With the change in the way that people communicate in this day and age, what concerns many educators is the effect that SMS language is having on writing standards. Although there are those who dismiss that there is any detrimental effect, it’s important to note that some studies into the trend show an alarming change in the way that students communicate within their written work. There are many different aspects which need to be looked into to get a full picture, and a very astute study into children at different levels of education highlights the changes which are taking place.
In fact, the percentage of teaching staff noticing differences between standard education before SMS and current trends is on the increase in some countries, while in others, studies show a more positive impact. With SMS using a shortened or abbreviated version of English language, the age at which a child is introduced to SMS as a form of communication would appear to matter, though the jury is hung on whether this provides negative or positive impact upon written work skills.
The skills purported to be affected by SMS
During a test on children of different ages and various stages of education, the findings were quite alarming. In written tests, for example, non conventional spelling was encountered in 90.91 per cent of the samples taken spread over the whole spectrum of ages. Emoticons or small scribbles which represent such things as smiles, grimaces or the like, were less likely to be included in written work, with a small percentage of 13.64.
The alarming trend of homophone use was noted both in word and numerical writing. To explain what this means it is important that readers note homophones are words which are pronounced in a similar way to the word intended, but which have a different meaning. Fifty per cent of the students tested used letter homophones while a smaller percentage of thirty-six percent used number homophones.
The study further showed that students regularly misused commas and periods and had a tendency to use what was termed as “g-clippings” or the missing of the letter “g” at the end of words such as learning, eating and other words ending in “ing” which in turn means that exposure to this style of writing over a period of time can deteriorate the standard of writing. Familiarity plays a part in this, since those exposed to SMS on a regular basis saw those words which were written as being correct, particularly in Grades 8 and 9.
Education World set out examples of how the English language is deteriorating in written work and reading through these, common errors would be word shortening, incorrect capitalization and full abbreviation rather than written words. The word “you” for example was commonly shown as “u” and more alarmingly, the word “to” was noted as “2” and these are not the only changes seen.
Reports which support text messaging
It may seem contradictory, though there have also been studies which support text messaging as a means of language comprehension and awareness of phonological skills. A student who conveys a message to a friend may be unaware that they are developing these skills, though the student begins to understand the significance of syllables which alter the meaning of the message being sent. They also comprehend that in order for text messages to be understood by the recipient, they have to adhere to some kind of norm which is consistent. In creating a text message, the student has to be aware of much more than simple association. The phoneme-grapheme mapping of the language needs to be understood in order to deconstruct the language to an understandable version.
A study on American children by Dr. Crispin Thurlow, as early as 2003, supported text messaging and was further backed up by a study performed by Clare Wood and Beverly Plester in 2009 performed on British children and the use of “textese” or “textisms” (abbreviations and characteristic language variations used in texting as opposed to written skills.
CBS News reports that teenagers, on average, are sending 60 text messages a day. Their report dated March, 2012, revealed that 63 percent of teens would text rather than telephone, perhaps due to telephone costs, and that a mere 39 percent used the telephone as a means of spoken conversation. What is interesting from this study is the increase in the number of teens who use smart-phones and are thus potentially exposed to spell correctors to assist in comprehension of how a word is actually written. Although these often give erroneous results, the exposure to them may also be a reason why text messaging may expose a teen to an increased vocabulary. If children learn from reading, then would it not follow that they will learn from being exposed to spell correction on a regular basis?
One positive impact that SMS messages may be having on students is that they encourage imaginative use of language and expression which they may have found difficult to express in written English. If this aspect of text messaging transfers to the schoolroom, then one may suppose that their written work may contain more imaginative rendition of language and an increased knowledge of vocabulary. The Daily Beast came up with a very interesting piece that showed how text messages used for a poetry contest showed that students had a “penchant for innovation rather than linguistic laziness” and that if teachers find the occasional slip up in language in term papers, these were more or less blamed on bad judgment on the part of the student, rather than linguistic limitations.