English - 2 Txt or not 2 txt

6th February 2009 at 00:00
That is the question. Dorothy Lepkowska finds some surprising answers

IIf sm1 rote 2 u tht they were "lqtm", wud u no wot they ment? Or would you think that a grown-up should know better that to corrupt the English language in such a way?

The language of text messaging is leading to new and creative ways of writing English. Young people, in particular, show huge invention in coming up with ways of getting their message across. And as long as the recipient knows that the sender is "laughing quietly to myself", do they really need to write their message out in full?

Not everyone agrees. Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, is a traditionalist who believes that text messaging is having a detrimental effect on the way young people communicate.

"Now text messaging is with us and we can't get rid of it, there is little we can do, other than discourage young people from its use as much as we can," he says.

"How can anyone not be worried when children spend more time texting than writing standard English? It does not require people to know precise spelling because they can just make it up, and people who use it tend to use simple words."

In fact, the exact opposite may be true. Dr Beverley Plester, senior lecturer in psychology at Coventry University, has carried out the most recent research into the effects of text messaging.

Her longitudinal study into the patterns of mobile phone usage among children aged eight to 12, due to be published later this year, shows that far from damaging English standards, it may actually be enhancing them.

Early analysis of the findings shows a causal relationship between using text and improv-ing language learning.

"A lot of textism is written phonetically so we know that it improves children's phonological awareness, which improves both their reading and writing skills," she says.

"Texting is just playing with words, and it is fun. It shows a proficiency in language when young people are able to manipulate it in this way."

David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University in Wales, agrees. He studied thousands of text messages while researching his book txtng: the gr8 db8 and found that, in fact, most were written in standard English and without any abbreviations.

"There are many myths and misconceptions about texting. One is that it is something that only young people do. In fact, adults and organisations send 80 per cent of text messages," Professor Crystal says.

Professor Crystal cites Barack Obama's presidential election campaign as an example. Voters could sign up for text message updates on his policy announce-ments and even download ringtones of sound bites from his speeches laid over hip-hop beats.

He believes using abbreviations is one way that young people can demonstrate to their peers how "cool and clever" they are.

"What it actually shows is that people have to be highly literate to know how to abbreviate a word so the recipient knows what they mean," he says. "To do this effectively, they must know how to spell a word and be able to use it in the correct context.

"Of course, we still need teachers to focus on grammar, punctuation and spelling in the classroom because knowledge of standard English is a measure of being educated.

"However, to disparage text language would be to disparage regional accents or dialects. It is all part of the natural develop-ment of language."

Some experts believe, however, that there is an increased blurring about what is acceptable and what is not, when it comes to the written form.

Following last summer's A-levels, an Edexcel examiners' report on the English language and literature A-level criticised a "lack of control of punctuation and sentence structures and inaccurate spelling". The report found that pupils changed tense "for no apparent reason, often within a single sentence" and made basic errors, such as writing "a women" instead of "a woman".

Another study by Cambridge Assessment, Europe's largest academic assessment agency, found that up to half of GCSE pupils could not tell the difference between correct English and colloquialisms. Unsurprisingly, critics blamed pupils' fondness for text messaging and computer games for a decline in the use of standard English forms.

Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, says that text messaging, like the use of social networking sites and other technologies, are the new tools by which language evolves naturally.

But he is worried that a growing number of people are failing to distinguish what forms of language should be used - and when.

"The potential problem with all of this is that there are some people who really don't know the difference between "u" and "you" and the situations in which the two forms might be used," Mr McNeilly says.

"I have seen emails from people looking to contribute sports reports to a website, who have used inappropriate language forms in their letters of inquiry. This does not create a good impression.

"My concern is that more and more people don't know the difference between what is appropriate in a formal situation, and what form should be reserved for close friends."

Candidates sitting GCSEs in any subject can expect to lose up to 5 per cent of their marks for poor spelling, punctuation and grammar - more if the exam is in English and they are being tested on these aspects.

Barbara Bleiman, education consultant at the English and Media Centre in London, believes that most young people do know what form of language to use in what circumstances.

"I think it is an exaggeration to say that texting or abbreviated forms are undermining language generally," she says.

"People have always found ways of shortening language to meet their needs, whether it was in writing telegrams, or in everyday use such as writing a shopping list."

Ms Bleiman adds: "The important role for schools is to inform pupils in what contexts these different forms should be used and what is appropriate, depending on the audience. If you take into account the amount of writing they now do, on their mobile phones and computers, young people are probably reading and writing more now than they ever were."

Mark Rogers, an English teacher at The Jo Richardson Community School in Dag-enham, Essex, believes it is up to teachers to ensure that young people know how to adapt our language to their needs.

"As a school, we always pick pupils up on slang or incorrect English, whether it is in written or spoken form. Where schools are worried about text messaging it must be because they are not teaching properly in the first place," he says.

In fact, many schools are embracing the use of mobile phones for communication in class. At Crossways Academy in Lewisham, London, at the end of the lesson, teachers say to pupils at the end of lessons: "You know the learning objectives; if you have suggestions on how the lesson could have been better for you, text them to this number".

According to its principal Dame Ruth Silver, this gets children to think about teaching and learning even after lessons are over. There is also evidence that schools that use phones a lot in class tend to find bullying by text disappears.

Jo Klacey, meanwhile, believes that text messaging is a rite of passage for young people, who are often experimenting with their individuality.

Ms Klacey, who teaches at Queensbridge School in Birm-ingham and is a member of the National Literacy Association, says: "Young people have always had a code through which they communicate, and texting is just part of that for this particular generation.

"I have never seen text abbreviation creep into formal work or essays that pupils have submitted, so they clearly know when it's appropriate to use it."

But Ms Klacey believes that teachers must ensure that pupils know the difference.

"People are getting more laid back about texting because so many adults now do it too, and use their own abbreviations. They know that it doesn't mean young people will be left illiterate," she says

The joy of texting: abbreviations and what they mean


be seeing you


correct me if I'm wrong


in my not so humble opinion

- JM2p

just my two pennyworth


make my day, punk


you talking to me?

For further commonly used textisms visit www.mantex.co.uksamplestexting.htm


- txtng: the gr8 db8 by David Crystal, Oxford University Press, Pounds 9.99

- Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, Profile Books, Pounds 9.99

- Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulation of the English Language by John Humphrys, Hodder amp; Stoughton, Pounds 14.99

- BBC Grammar Challenge

Web-based programme where you can download worksheets and MP3s to learn complex grammatical structures. See www.bbc.co.ukworldservicelearningenglishgrammargrammar_ challenge.

- National Association for the Teaching of English Conference 2009: Creativities Setting Free the Spirit of English, Saturday April 4 to Monday April 6, Hinckley Island Hotel, Leicestershire. For more details, visit www.nate.org.uk.

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