Many adults are stunned when they get a look at the language of “textspeak”. This is the new language full of codes that teens are using to communicate with each other through their phones. The language of text messaging is leading to new and highly creative ways of writing English. Teens are showing incredible innovation in coming up with ways of getting their message across. They figure as long as the recipient knows that the sender is “laughing quietly to myself”, do they really need to write their message out in full? This has led to a nationwide discussion as adults wonder if this type of language is detrimental to their children. There are many parents and educators who believe that text messaging is having a detrimental effect on the way young people communicate. They feel that since text messaging is with us and we can not get rid of it, there is little we can do, other than discourage young people from its use as much as possible. Others worry that since many kids spend more time texting than writing Standard English it could lead to a complete collapse of language skills. They feel that since it does not require people to know precise spelling kids can just make it up and those who use it tend to use simple words.
You may be surprised to learn that the exact opposite may be true. This is shown by the most recent research into the effects of text messaging. These studies are showing that far from damaging English standards, it may actually be enhancing them. Early analysis of many of the studies shows a causal relationship between using text and improving language learning. Researchers feel that this is because a lot of textism is written phonetically so it improves children’s phonological awareness, which improves both their reading and writing skills. The bottom line is that texting is just playing with words, and it is fun. Many researchers (and some educators) feel that this shows a proficiency in language when young people are able to manipulate it in this way.
Other researchers are quick to point out there are many myths that surround texting. One of the biggest misconceptions is that all text messages are sent with abbreviations. Studies have shown that most are written in Standard English and without any abbreviations. Another misconception is that texting is something that only young people do. Records show that adults and organizations send approximately 80 per cent of text messages. This was evidenced in the last presidential election when Barack Obama’s presidential election had voters sign up for text message updates on his policy announcements and even download ring tones of sound bites from his speeches laid over hip-hop beats.
Many people who study this area believe using abbreviations is one way that young people can demonstrate to their peers how “cool and clever” they are. It may be that using abbreviations actually shows that people have to be highly literate to know how to abbreviate a word so the recipient knows what they mean. This is because in order to do this effectively, they must know how to spell a word and be able to use it in the correct context.
It is important to understand that no on is denying that teachers still need to focus on grammar, punctuation and spelling in the classroom because knowledge of Standard English is a measure of being educated. Yet it is important not to disparage text language. Texting will continue to play an important part in the language development and social access of anyone who has a phone. Understanding its value and its place will be vital in the years to come.