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OMG,

Submitted: March 16, 2014

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Submitted: March 16, 2014

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OMG, <3 and LOL have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Is ‘textese’ a positive evolution of language or harmful to our young people’s literacy skills?

The aim of my honours projects is to undertake research to investigate, systematically and sceptically, whether textese has a detrimental effect on young people’s language and communication skills. I will also scrutinize how young people’s relationship with textese is portrayed in the media and whether this equates to the opinions of academics.

The objectives of the honours project will be;

  • To explore the usage of ‘textese’ amongst young people
  • To examine the impact of textese on general spelling and school literacy outcomes
  • To Investigate the balance between the medias perspective and academic research

 

“Language is a beautiful, endlessly fascinating and extraordinary successful and creative tool for connecting and expressing ourselves. Without it human civilisation is inconceivable.”

(Stephen Fry’s Planet Word – Babel, 2011)

 

In my role as a youth worker I have commonly and with greater regularity come across young people who, when creating CV cover letters or completing recorded outcomes or evaluations, were inserting numbers (e.g. 2day) or removing vowels (e.g. ppl) when spelling words.

I also recently saw an Evening Standard Campaign highlighting the poor literary abilities of London’s young people which was echoed in a series of stories involving IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution) members stressing that they were left to pick up the pieces when school leavers enter jobs with a woefully low level of education. In a culture where ‘bad’ can mean extremely good and ‘sick’ can mean possessing exceptional talent is it any wonder that the media are raising concerns about the state of our young people’s literacy abilities.

Under the headline of ‘The unwritten shame of a city that can't read’ Susannah Herbert of the Evening Standard (journalist not attributed, 2011) went on to write;

 

“London bristles with words: warnings, slogans, maps, timetables, labels, official forms, graffiti and jargon. Authority wraps itself in writing: if we don't pay attention to the small print, it jeers: whose fault will it be when the car is towed, the microwave explodes, the baby is bathed in bleach?”

 

This was part of a week long campaign by the paper aimed at raising awareness of the ‘shocking’ reality of this escalating problem. Under another headline (2011) ‘The capital's future depends on literacy’, the article stated;

 

“The investigation that this paper launches today into illiteracy in London will shock many readers. Both the human details and the statistics - the child with only an Argos catalogue to read at home, one in four children leaving primary school unable to read properly - shame our city. What has become clear during our investigation is that this is a problem that can no longer be ignored.”

 

All the way through its history, the mass media industry has been used as a tool to appeal to the public as a whole; this is more common in the area of politics, where those in power can persuade society into believing what they want them to believe (Burns 2000).

 

While John Humphrys of the Daily Mail (2011) will lead us to believe that;

 

“Texters are vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.”

 

On the other end of the spectrum Stephen Fry (2011) confesses that ‘language is an evolutionary achievement’ and David Crystal (2008, P. 175), honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, echoes this by stating;

 

“Some people dislike texting. Some people are bemused by it. Some love it. I am fascinated by it, for it is the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings. In texting we are seeing, in a small way, language in evolution.”

In my working environment young people are transfixed with their mobile phones and social networking. As a result of this I myself believe in a link between the amount of time young people spend writing in the textese format and a negative impact on their language and communication skills. With that said however, these polar opposites in opinions threw up a lot of personal self reflection. Where do I get my opinions, values and information from? Newspapers are known for creating attention grabbing headlines and stories as their existence is assured only by the number of copies they shift off the shelves. Newspapers reach millions of people everyday but how many people sit on the train or eat breakfast while reading an academic article or journal.

As research should continually question the nature of knowledge, what it is and how it is known

(Preece, 1994, p. 18) my honours project presented me with the opportunity to investigate whether my own and the medias perception was backed up by academic research.

Due to my own admitted stance on textese I had a highly motivated interest in the subject. I aimed to carry out quantitative data by getting the young people who access my club to create a paragraph of everyday textese sentences which I would circulate to professionals who work face to face with the group in order to see if they could ‘decode’ the content. I also wanted to undertake qualitative data by interviewing local employers of young people such as restaurant chains, supermarkets and retail outlets to discover whether they had seen a rise in volume of unintelligible correspondence they receive in the form of job applicants from young people.

Following her delivery of a lecture on research methods at the end of the second academic year I met with Jo Neale, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire, to discuss my proposal. Following this meeting I also had email contact with the honours project unit co-ordinator plus ongoing discussions with professionals at work. These supervisory contacts took the form of Johns Reflective Theory (2000) and allowed me to alter my subject direction and evaluate the predicted usefulness of my final piece. I was informed that due to ethical issues undergraduate students on my course were not permitted to undertake primary research. My assigned task could only be carried out using library based secondary research. This significantly changed the angle I was coming from and accordingly I had to rethink the task and methodology. I was also advised by the unit co-ordinator that I had to narrow down the topic into something manageable, specific and clear and that I should not be setting out to prove a point but that I should be investigating the impact of my subject instead. I also had to clarify the link to youth and community work as this was unclear in my original aim and objectives.  Additionally, I was posed with the question of whether due to the subject matter there would be enough academic research available from which I could generate an argument.

From the creation of the research topic and the generation of aims and objectives, even through to the search for resources I had to take each step without allowing my own bias or initial opinion to cloud or influence my ability to make open-minded decisions or conclusions. This was resonated in the Ethical Approval Form which I had to complete and submit for Library Based Dissertation Work.

The form requires you to state your compliance to analyse the information gathered with an open mind and not to misinform or deliberately mislead findings. Your work should also take into account the limits of the reliability and validity of the findings produced.

My search for books, journals and articles took on the role of exploratory research as conversations with lecturers and other university staff highlighted that textese was an area where it was believed, little was known or had been investigated. I had invaluable input from the University librarian with this task. This started by him providing a number of 1-2-1 sessions on the various University library catalogues and related search methods. Due to my chosen subject area I had to dig deeper and more thoroughly. Hult (1996) promotes developing a search strategy and using library resources efficiently by summarizing, synthesizing and critiquing. There was a limitation on the number of books available regarding textese so journals and articles from studies around the globe made up the core of my academic resources on the subject. Accessing a number of these proved difficult and I had in some cases to contact the publisher directly while others were accessed via the British Library. The greatest difficulty came from the fact that a number of articles used textisms in their title which eliminated them from my preliminary searches. My goal was in generating a collection of published resources from which I could produce a critical and evaluative account of my chosen topic. The resulting literature review would allow me to balance my argument by summarising, synthesising and analysing the arguments of others.

I have accumulated a collection of newspaper articles and news stories from which to launch the media perspective. My annotated bibliography offers an abstract of the sources from which I aim to investigate the academic argument regarding the impact of textese on young people as well as the media’s role and credibility.

 

Bernstein, B.B. (1974). Class, codes and control, Volume I: Theoretical studies towards a sociology of language, Second Edition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

This book looks at the struggle to achieve an education system which would offer genuinely equal opportunities to children from all class and cultural backgrounds. It presents theoretical studies into the relationships between social class, patterns of language use and the primary socialization of the child. It helps to make the point that a language within a language is another tool for isolating certain societal groups.

 

Bushell, C. Kemp, K. & Martin, F.H. (2011). Text-messaging practices and links to general spelling:  A study of Australian children. Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology. 11, pp. 27-38.

This study investigated 10 to 12 year old Australian children’s text-messaging practices and their relationship to traditional spelling ability. Children produced a wide range of text-message abbreviations (textisms) when asked to re-write a list of 30 conventionally-spelt words as they would in a text message to a friend. The proportion of textisms produced was significantly positively correlated with general spelling ability, which fits with previous findings of positive relationships between children’s textism use and literacy.

 

Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and the Rockers. London: MacGibbon and Kee.

Cohen’s book explores the social reaction to deviant behaviour. What Cohen stated in the 70’s is very true today like, "More moral panics will be generated and other, as yet nameless, folk devils will be created ...our society as presently structured will continue to generate problems for some of its members - like working class adolescents - and then condemn whatever solution these groups find.” It demonstrates the resistance and fear to change of those who perceive it as a threat.

 

Critcher, C. (2003). Moral Panics and the media (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies). Buckingham: Open University Press.

The book looks at the role of the media in creating, endorsing and sustaining moral panics and the author explores the usefulness of moral panics and dissects the role of the popular press. This book will give me an insight into why the media reports as it does.

 

Curran, J. (2002). Media and Power: Communication and Society. London: Routledge.

The book addresses three key questions about the relationship between media and society.
How much power do the media have?, Who really controls the media? and what is the relationship between media and power in society? This book will give me an insight into why the media reports as it does.

 

Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: the gr8 db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The book looks at the text-messaging phenomenon and its effect on literacy, language, and society. It explores the panic in the media and concludes that far from hindering literacy, texting may even turn out to help it. This book was an excellent find and will weigh heavily in my opinion making.

 

Drouin, M.; Davis, C. (2009). R u txting? Is the Use of Text Speak Hurting Your Literacy? Journal of Literacy Research, 41, pp. 46–67.

The research was carried out due to negative media attention surrounding the uses of text speak and the potential detrimental effects of text speak on literacy. Text speak users were measured against non text speak users  and results showed that there were no significant differences between the two groups in standardised literacy scores or misspelling of common text speak words. Further evidence to disprove media claims.

 

Grinter, R.E.; Eldridge, M.A. (2011). Y do tngrs luv 2 txt msg? in ; Prinz, W.; Jarke, M.; Rogers, Y. & Wulf, V (Eds). Proceedings of the Seventh European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 1560–1567.

The report studies teenagers’ text messaging practices. It shows that teenagers encounter three problems when text messaging: understanding evolving language, determining intent from content, and addressing messages. This will allow me to explore why young people use textese and it also highlights the evolutionary argument.

 

Kemp, N. & Bushell, C. (2011) Children’s text messaging: abbreviations, input methods and links with literacy. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 27 (1), pp. 18-27.

This article investigates the effects of mobile phone text-messaging method and experience on children’s textism use and understanding. It also examined the popular claim that the use of text-message abbreviations, or textese spelling, is associated with poor literacy skills. The overall findings add to the growing evidence for a positive relationship between texting proficiency and traditional literacy skills.

 

Kreiner, D.S.; Davis, D.L. (2011). Knowledge of text message abbreviations as a predictor of spelling ability. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 112 (1), pp. 295–309.

The relationship of self-reported text messaging frequency and knowledge of text message abbreviations with spelling ability were investigated. The results were not consistent with the idea that better knowledge of text messaging is predictive of lower spelling ability. Instead, individuals with better knowledge of abbreviations tended to be better spellers. The articles findings directly challenge the medias ‘detrimental’ claim.

 

Plester, B.; Wood, C. & Bell, V. (2008). Txt msg n school literacy: does texting and knowledge of text abbreviations adversely affect children’s literacy attainment? Literacy, 42, pp. 137-144.

The paper looked at two studies which investigate the relationship between children’s texting behaviour, their knowledge of text abbreviation and their school attainment in written language skills. The findings suggested that children’s knowledge of textisms is not associated with poor language outcomes for children in the 11 to 12 age range. This article presents further academic evidence to disprove the negative link between textese and poor literacy skills.

 

Powell, D.; Dixon, M. (2011). Does SMS text messaging help or harm adult knowledge of standard spelling. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(1), pp. 58–66.

The research showed that exposure to phonetically plausible misspellings (e.g. ‘recieve) negatively affected subsequent spelling performance, although this was true only with adults, not children. Data suggest that exposure to textisms, unlike misspellings, had a positive effect on adults’ spelling. Another  argument that challenges the media stance.

 

Wood, C. Jackson, E. Hart, L. Plester, B. & Wilde, L. (2011) The effect of text messaging on 9 and 10 year old children’s reading, spelling and phonological processing skills. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 27 (1), pp. 28-36.

The paper reports on an intervention study that considered the impact of text messaging on 9 to 10 year old children’s literacy skills. The results showed that text messaging does not adversely affect the development of literacy skills within this age group, and that the children’s use of textism when text messaging is positively related to improvement in literacy skills, especially spelling.

 

I have had mixed emotion regarding the honours project so far. I am very much a procrastinator and as a result of this, the nature of the task poses many challenges for me. Due to the final deadline being known in advance and appearing towards the end of the academic calendar there is no sense of immediate pressure to keep me on top of things. I know the nature of level three is very much about self directed learning and although my interest in my chosen subject is one of high motivation, that motivation has taken the form of information gathering to date and has not been reflected in the generation of anything material or concrete to reflect what I’ve discovered until this submission. Although I started at the end of level two with an idea and transformed that idea into a plan through dialogue with work colleagues, academic peers and lecturers it was only through writing this assessment that I feel I’ve managed to get off the ground. This process allowed me to revisit my title, aim and objectives which in turn generated new searches and resulted in the inclusion of new articles and the dismissal of others. It’s allowed me to focus on the next task and by writing I have reignited the initial flame I had when the project was merely an idea. I’m looking forward to getting to grips with and critically analysing my chosen resources and through the process challenging my own belief systems, opinions and assumptions.

If the culture of the teacher is to become part of the consciousness of the child, then the culture of the child must first be in the consciousness of the teacher.

(Bernstein, 1974, p. 199)

 

 

Word Count: 2645

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

Bernstein, B.B. (1974). Class, codes and control, Volume I: Theoretical studies towards a sociology of language, Second Edition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

 

Burns, H. (2000). What are ‘Moral Panics’?  accessed online at http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/hrb9701.html on the 7th December at 1145.

 

Bushell, C. Kemp, K. & Martin, F.H. (2011). Text-messaging practices and links to general spelling:  A study of Australian children. Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology. 11, pp. 27-38.

 

Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and the Rockers. London: MacGibbon and Kee.

 

Critcher, C. (2003). Moral Panics and the media (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies). Buckingham: Open University Press

.

Curran, J. (2002). Media and Power: Communication and Society. London: Routledge.

 

Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: the gr8 db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Drouin, M.; Davis, C. (2009). R u txting? Is the Use of Text Speak Hurting Your Literacy? Journal of Literacy Research, 41, pp. 46–67.

 

Grinter, R.E.; Eldridge, M.A. (2011). Y do tngrs luv 2 txt msg? in ; Prinz, W.; Jarke, M.; Rogers, Y. & Wulf, V (Eds). Proceedings of the Seventh European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 1560–1567.

 

Fry, S. (2011). Stephen Fry's Planet Word – Babel. Accessed via Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBR_chcbLtA on 6th December 2011 at 1435.

 

Herbert, S. (2011). ‘The unwritten shame of a city that can't read’. Evening Standard, 31st May, accessed online at http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23955076-the-unwritten-shame-of-a-city-that-cant-read.do on the 6th December 2011 at 1730.

 

Hult, CA. (1996). Research and Writing in the Social Sciences. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

 

Humphrys, J. (2007. I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language. The Daily Mail,  24th September accessed online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-483511/I-h8-txt-msgs-How-texting-wrecking-language.html on the 7th Dec 2011 at 1130.

 

Johns, C. (2000). Becoming a Reflective Practitioner: a Reflective and Holistic Approach to Clinical Nursing, Practice Development and Clinical Supervision. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

 

Journalist not attributed, (2011). The Capitals Future Depends on Literacy. Evening Standard, 31st May, accessed online at http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23955105-the-capitals-future-depends-on-literacy.do on the 6th December 2011 at 1745.

 

Kemp, N. & Bushell, C. (2011) Children’s text messaging: abbreviations, input methods and links with literacy. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 27 (1), pp. 18-27.

 

Kreiner, D.S.; Davis, D.L. (2011). Knowledge of text message abbreviations as a predictor of spelling ability. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 112 (1), pp. 295–309.

 

Plester, B.; Wood, C. & Bell, V. (2008). Txt msg n school literacy: does texting and knowledge of text abbreviations adversely affect children’s literacy attainment? Literacy, 42, pp. 137-144.

 

Powell, D.; Dixon, M. (2011). Does SMS text messaging help or harm adult knowledge of standard spelling. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(1), pp. 58–66.

 

Preece, R. (1994). Starting Research. London: Continuum.

 

Wood, C. Jackson, E. Hart, L. Plester, B. & Wilde, L. (2011) The effect of text messaging on 9 and 10 year old children’s reading, spelling and phonological processing skills. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 27 (1), pp. 28-36.


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