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Running Head: TXTNG – NME or NBD?


The Effects of Texting on Literacy

Sara Gwin

February 26, 2011

MTE/538 ▪ Dr. Robert Schweizer




"IYO TXTNG = NME or NBD?" Translation: "In your opinion, is text messaging

the enemy or no big deal?" As more and more students immerse themselves in a new

language that they use over their cell phones and Blackberries, educators worry that their

writing skills are suffering (Ring, 2006). But other educators see little evidence that the

language of texting is having a negative impact on students' school-work. Is the

prevalence of text messaging something to worry about? Should educators fear the use

of texting in their classrooms? WDYT? For you old-timers, that means: what do you

think? This paper will discuss the negative aspects associated with text messaging or

texting as it is commonly known, the scope of this practice in current schools, and how

this seemingly negative phenomenon can be used in a positive manner.

Texting, a Modern Scourge?

Texting refers to the use of abbreviations and other techniques to craft short-messaging

service (SMS) and instant messages. Texting does not always follow the standard rules

of English grammar, nor usual word spellings. Short-message format routinely sacrifices

grammar, syntax, and punctuation for the sake of slang and brevity (Baggott, 2006).

According to Vosloo (2009), texting is so pervasive that some regard it as an emerging

language in its own right. This is largely due to the proliferation of mobile phones as

well as internet-based instant messaging (IM). As a result of their electronic chatting,

kids are making countless syntax, subject/verb agreement errors and spelling mistakes in

writing assignments (Ross, 2007). There is concern that students who frequently express


themselves in abbreviations and smiley faces may lose the capacity for more nuanced,

grammatically correct writing.

The term “textspeak” was coined in 2008 by David Crystal, an honorary professor of

linguistics at the University of Wales (ELT Journal). Some worry that as textspeak drops

consonants, vowels and punctuation and makes no distinction between letters and

numbers, people will no longer know how we're really supposed to communicate. Will

text messaging produce generations of illiterates? Could this—OMG—be the death of the

English language?

Those raising the alarm aren't linguists. Many are teachers, including myself, who

have had to red-pen some ridiculous practices in high-school and college writings

(http://www.newsweek.com//2008/082/01/the-death-of-english-lol.html#). When I

initially observed this trend while teaching at Remington College from 2006 – 2010 as

a full-time general education instructor, I did not fully understand the implications of

seeing “b/c” and “u” and “c” in my students’ writing. I thought my particular students

were simply lazy. It was later that I began to understand how technology had once again

infiltrated the educational setting as Gen X and Gen Y students demonstrated their

comfort and ease with technology.

Text messaging or Short Messaging Service (SMS) can send up to 160 characters or

fewer; this is one of the major reasons tweens¸ teens and other heavy text-users have

learned to abbreviate words when texting. Space is limited. However, newer phones can

hold up to 20 pages of 160 characters. Text messaging is the cell phone phenomenon that

is changing the way people communicate. T-Mobile sales representative in El Paso,



Chris Yakubovsky, reports that well over 60 percent of all the company’s cell phone

communication is now being done via text messaging (Marquez, 2007).

Cell phones are not being sold in the traditional form with number keypads. They

are now being built with “QWERTY” type keyboards, thus making it easier for fingers

to text away at a moment’s notice. In the U.S., texting has grown in the last few years

due to improved technology with the introduction of the Apple iPhone or the popular

Blackberries. In June 2008, 75 billion text messages were sent in the U.S., compared

with just 7.2 billion in June 2005, according to CTIA, the Wireless Association, the

leading industry trade group (http://www.ctia.org).

The surge in text messaging is being driven by teens 13 to 17 years old, who

on average send and receive about 1,742 text messages a month. Teens also talk on the

phone, but at a much lower rate, only making and receiving about 231 calls per month.

The report even suggests that tweens or kids under the age of 12 are also heavy text users,

averaging about 428 messages per month.

Negative responses from teachers and others

In general, texting has provoked very strong, negative responses from teachers,

parents, and language experts. It has been described as the “continuing assault of

technology on formal written English" (Lee, 2002), and the work of “vandals who are

doing to our language what Genghis Khandid to his neighbors eight hundred years ago ...

pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary” (Humphrys,



Others may not have expressed it as dramatically as Humphrys, but they do agree

texting can have profound effects on how people of all ages communicate. Psychology

major Dania Diaz said that text messaging can be negative; “text messaging is dangerous,

not only does it ruin social interaction between humans, writing skills and expression.

Everything becomes so impersonal and simple (Marquez, 2009).

Psychologist Cecilia Holguin of the University Counseling Center at the University

of Texas at El Paso reports the effects of texting on a person’s communication skills. “It

does seem people are more comfortable text messaging rather than actually talking with

another human,” Holguin said. “There is no awkwardness or vocal response involved

when texting. Young people could virtually say anything through texts and don’t have to

commit to engaging into the effects through a vocal conversation” (Marquez, 2009).

Linguist professor at the University of Texas at El Paso Richard Teschner believes

texting does affect the way young teenagers linguistic development goes (Marquez,

2009). “For young people using this form of communication, their brains get accustomed

to picturing words in the short text forms,” Teschner said. Though he doesn’t believe

young people will be affected in speech or in any major lexical development, Teschner

says there are certainly no benefits to spelling words incorrectly and shortening the

language itself (Marquez, 2009).

The Corruption of Language

For a number of years teachers and parents have blamed texting for two ills: the

corruption of language and the degradation in spelling of youth writing. Since 2003

(Brown-Owens, Eason & Lader), complaints of textisms creeping into formal school


language have been raised from around the world. In a survey by the Pew Internet &

American Life Project, 64 percent of U.S. teens admitted that some form of texting has

crept into their academic writing (Lenhart et al., 2008). It appears as if learners are not

able to use appropriate language in different contexts: their informal textisms or

“textspeak” appear in formal writing assignments.

Interesting Statistics on Texting

According to the Pew Study, (April 2010), here are statistics on teens and their cell phone

usage: the typical American teen sends and receives 50 or more messages per day or

1,500 per month; 31% of teens send and receive more than 100 messages per day or more

than 3,000 messages a month; and 15% of teens who are texters send more than 200 texts

a day, or more than 6,000 texts a month. Is it no wonder students cannot squelch the

temptation to use their cell phones in class!? In another survey, sixty-five percent of high

school students use cell phones in school and one-quarter of text messages sent by teens

are sent during class (Common Sense Media).

The positive effects of texting

Recognizing that many textisms are some form of phonetic abbreviation, Plester, Wood

and Joshi (2009) argue that to produce and read such abbreviations requires the texter to

possess a level of phonological awareness (and orthographic awareness). While spelled

incorrectly in a conventional sense, many textisms are phonologically acceptable forms

of written English. Decades of research has demonstrated a consistent association

between different forms of phonological awareness and reading attainment.



Crystal (2008) believes that sending frequent texts can actually help children to read

and write because of the abbreviations used. He maintains that the widespread concern

about the impact of texting on children’s literacy is unfounded. The brevity of the text

style, and the 160 character constraint of an SMS, requires the author to write economi-

cally, inventively and playfully – doing this is good practice when learning to read and


In his book, "Txtng: the Gr8 Db8" (Oxford), Crystal makes two general points:

that the language of texting is hardly as deviant as people think, and that texting actually

makes young people better communicators, not worse. Crystal spells out the first point

by marshaling real linguistic evidence. He breaks down the distinctive elements of texting

language -- pictograms; initialisms, or acronyms; contractions, and others -- and points

out similar examples in linguistic practice from the ancient Egyptians to 20th-century

broadcasting. Shakespeare freely used elisions, novel syntax and several thousand made-

up words (his own name was signed in six different ways). Even some common conventions

are relatively newfangled: rules for using the oft-abused apostrophe were set only in the

middle of the 19th century. The point is that tailored text predates the text message, so we

might as well accept that ours is a language of vandals.

Wood, Plester and Bowyer (2008) concur that “when texting, the children have the

freedom to ‘play’ with the construction of language that they are learning about at school

and are creative in their use of it. They also have regular engagement with it.”

Plester, Wood and Joshi (2009) believe that any engagement with the written word

(as opposed to the spoken word) – including reading and writing textisms in digital form


on mobile phones – is beneficial for children. Wood, Plester and Bowyer (2008)

postulate that “children’s use of this technology appears to have a positive impact on their

developing literacy, as it provides children with an additional resource for learning about

and experimenting with letter-sound correspondences and language, and for reading and

‘decoding’ text.” They conclude that “if our children are showing difficulties with

reading and spelling attainment, it would seem that this is in spite of the contribution of

textism use, not because of it.”

Constructive approaches to texting

While the evidence may suggest otherwise, texting is still seen by many educators

as a problem in most classrooms, a hindrance to the development of reading and writing

skills. However, some language teachers are trying to take advantage of this new use of

technology. They recognize that “a new form of communication is taking hold in the

linguistic sphere, which means new challenges for teaching and learning – but also new

opportunities” (Bernard,2008).In fact, some are even glad that students are communicating

so frequently through writing and are creating their own language, though one with a

nontraditional vocabulary.

Below are examples of how the issue of texting can be used as a beneficial tool in the

classroom toward the development of English and language arts:

• Evolution of language

• Teaching about audience



• Increased writing

• Tapping into the social nature of texting

The digital age is upon us and like it or not, faster communication means abbreviating

and inventive spelling. Not all teachers view this as a plague of the 21st century. It allows

for experimental communication and word play. Internet celebrity and middle school

English teacher, Cindi Rigsbee, is willing to utilize texting in her classrooms. Instead of

ignoring the issue, she addressed it head-on by discussing the Greek and Roman roots of

English and eventually leading the conversation down to a popular internet phrase. She also

has students translate a barely legible MySpace page into proper English. "We look at Old

English, Middle English, and what was contemporary English in the time of Jane Eyre.

Then I show them a MySpace page" (Bernard 2008).

Overall, text messaging has taken on the characteristics of most new technologies as

they emerge on the social and academic scene. Remember the horror and fear initially of

the radio, then the television, recorded music, and now constant, new developing media?

As ever-changing technology settles into a stable place within society, the benefits to the

discourse of literacy and communication skills will become more evident. Educators,

parents, and everyday people will become more accepting of it.

If texting has no detrimental effect on spelling and actually improves literacy

development, then the role of mobile-based texting is significant for education. Oppor-

tunities exist to use texting to teach about the evolution of language and writing for an


audience, to increase the amount of writing learners do, and for leveraging the social

nature of literacy development. One factor is known for sure; texting is not going to go


This paper has discussed the negative aspects associated with text messaging or

texting as it is commonly known, the scope of this practice in current schools, and how

this seemingly negative phenomenon is used in a positive manner by teachers who are

willing to embrace this new technology. Educators throughout the world must understand

the importance of bringing everyday literacies used by younger generations into the class-

room. How can it be completely detrimental to engage them more critically in the discourse

of language with a medium they are already comfortable with? Teachers simply have to

instruct them correctly in its use and timeliness within the classroom.



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Crystal, D. (2008). Txting: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. (2008). Texting. ELT Journal, 62, 77-83.

Humphrys, J. (2007). I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language. Daily Mail,

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Lee, J. (2002). I Think, Therefore IM. New York Times, September 19, G.1.

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Wood, C., Plester, B., & Bowyer, S. (2008). A Cross-Lagged Longitudinal Study of Text

Messaging and Its Impact on Literacy Skills: Preliminary Results. Poster

Presented at the British Psychological Society Developmental Section Conference,

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