True wisdom comes to each of us
when we realize how little we
understand about life, ourselves,
and the world around us.
when we realize how little we
understand about life, ourselves,
and the world around us.
Texting is the relatively new form of digital communication that has rapidly become one the most popular ways people to converse with each other today. It can be done almost anywhere – while you’re walking down the street, while you’re waiting in line at a grocery store, and while you’re waiting at a doctor’s office. It has become incredibly popular among young people, who use it to connect with friends. However, since those sending text messages transform the English language by using what’s called “textese”, it has become a controversial issue among those who support or oppose it. This post will analyze the controversy around textese and propose a solution to the controversy.
The first question that needs to be answered is: what is texting? English major Lieke Verheijen defines texting as the exchange of brief text messages between mobile phones, through social networking sites, or within an online game. The language commonly used in texting is called “textese”. She writes that several other terms are used to refer to textese. There is “SMS language", “text language”, “SMS speak”, and “textspeak”. She describes text language as “orthographically unconventional language” that is used for a number of reasons. Michaela Cullington writes that “textspeak” is used by people to quickly type what they are trying to say.
Verheijan creates an interesting list of thirteen types of “textisms” people use. Textisms are devices people use to shorten words and sentences in text messages. The list includes orthographic abbreviations/contractions (msg for message, tmrw for tomorrow), phonological abbreviations (thru for through, skool for school, thanx for thanks), and acronyms and initialisms (ttyl for talk to you later, omg for oh my God, brb for be right back). It also lists clippings/shortenings (goin for going, feb for February, xam for exam), single letter/number homophones (c for see, u for you, 2 for to/too, 4 for for), and combined letter/number homophones (NE1 for anyone, 2day for today, l8r for later) as textisms. The reason these transformations are made is they help people send a message within the confines of the text limit of their mobile phones. Textisms also help people send messages as quickly as possible. These textisms, along with many others Verheijan puts in her list, are just a few examples of the many creative ways people are transforming the English language through textese.
When many see how textese is transforming the English language, they view the transformation either positively or negatively. Those that view it positively view textese as a creative way to reinvent the English language by breaking free from the constraints of conventional spelling. Marie Sutton, Director of Student Media at the UAB, quotes Cynthia Ryan, Associate Professor of English, who says we should embrace text language as a positive change in our literacy. Verheijen refers to linguist Naomi S. Baron who promotes textese by saying “even Shakespeare spelled his own name at least six different ways”, since orthographic conventions are a recent invention. Baron says that young people only need to know when and where to use textese.
Speech Pathology major Michaela Cullington writes that those who believe textese is beneficial to people think that textese provides them with a motivation to write, a chance to practice their writing skills, and an opportunity to gain confidence in their writing. She refers to David Crystal, who writes in his book Txting: The Gr8 Db8, that textese helps people sharpen their diplomatic skills because textese allows them to formulate their thoughts and communicate them more effectively. She also writes that supporters of textese believe textese teaches elements of writing, provides extra practice for those struggling with writing, and gives people the confidence and courage to do new things.
In contrast to advocates of textese, those that view textese negatively view it as a social trend that’s destroying the English language. Buchanan says she can already see the negative effects of textese at Clayton-Chalkville High School when she says that high school students have become dependent on electronic spell-checkers and, consequently, she spends a lot of time circling misspelled words. Verheijen says the American Federation of Teachers believes textese negatively affects students writing because they make syntax, subject-verb agreement, and spelling mistakes in their written assignments. She also refers to British professor John Sutherland who ridicules textese by writing Hamlet’s famous line in textese, “2B or 2B (not)=?”. He then describes textese with a number of extremely negative words and phrases, such as “snot talk”, “unimaginative”, “bleak, bald, sad shorthand”, “drab shrinktalk”, “linguistically…all pig’s ears” and “masks dyslexia, poor spelling, and mental laziness”.
Cullington also writes about teachers’ negative opinions of textese. She says that teachers believe textese does not stress the importance of punctuation. Thus, students don’t put it into their formal writing. They also complain that textese lacks emotion and students are losing their ability to communicate emotions in their more formal writing.
The opinions I’ve explained above reconfirm the fact that textese is a controversial issue. Nevertheless, even though nearly everyone has an opinion about textese, what are the actual effects that textese has on people’s literacy?
Verheijen describes studies done by researchers that show that textese has positive effects on people’s literacy. One study that showed the positive effects of textese was done by researchers Beverly Plester, Clare Wood, and Puja Joshi. Their study was done to find out the relationship between the texting and literacy of eight British children. Plester, Wood, and Joshi measured the amount of textese the children used by prompting them to make spontaneous text messages in which they had to pretend they were in different situations. They discovered how much textese they used by calculating the ratio of textisms to the total amount of words they used.
They also used standardized tests to evaluate the children’s reading ability, their alphabetic/orthographic decoding ability, spelling ability, vocabulary knowledge, and phonological awareness. In addition to finding no effects of textese on the children’s alphabetic/orthographic decoding ability and spelling ability, the three researchers discovered positive effects of textese on the children’s reading, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. Even when the children were separated by age, vocabulary, phonological awareness, alphabetical reading ability, short-term memory, and how long they used a mobile phone, the amount of textese the children did predicted their high reading ability.
Verheijen also describes another study done by researchers Catherine Bushnell, Nenagh Kemp, and Francis H. Martin that examined the relationship between the textese and spelling of two-hundred twenty-seven Australian children. They gave these children questionnaires that measured their textese-related behaviors and attitudes. Their knowledge and use of textisms were evaluated with a translation task in which they rewrote a list of conventionally spelled words as they would in a text message. Their spelling ability was assessed with a standardized spelling test. The children wrote about half of their words as textisms and the rest in Standard English. There was a positive correlation between the spelling skills and the proportion of textisms the students produced. The best spellers among the students texted more than those who didn’t text a lot. Verheijen writes the Bushnell, Kemp, and Martin say their discovery, “speaks against media claims that text messaging has a detrimental effect on spelling”.
There are some academics who believe there’s evidence to prove that textese has a neutral effect on literacy. Donita Massengil Shaw, Carolyn Carlson, and Mickey Waxman investigated the relationship between the texting and spelling of eighty-six American college students. They had students complete questionnaires and standardized spelling tests and found no significant connection between the student’s spelling ability and the amount of textese they used.
Three researchers – Latisha A. Shafie, Norizul A. Darus, and Nariza Osman – conducted an investigation to find out how textese affects student’s academic writing. The participants were Malaysian and they were all taking English courses. They were asked to give transcripts of all the English text messages they sent or received during the investigation, which lasted for one semester. Shafie, Darus, and Osman discovered the students’ academic writing had many grammatical and spelling errors but few textisms. They concluded that students usually know how to distinguish between informal and formal language.
Finally, there are those who believe textese has only a negative effect on people’s literacy. Verheijan writes that South African teachers Salome Geertsema, Charene Hyman, and Chantelle van Deventer gave questionnaires to twenty-two South African high school English teachers to find out what they thought the effects of textese were on their students. The teachers said they frequently encountered errors of spelling, punctuation, and sentence length. They saw the non-conventional spelling, the incorrect use of full-stops, and the improper use of commas and exclamation marks in their students’ assignments.
What are we to make of this wealth of research? Verheijan’s research shows that textese is a phenomenon that’s affecting not only America but countries all over the world. The researchers I’ve discussed above have found evidence that textese can have positive, negative, and neutral effects on literacy. What solution could I give to this controversy if textese can have multiple effects on people’s literacy? What I propose is that we view textese as a natural product of our technologically advanced culture. I’ll explain why I propose this by talking about my own experiences with textese and explain why the changes textese might make to Standard English are changes we should eventually accept.
First, as Wardle and Downs say a common misconception people have about writing is that the rules of writing are universal and do not change based on the situation. Those that believe this misconception view the rules of writing almost like the laws of nature – unchangeable constants that everyone must adhere to at all times.
The near obsession these people have for rules in writing is the main motivation behind their negative views of textese. But, as I’ve explained above, the reason people use textese is to type a message as quickly as possible in the limited amount of space they have on their mobile phones. This is a specific situation that textese is used for and most know that textese should be used only in this situation. However, if those using textese are using is to cover up their lack of spelling and grammar skills then using textese is only hindering the development of their own literacy.
I’m an example of someone who deliberately resists not only the effects of textese but textese itself by using carefully typed Standard English. I’m not an avid mobile phone user; when I use my phone I try to make my conversations short and concise. Since I want my conversations to be short and concise, I prefer to speak vocally with the other person on the line instead of sending a text message. However, one of the advantages of texting is that it allows me the opportunity to sit back and examine every word and punctuation mark I’m going to use in my message. As an English student, I believe it’s my duty to use grammatically correct Standard English in every composition I create, no matter how small the composition might be. This is why it sometimes has taken me five or even ten minutes to type just one text message.
If everyone approached texting the way I do, texting wouldn’t even be a controversial issue because no one would use textese. Yet, as I’ve shown throughout my essay, texting can and does affect many people’s literacy in different ways. What are we to do if texting becomes a powerful force of linguistic change and transforms the way we spell and communicate in Standard English?
Language change is something we all know has occurred ever since the human race began. The forces that change languages can be as diverse as the languages themselves. Technology is one of those forces of change. Writing itself, when it was invented, was a form of technology that fostered language change and had a profound effect on the way humans think about the world and interact with each other.
In the future, the effects of textese might go beyond our mobile phones. Using textese might become so widespread that it becomes a part of our everyday language. I’ve already heard people, mostly young people, say textese phrases such as “OMG” to express surprise and “LOL” to express amusement. Young people usually say these textese phrases as humor. But the fact that some people are even using these phrases shows that textese might have already started to transform Standard English.
To conclude, texting will continue to be a controversial issue in the future. Those that believe textese has positive effects on literacy will continue to oppose those that believe it has only negative effects. I have shown you in this essay why I believe it has mostly positive effects. Those that use textese usually know when and where to use it. From examining the results of the research Verheijan discusses in her essay, using textese does have negative effects on some people. But English teachers should help these people improve their spelling and grammar skills. I consider textese a natural product of our technologically advanced culture. And it might even become part of our everyday vocabulary. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Cullington, Michaela. "Texting and Writing." Wardle and Downs 774-782.
Downs, Doug., and Wardle, Elizabeth, eds. Writing about Writing: A College Reader. Second ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. Print.
Sutton, Marie. "Could Textese and Autocorrect Affect Kids' Writing Skills." Science Daily. 19 May 2014. Web.
Verheijen, Lieke. "The Effects of Text Messaging and Instant Messaging on Literacy." Research Gate. Routledge, 21 July 2013. Web.
My name is Jacob Stubbs. I have a bachelor's degree in English from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and I am a writer an an artist.