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Text-messaging isn’t actually ruining young people’s grammar, research shows

  • Special to Washington Post
  • Published Thursday, June 26, 2014, at 12:04 a.m.

If you think young people seem to be spending more time “face-to-screen” than “face-to-face,” you’re probably right. And a lot of that screen time seems to involve reading or writing English that duznt look quite lyk it shld.

It’s not surprising that many teachers, parents and young people themselves are concerned about this constant exposure to non-standard written English. It seems plausible that frequently seeing to/too written as 2, or people as ppl, might mean that these kinds of spellings could creep into students’ formal writing.

Fortunately, in recent years, research has returned a fairly robust conclusion. Rather than spoiling children’s spelling, exposure to “textisms” (the abbreviated spellings of text messages) is associated with better literacy skills. For adults, there seem to be few consistent relationships between usage of textisms and spelling skill.

However, there has been less research on textisms that represent not the re-spelling of individual words but violations of grammatical conventions. capitals get ignored, theres no apostrophes, and sentences get separated not by standard punctuation marks but by ironical laughter lol or expressions of emotion.

If it’s OK to write im coming sarah!!! when texting, how will younger children learn, or older children remember, to use the conventions of grammatical English writing?

With my colleagues at Coventry University in Britain, Clare Wood and Sam Waldron, I looked at young people’s text messaging and grammar over the course of a year. We worked with 243 participants from primary school, high school and university in the Coventry area.

At our first time point, these young people provided us with copies of all the text messages they’d sent in the past two days. We analyzed them for violations of standard English grammar. The participants also completed a set of tasks to assess their formal grammatical and spelling skills. One year later, we asked the same students to complete parallel forms of the same grammatical and spelling tasks.

Overall, we found no evidence that the use of grammatical violations in texts is consistently related to poorer grammatical or spelling skills.

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