Texting: Friend or Foe of the English Language?
Text-speak in students’ essays cause teachers to question the future of the English language
By: Eliza Lamson
WDU Tnk? Txtng= PRBLM or NBD?
Translation, “What do you think? Is texting a problem or no big deal?”
The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary seem to think that these odd acronyms are fit to have a place in the dictionary’s prestigious pages. In March, acronyms such as LOL, BFF and OMG (that’s laugh out loud, best friends forever and oh my god) were added to the dictionary. Oxford also included its first symbol, <3, which represents love.
With the addition of these acronyms comes the legitimization of the ‘text-speak’ today’s youth communicate with. As more students use text-speak in their essays, many teachers are questioning whether or not the English language is morphing into an acronym-laden, punctuation-lacking form of speech. Students’ essays are suffering as the English language adapts to this new way of communicating.
Of course, language is constantly changing.
“Language must change, for if it doesn’t, it dies,” Dolores LaGuardia, a Santa Clara University English professor, said.
Advancements in technology have had effects on the English language in the past. The printing press, created in 1440, stabilized spelling and allowed for mass production of books. Email changed the structure of a letter. Like texting, it added new sentence structure and abbreviations. Television and specific shows have added catchphrases such as ‘d’oh’ to the language. Texting, however, is changing how we communicate entirely.
The British-based Mobile Data Association dates texting to December 1992. A British engineer sent his colleague “Merry Christmas” via text. Since then, texting has spread around the world at a startling rate. A census made by Nielsen Mobile in 2008 found that there was a 450 percent increase in the number of texts sent since their last census in 2006. This percentage has grown rapidly, with the majority of ‘texters’ being between the ages of 13 and 17.
In text-speak, words are abbreviated or their vowels removed and acronyms are often used. Dictionaries of these acronyms, such as the extensive compilation found on NetLingo, have been created as a reference for texters trying to keep up. The conventional structure of a sentence has been altered. There is no longer a need for proper spelling, capitalization or punctuation. These changes allow texters to communicate faster. In today’s technology driven society, speed is necessary.
“On the cell phone, we NEED a kind of shorthand, some of which will naturally evolve into our spoken language,” LaGuardia said. “OMG is perfectly appropriate among peers, just as saying you’re going to pick up a bottle of wine at BevMo; but neither shortening would be appropriate in discourse between unequals, to one’s grandmother, for example, or in the boardroom.”
Many scholars believe that texting adds variety to the language. Through texting, students have created a sub-language within English, something many scholars are excited about and hope to study as the text-speak language develops.
“I don’t think texting or using acronyms or even emoticons are problematic; in fact, they add richness to our language use. They become a problem when folks don’t know where or when to use them,” LaGuardia said.
Those teachers against text-speak argue that, though the idea of a sub-language is interesting, many students don’t know when to not use text-speak.
“I am constantly reminding my students to revise their papers and to replace the text words,” Lynn Gatehouse, a sixth grade teacher at Harvest Park Middle School, said. “They actually turn in final essays that include text words! They don’t even realize that they do this!”
Middle schools are getting the brunt of the effects of texting. Students are finding it difficult to determine when it is appropriate to use texting and when it is not. Terry Wilder, an eighth grade teacher who teaches both an advanced English class and a remedial class, thinks that students’ inability to determine when to use text-speak is directly tied to the amount of non-social media writing they read.
“My advanced students regularly immerse themselves in literature that is associated with non-social media/texting. They read textbooks, novels, magazines, etc. My remedial students, for the most part, avoid reading anything that is not socially driven…if it isn’t a text message or Facebook, they are not interested,” Wilder said.
A poll taken by BBC in 2009 asked teachers whether or not they would teach text-speak in their classrooms. 40 percent said yes, while 24 percent said no. The rest said maybe or did not know what text-speak was. Nik Peachey, a teacher and learning technology consultant who responded to the poll, explained his reasoning behind saying yes.
“They need to be able to understand and produce it, and perhaps equally as important, they need to know when it is appropriate to use it,” Peachey said.
Many teachers agreed, arguing that text-speak is ‘English 2.0’ and that students merely need to be taught when to use proper English and when to use text-speak.
High school teachers and college professors do not see text-speak in essays they receive so much as in emails their students send them. While this shows progress is being made in terms of students’ use of text-speak in essays, other side effects of texting are appearing.
“The most telling problem is the inability of students to form well developed, coherent thoughts,” Sam Weaver, an English teacher at Amador Valley High School, said.
Because space is limited within a text, texters shorten their thoughts and end ideas abruptly. Professors receive emails filled with acronyms, abbreviations and undeveloped thoughts. LaGuardia says she sees text-speak on a regular basis. She is worried that the use of text-speak in emails will have detrimental effects on students trying to enter the work place.
“It’s our job to teach students when and where it’s ok and when and where it’s not. That we haven’t done a very good job of this is one of the primary complaints I hear from the CEOs I work with, but I see it as part of the larger need for students to understand the importance of manners in the workplace. It’s rude to text to a superior using acronyms or emoticons but ok to a colleague,” LaGuardia said.
“I always make sure to reread the emails I send because I know I have a habit of using LOL and stuff without thinking about it,” Zach Lamson, an avid texter, said.
Because students continue to use text-speak without determining whether or not it is appropriate, their ability to write coherent essays is declining. As these texters grow up and progress through higher education and into the business world, it seems inevitable that the English language will be affected.
“It’s just so easy to forget that we shouldn’t write other things like how we text. Texting’s just a part of my everyday life,” Lamson said.
List of Sources
Dolores LaGuardia, English Professor at Santa Clara University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Gatehouse, 6th grade block teacher at Harvest Park Middle School, email@example.com
Terry Wilder, 8th grade English teacher at Harvest Park Middle School, firstname.lastname@example.org
Zach Lamson, 11th grade student at Amador Valley High School, Zach Lamson @ Facebook
Sam Weaver, English Teacher at Amador Valley High School, email@example.com