Young people communicate through text messages all the time. Many parents try to prevent their offspring from spending too much time online, but it’s hardly going to change any time soon. Another worry that unites preoccupied adults is the kids’ ability to speak and write English properly. The language kids use in their text messages is very different from the language the students are expected to use in their written assignments. So will the future generations learn to write properly or will texting change our language forever?
One of the most prominent researches in the area was conducted by Clare Wood and Nenagh Kemp at Coventry University in the UK in 2014. While similar studies have been done in the past, it was the first study ever to consider the long-term consequence of frequent texting on the kids’ writing skills. To begin the study, Kemp and Wood asked 83 primary school students, 78 secondary school students, and 49 college students to provide them with all the text messages they’ve sent in the last two days. Consequently, the texts were analyzed to determine how often a particular student uses so-called textisms. After collecting the text messages, researchers asked the students to take several grammar, writing, and reading tests. Besides taking the test at the beginning of the study, the students were also invited to repeat the tests 12 months later.
The results of the study came as a surprise: there was no correlation shown between frequent use of textisms and poor grammar skills among students. In fact, young people who used textisms more often performed even better than their peers and showed more improvement over the course of a year. While that was true for middle school and high school students, college students who used more textisms did achieve worse results than their colleagues, although the correlation was quite weak.
So are fluent texters actually better at writing than students who don’t use textisms? It is still quite early to draw such conclusions. However, many scientists have their theories regarding the positive (or at least neutral) effect of texting on writing proficiency.
According to John McWhorter at Columbia University, we shouldn’t be surprised by the results of the study. He claims that texting has nothing to do with proper writing. Instead, it’s a “spoken” language. Just like no one talks like they write their novels or essays, we aren’t supposed to use the same structures in texting and other forms of writing. One might argue that people used to write letters to each other and still used proper English for interpersonal communication. But texting has its own norms and culture. With texts, we can communicate through writing just as fast as we can communicate through talking. That’s why it calls for innovative language structures. Texting requires a language that is concise and expressive at the same time, which can be achieved by emojis and abbreviations. Punctuation or capitalization, on the other hand, are not helpful at all.
The authors of the research support McWhorther’s claims and suggest that texting should be viewed as a new way of interaction with the language, not a threat to the old ones. Kemp says that texting can be considered as an additional literacy skill since it’s essentially expressing what you would say in speaking in the written form.
Interestingly enough, there’s also a plausible explanation of why texting has a more positive influence on younger children than on college students. When kids are learning how to write and how to text, they get familiar with the language by playing with it and finding different ways to express their thoughts. Abbreviations and symbols such as emojis are not exactly new — kids have always been using them in their written notes and letters. Wood also brings attention to the fact that the majority of texting abbreviations are phonetically based. Therefore, by using them, children are practicing phonics — a skill of understanding the relationship between sounds and letters that is widely taught in primary classrooms. So when children write “2” instead of “to/too” or “cya” instead of “see you”, they are unintentionally learning about the connection between sounds and letters that represent them.
If playing with the language really leads to better spelling and grammar among young people, it makes sense that college students who use textisms wouldn’t show as much writing improvement as middle school and high school students. That is because when we get older, we don’t see texting as a way to play with the language and find creative ways to use sounds and letters anymore. When we are adults, we don’t see it as an experiment, but merely a social norm and a way to fit in.
So as long as the schools keep teaching children formal writing and grammar skills, grammar nazis can stay calm. Although most of the kids seem to understand it without further assistance, teachers should specifically mention when you have to follow all the rules and when it’s not that important. And if your children are struggling with grammar and writing, don’t blame texting. Instead, check out pendrago review that will help them become successful students and proficient writers.