or IM, but this term has broadened since social network sites and smartphones were introduced. The popularity of CMC and texting has been stirring up opinions as to whether these ‘amazing’ advances are actually having a negative effect on literacy. John Sutherland declares “texting is penmanship for illiterates” (The Guardian, 2008) but do you agree with this statement? Can texting really affect literacy?

Verheijen (2013, p.584) displays features of language variation of textese, such as the use of single letter/number homophones – ‘c’ = ‘see’ and ‘2’ = ‘to/too’, typographic symbols – ‘@’ = ‘at’ and acronyms such as ‘ttyl’ = ‘talk to you later’. These examples are frequently used in text messages, so many fear it will mix into schoolwork. Conversely, McIntyre (2009, p. 123) suggests that our writing can change depending on circumstances, perhaps arguing that textese features would not be carried over to school work.

Teachers are worrying that children will bring textese into the classroom as suggested by Verheijen (2013, p. 587). A study to support this theory would be the one conducted by Mampa, Mphahlele and Kwena Majhamaite (2005, pp. 161–8; cited by Verheijen 2013, p. 587) who explored the influence of textese in South Africa. They noted increasingly more use of textese in work and believe that students are “victims of SMS language” and blame exposure on the media.

Some newspapers have implied that texting is negatively affecting literacy, as according to Woronoff (2007; cited by Wood, Kemp and Plester, 2014, p.24) “texting influences kids to spell incorrectly”. In 2004 the Daily Telegraph stated that “pupils resort to text language in GCSE exams”. In addition,  in 2003 the BBC highlighted the alleged case of an essay written by a 13-year-old where textese was used repeatedly.  However, Crystal (2008, p. 151) implies that these essays may not have even existed. So how reliable are these sources in determining that our language is being affected by texting? Crystal states that “[e]vidence from examiners […] suggests that the vast majority of students are well aware of the difference, and do not use textisms in their writing” (2008, p. 166). It could be that pupils resorted to text language in the early 2000s as texting only became popular in the mid-1990s. This could play a role as the craze of texting was fairly new and it was likely deemed ‘cool’ to write in textese. However, now in 2015 it would be less likely that children would use textese in their schoolwork, as the craze has died off.

Texting and CMC is not always viewed negatively. Many linguists believe that it is positively influencing language. Varnhagen et al. (2010, p. 719) state that “electronic communication has generated a new language of abbreviations”. For example ASAP and PS are used daily in emails. Crystal (2008) suggest that texting encourages the coining of interesting neologisms such as ‘unfriend’ and ‘tweet’ which would not exist without social network sites. Crystal (2008, p. 41) also suggests that we already use initialisms, such as ‘BBC’ which is fully integrated into the English lexicon. So why are initialisms such as OMG and TBH seen as such a negative? Textese is slowly becoming more accepted as words such as ‘OMG’, ‘chillax’ and ‘unfriend’ have been added to the dictionary.

More recent views on this debate would suggest that texting is an addition to language. For instance, Tagliamonte and Denis claim “CMC is not destroying literacy skills or ruining this generation, but [is] an expansive new linguistic renaissance” (2008, p. 27). Baron (2008, p. 161) states that “[d]istinguishing between language change and language decline is a very tricky business”, so maybe prescriptivists cannot accept that language is evolving, and choose to believe that CMC is dumbing down literacy. Aitchison’s (1997) ‘crumbing castle’ metaphor would apply as the idea that language should be ‘preserved’ would suggest that teachers believe school work should stay standardised. My personal opinion is that technology does encourage creativity but would not have an effect on my literacy. All things considered, this debate is a matter of opinion. Some will believe that texting has a negative effect, and some will support the advancements in technology and encourage new additions to language.

MEGAN ARMSTRONG, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Aitchison, J. (1997). The language web: The power and problem of words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Baron, N. S. (2008). Always on: Language in an online and mobile world. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

BBC. (2003). Is txt ruining the English Language. BBC News [online], 6th March 2003 . Retrieved November, 3, 2015.

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

Henry, J. (2004). Pupils resort to text language in GCSE exams. The Telegraph [online]. Retrieved November, 2, 2015.

McIntyre, D. (2009) History of English. Oxon: Routledge.

Mphahlele, Mampa L., and Kwena Mashamaite. 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 (2005), 161–8.

Tagliamonte, S. & Denis, D. (2008) Linguistic Ruin? LOL! Instant Messaging and Teen Language. American Speech (83) 1, pp. 3-34.

Varnhagen, C.K., McFall, P., Pugh, N., Routledge, L., Sumida-MacDonald, H., & Kwong,. T.E. (2010) LOL: New language and Spelling in Instant Messaging. Reading and Writing 23, pp. 719–733.

Verheijen, L. (2013) The Effects of Text Messaging and Instant Messaging on Literacy. English Studies, 94 (5), pp582-602.

Wood, C., Kemp, N., & Plester, B. (2014). Texting and literacy – The evidence. London, UK: Routledge.

Woronoff, P. (2007). Cell phone texting can endanger spelling. Retrieved November, 1, 2015.


One thought on “MEGAN ARMSTRONG asks: ‘Texting and CMC: destroying or improving our literacy?’

  1. Bhavisha Mistry says:

    Megan –
    I found your blog very interesting and particularly engaging with regards to the affects texting has had on education.
    The debate on negative or positive impacts of texting on education is remarkable as it would seem as though it would be deemed as destructive on the literacy system as students are not using correct grammatical language; but after reviewing your debate, it is as if students are ‘getting away’ with using textese within their educational rights. It is odd how some linguists believe that texting is resorting in students to spell incorrectly like in the Woronoff (2007) quote, although other linguists claim it is an addition to language like mentioned in Tagliamonte and Dennis.
    I personally believe any textese used in education and other professional business situations should be disallowed due to the fact that it appears improper. Therefore I would agree with Aitchison’s (1997) ‘crumbling castle’ metaphor as it fits perfectly with my prescriptivist view on texting standards.
    I would like to know more about on what you personally think about texting and CMC in the education standards and also what you think in regards to having restrictions in the fields regarding textese being used in the workplace throughout emailing.
    Thanks, Bhavisha Mistry

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