Txts r gr8 but not in exams

9th February 2007 at 00:00
Texting Is Nothing New: We Have A Tradition Of Shorthand Language.

Throughout history we have communicated in codes, using everything from smoke signals to Morse and the telegram.

And until the arrival of the text message in the public domain in 1992, there was little concern about the destructive effect these systems might have on "proper" written English.

Now the huge popularity of text and email slang among young people is being widely blamed for slipping standards of literacy.

The Scottish Qualification Authority's announcement last year that children would not be marked down for using "textisms" in their exam answers has further fuelled the debate. But does it really damage a pupil's ability to write a grammatically correct history essay if they are addicted to txting their m8s all day?

Tim Shortis is carrying out a Phd in text messaging as a vernacular language at London university's Institute of Education, studying 600 texts written by Bristol teenagers. He said that abbreviatons, emoticons such as :-) (smile) and other well-publicised features of text slang are used far less than popularly believed.

He said: "There's a moral panic about young people and language, a populist alarm. But the examples you see in the media are rarely used. You get initialisms such as LOL for laugh out loud and letter and number homophones such as r and 2, but they are not as widespread as you think. There are also remarkably few casual misspellings."

The abbreviations common to texting are nothing new, he said. The use of the letter u to stand for the word you was first recorded in 1897 on the "U need a biscuit" cookie brand.

Mr Shortis, a former chief examiner for English language A-level at the exam board AQAB, said he had rarely seen textisms used in A-level papers.

But examiners had seen them crop up at GCSE.

He said: "Between 11 and 16, children often change their language to express their social difference or identity. Using text message abbreviations in exam answers is the verbal equivalent of wearing a hoodie.

"If I saw one on a paper, I wouldn't be particularly impressed, but it wouldn't make a critical difference."

Dr Crispin Thurlow, a researcher in language and communication at the the University of Washington in Seattle, highlighted a study of 135 19-year-old students at Cardiff university. Researchers gathered 544 of their recent text messages: only 20 per cent used abbreviations. And, to the delight of English teachers everywhere, 35 per cent contained the correct use of apostrophes.

Dr Beverly Plester and Dr Clare Ward, psychologists from Coventry university, showed in a recent study that it was children with high literacy abilities who were more likely to use abbreviations and other textisms in messages. English teachers and literacy campaigners are in two minds about the texting phenomenon: some see it as an irritation, and others as an opportunity.

Ian McNeilly, a secondary English teacher for 12 years and director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "I don't think text message and MSN messenger styles are a sign of declining standards, but changing literacies. Children are usually capable of differentiating between the two."

But Mr McNeilly said he sees textisms in school written work all the time.

"I have to explain that it just isn't appropriate. Some genuinely don't know the difference.

"You are getting some children whose major use of language is through texting and computer messaging more than writing."

Even the Queen's English Society, preservers of traditional grammar and spelling, seems resigned to the onward march of textese. Michael Plumbe, its outgoing chairman, said textisms were acceptable in the same way as the telegram, which also changed the English language, to convey messages quickly, or in secret.

"Textisms are an eroding force but you can't stop it happening, he said.

"But children should never be allowed to use textisms in their school writing."

Join the debate on this topic on our website www.tes.co.uksectionstaffroomhave_your_say

MOBILE FACTS

Text messages were first used in the 1980s so engineers building the mobile network could communicate.

Average age for a child to get their first mobile phone is eight.

75% of teenagers own a mobile phone.

In Europe, around 16 billion text messages are sent every month.

Researchers claim excessive texting and emailing cuts IQ by 10%.

EXPLAIN YOURSELF

L8R G8R See you later alligator

LOL Laugh out loud

Cu2moro See you tomorrow

Wot u up 2 What are you up to?

SHID Slaps head in disgust.

A3 Anytime, anywhere, anyplace.

:-) Smile; :-)... Drool

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