Texting is one of the latest forms that people use to communicate. Much like other new technologies at the time, texting has developed its own manner lingo including abbreviations and graphics. It is much different from other forms of written communication; however, many are concerned about how texting affects overall affects the writing abilities of our youth. Does the abbreviated language somehow disrupt and discourage students from learning how to spell or when it is appropriate to use abbreviated speech and when it is not. Contrary to proper belief, Text messaging does not pose a serious threat to standard English spelling or literacy.
Many of our fore fathers have advocated what texting has implemented. Benjamin Franklin was among the many brilliant minds of that century who advocated for a simplified spelling system (Hendrick 2008). Merriam Webster of Webster’s dictionary is responsible for removing the “u” from words like labor and color in an effort to make words more simplified and easier to spell. Many of these men including The Spelling Society still in existence today, wanted to see an English Language that was free from so many vowels and silent letters (Hendrick 2008). While these men may have been happy to see the various forms that texted words take on, changing the standard spelling of words overall require a great deal more effort than even some of our greatest minds could imagine.
There have been many new technologies that have come along that may have appeared as a threat to the English language. When the telegraph was invented and used to transmit messages over long distances, there was never the fear that this type of abbreviated speech would somehow leak out into the public and destroy English as we know it (Sutherland 2008). Besides telegrams, there has been Morse Code, and CB radios. All of these technologies eventually fell by the wayside in favor of new and better ways to communicate. If the past is any indicator as to what we can expect in the future, than text messaging may also find its day on the chopping block.
If text speech is here to stay, then it still poses no threat to the English language. As a matter of fact it is a segmented part of the English language. Much like a dialect, text speech has developed as a written form. As well noted, it differs greatly in structure, form and style from Standard English. When the writings of Zora Neale Hurston and many others showed the beauty and creativity of diverse English dialects, some were applauded while others were excited to see such richness and creativity. No one would argue that texting has a social or historical culture that is unique to a people, however, much like other dialects of the English language, there is still a standard enforced and reinforced by society overall.
Text speech is very unstructured and has multiple variations for the same expressions. There has been various dictionaries and resource books that attempt to explain some standard abbreviations but there are very few absolutes. For example, According to Plester, Wood, and Bell (2008), when giving a group of middle school children a phrase to translate that included the word night into text speech, there were several variations. They included nite, niht, nyt, nte, and nigt (141). Other words have more common spelling such as L8 for late or the letter “u” for the word you. As a result of its non-standardized form, the only reliable method of written communications so that everyone understands still remains the standard.
Another reason why texting does not pose a threat to the English language is its purpose. It is a spontaneously structured social interaction (Plester, Wood, and Bell 2008). Text spelling is derived from the need to communicate a message in a short amount of characters. This is due mainly to the fact that many cell phones only allow a certain amount of characters per message (Hendrick 2008). To avoid having to continue on to a part two, words are abbreviated and letters are left out and shortened as a means to fit it all in. By these measures, the misspellings that many people are afraid of occur intentionally as oppose to a lack of knowledge of the English language (Baron 2009).
Some of the most common abbreviations such as LOL (laugh out loud), ILY ( I love you), OMG (oh my God), and BTW (by the way), and spellings may split over into formal writing in school. This is also a natural phenomenon as students find different ways to express their creativity (Barron 2009). As reported by Coulter (2008), majority of students know the difference between formal and informal writing. They are aware that in formal writing text abbreviations and emoticons are not appropriate. Educators must be prepared to accept text speech as an informal writing style, and should teach the students the difference the same way they teach the difference between appropriate uses for informal wiring such as for notes and email.
The developments of these abbreviated words, of many different variations, each come from its phonological roots. In order make words, one has to have phonemic awareness in order to reconstruct the words into something meaningful and understood by others (Mangu-Ward 2010). According to Plester, Wood, and Bell (2008), texting requires a person to “use metalinguistic awareness to slip between one register of language to another, as they deem it appropriate” (p.143). It was a surprise to these researchers to find that children who use text messaging showed greater performance on verbal reasoning than children who did not.
As a matter of fact, their research along with countless others has recorded no negative impact on children who use this as a method to communicate. According to a study done by Britain’s Coventry University “children who use text abbreviations on their phones-lol, l8ter, and the like do better in reading and spelling in school” (Mangu-Ward 2008 p. 14). Expanding a bit further, when researching various forms of computer mediated discourse, there has been no negative impact found at all on language skills (Hendrick 2008).
There are reasons that can be used to explain why so many people are fearful that texting is destroying the English language. One reason is over exaggeration by the media (Hendrick 2008). Our system of media is famous for taking a subject that has very little research and attempting to sensationalize it to everyone. As reported previously, the fact that research shows that not only does texting not disrupt the education of youth but has also shown to increase test scores in other areas is very rarely reported by public media sources. That information does not make for a great story that impassioned individuals can throw their support behind. Although the research states clearly the benefits of texting, it is doubtful that there will be any impassioned parents or teachers throwing their support the other way.
Another unintended benefit of texting is youths as well as adults are reading and writing much more frequently than they normally would. Youths get a chance to practice their reading and spelling everyday of their own choice (Mangu-Ward 2010). Although it is commonly known about the abbreviated versions and intentional misspelling of words, contrary to popular belief it does not occur nearly as much as one would expect. When Barron and Ling conducted a study of college students text messaging they found “few more lexical shortenings; yet the grand total of clear abbreviations was only 47 out of 1,473 words, which is hardly overwhelming. The text message spelling myth has been dispelled by many respected professional researchers from various fields of study.
Many educational systems are starting to see the light about this controversial form of communicating. Although texting is just one form of communication that has been targeted, other mediums of informal language that use abbreviated speech are used to help students. In one Seattle based high school, students in an American literature class must blog daily about strange and weird laws (Coulter 2008). Much like texting, the students are free to write as they feel with no penalty for grammar or spelling. Many students and teachers feel this is any appropriate way to not just explain, but show the students the difference between formal and informal writing, while letting them be as creative as they would like. This method of instruction encourages and contains the need of this type of expression.
No matter how many text speech dictionaries are created, or how many new abbreviations become more common, there will always be a need for a standard form of communication and good writing skills (Coulture 2008). As communicative technology changes, so will the language used in these types of mediums. By understanding that texting is just another variation of the English language and not a full on frontal assault, people will be able to appreciate it for it true creative value and potential. Studies have clearly shown the benefits of texting on the youth in reference to spelling and literacy, so there should no longer be any fear about its harmfulness. Instead, the media should focus on finding solutions to the real issues of education, like resources, qualified teachers, and funding.