By Thomas DeVere Wolsey
Are textisms ruining students’ capacity for using standard English? Textisms, J2LYK, are those abbreviations and other shortcuts kids and many adults use when writing in some digital formats such as short message systems (SMS- an abbreviation for short message system referring to those messages sent via wireless communication devices, usually a cell phone) or when using social media such as Twitter. Many people seem to think so. However, the evidence is growing that this is not the case.
Children, as they grow, are quite adept at understanding the contexts for different registers of language. If they are taught when a given register is appropriate and when it may not be, their ability to adapt to the context seems to increase (see Townsend & Lapp, 2010). Moreover, affinity groups often develop jargon that is unique or understood only by participants in that group. For example, those who participate in online discussions on Facebook or using SMS and are interested in horses, understand that “UD” is a textism for “unplanned dismount” (Cloud 9 Ranch, 2012). You can guess what happened to the rider. Online gamers have textism all their own, as well. Many other textisms are very familiar to wide audiences. LOL, OMG, ROFL–all good examples of those that many people recognize. Of course, textisms are mediated by the technology used to create and transmit the message, as well. The 140 character Tweet is an example demonstrating that a limited number of characters imposed by the technology might encourage use of emoticons, abbreviations, and so on.
A 2009 study (Plester, Wood, & Joshi) found no correlation, or relationship, between students’ use of textisms and their capacity to use traditional spellings and language features. A new study (Wood, Kemp, & Waldron, 2014) examines the long-term results when children and young adults use textisms, especially as those textisms relate to purposeful violations of grammatical conventions as opposed to errors. The results demonstrated that the subjects in the study showed no negative correlations between their abilities to use conventional grammar appropriate to their ages and their use of textisms. The study seems to suggest that use of textisms means that students are adding a literacy skill to their repertoire rather than replacing one skill set with another.
Cloud 9 Ranch. (2012). How many of these textisms do you use? [Facebook post]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=235772239879305&id=222644657746917
Plester, B., Wood, C., & Joshi, P. (2009). Exploring the relationship between children’s knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27(1), 145-161. doi: 10.1348/026151008X320507
Townsend, D. R. & Lapp. D. (2010). Academic language, discourse communities, and technology: Building students’ linguistic resources. Teacher Education Quarterly, Special Online Edition. Retrieved from http://teqjournal.org/townsend_lapp.html
Wood, C., Kemp, N., & Waldron, S. (2014). Exploring the longitudinal relationships between the use of grammar in text messaging and performance on grammatical tasks. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. Early online release. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjdp.12049/full doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12049
Perreault, G. (2010, December 5). Sketch texting [drawing]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/guillaumeperreault/