It's no secret that text messaging has changed the way we communicate, but it has also changed the meaning of sentences, punctuation, and grammar. So, we want to know, does proper grammar matter to you in text messages? If so, when's it important?
Disregarding the occasional autocorrect mistake, or touchscreen typo, text messages offer a different type of communication method than a normal phone call.
In the UK, text messaging is the most popular form of communication on mobile devices, and a number of studies, have suggested texting changes the way we communicate.
It's not necessarily a bad thing, one researcher from Simon Fraser University suggests the efficiency of a text message is related to creativity:
“I think it will make other people see how creative the younger generations can be and how efficient, because that's what language is all about,” he said. “It's a tool to communicate – the more efficient you are, the better.
It's not just about the words used in a text message. Grammar also includes punctuation. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, English professor and author Ben Yagoda discusses the way punctuation has changed the meaning of text messages:
My 21-year-old daughter once criticized my habit of ending text-message sentences with a period. For a piece of information delivered without prejudice, she said, you don't need any punctuation at the end (“Movie starts at 6”). An exclamation point is minimally acceptable enthusiasm (“See you there!”). But a period just comes off as sarcastic (“Good job on the dishes.”).
Punctuation might not be something you think about when you're sending or receiving a text, but punctuation might have a subtle impact on meaning. The exclamation points you use (and how many) change the meaning of a sentence. Even a missing period might make a statement sound less harsh.
New Study: “Text Messaging May Harm Grammar Skills”
“The human race wasn’t very advanced… They mostly spoke in monosyllabic grunts… In fact, the last words from their civilization before the meteor hit were “OMG” and “WTF.”
This cartoon would be hilarious if it weren’t so ominous. It’s ominous because it pokes fun at a distressing problem: text messaging may be harming kids’ language skills. That’s the finding of a new study published in New Media & Society, a top-ranked, peer-reviewed journal. The authors of Texting, Techspeak, And Tweens say:
The question to date was whether or not adolescents were able to switch between writing text messages and using correct English grammar for class work. The results of this study indicate that most adolescents are not able to do so.
Does this worry you? It worries me. But my friend Chris Drew is unconcerned. In the spirit of friendly debate, we decided to trade blogs on the topic. I’d love to know what you think, too!
First, here’s what you should know.
Chris is the creator of Pocket Literacy Coach, a very clever resource that provides activities to help parents improve their children’s literacy – and he shares these via text messages to parent subscribers.
I, on the other hand, create and share teacher resources for improving children’s writing and grammar – the very skills that appear threatened by “text-speak.” So I guess it’s no surprise that we’re on opposite sides of this discussion.
The fundamental question is, Will kids be able to limit their text-speak to a texting context? Or will the frequent use of text-speak bleed into kids’ use of language in more formal settings? If the latter is true, then we’ve got a problem on our hands.
“They spent the summer texting. It takes a while to wean them.”
The study does not definitively answer the question. But it gives enough cause for concern that we should be paying attention. The authors leave us with this fundamental message: “Adolescents should be educated to understand the differences between techspeak and standard English grammar, recognizing that there is a time and a place for both.”
How Text-Speak Impacts Grammar
So you can decide for yourself, bear with me for a quick synopsis of the research. Don’t worry – it’s not hard to follow. The researchers compared 6th, 7th, and 8th graders’ scores on a grammar test to the frequency with which they used common adaptations in text messages:
Exploring the longitudinal relationships between the use of grammar in text messaging and performance on grammatical tasks
Volume 32, Issue 4
Research has demonstrated that use of texting slang (textisms) when text messaging does not appear to impact negatively on children's literacy outcomes and may even benefit children's spelling attainment. However, less attention has been paid to the impact of text messaging on the development of children's and young people's understanding of grammar. This study therefore examined the interrelationships between children's and young adults’ tendency to make grammatical violations when texting and their performance on formal assessments of spoken and written grammatical understanding, orthographic processing and spelling ability over the course of 1 year. Zero‐order correlations showed patterns consistent with previous research on textism use and spelling, and there was no evidence of any negative associations between the development of the children's performance on the grammar tasks and their use of grammatical violations when texting. Adults’ tendency to use ungrammatical word forms (‘does you’) was positively related to performance on the test of written grammar. Grammatical violations were found to be positively associated with growth in spelling for secondary school children. However, not all forms of violation were observed to be consistently used in samples of text messages taken 12 months apart or were characteristic of typical text messages. The need to differentiate between genuine errors and deliberate violation of rules is discussed, as are the educational implications of these findings.
Text messaging is a popular activity worldwide, and the number of texts sent continues to increase annually (e.g., Ofcom, 2011). There is, however, concern about the impact that use of texting slang and abbreviations (‘textisms’, such as u for you ; ppl for people ) may have on literacy development (e.g.
, Crystal, 2008; Thurlow, 2003; Wood, Kemp, & Plester, 2014). There is now evidence that textism use does not appear to harm children's literacy (e.g., Bushnell, Kemp, & Martin, 2011; Coe & Oakhill, 2011; Plester, Wood, & Bell, 2008) and may even support spelling development.
For example, 8‐ to 12‐year‐old children's use of textisms accounted for growth in spelling ability over an academic year (Wood, Meacham, et al ., 2011). This may be because many textisms are phonetic in nature (e.g.
, c for see , 2 for to ), so their use contributes to phonological awareness and phonological processing, which in turn contribute to spelling development.
However, there was no evidence that the children's initial spelling ability was predictive of increased use of textisms over time, which suggests that it is not simply the case that children who are better spellers will be more able to use creative textisms and therefore benefit from the rehearsal of such skills. Similarly, Wood, Jackson, Hart, Plester, and Wilde (2011) found that 10 weeks’ textism use by children new to texting could explain variance in their spelling development beyond that explained by IQ.
Less research has examined the interrelationships between textism use and adult literacy, and these data are inconsistent.
Young adults’ estimates of their own textism use were linked to better informal writing for all participants, but to poorer formal writing for those with some or no college education (Rosen, Chang, Erwin, Carrier, & Cheever, 2010).
Undergraduate users and non‐users of textisms were found not to differ in their reading or spelling scores (Drouin & Davis, 2009).
Researchers who looked at adults’ actual textism use have observed negative links with some, but not all literacy skills (De Jonge & Kemp, 2012; Drouin & Driver, 2014; Grace, Kemp, Martin, & Parrila, 2014). The results obtained with children therefore may not extend to adults, and longitudinal data are needed to examine the direction of any associations.
One area that has received less attention is grammatical understanding. Here, we use ‘grammar’ in the broad sense commonly used in school lessons, in stylistic guides, and in more general settings.
We include not only morphology and syntax, but also orthographic conventions about punctuation and capitalization, which require an understanding of the syntactic structure of phrases and sentences and the identity of proper nouns.
We use ‘understanding’ to capture the levels of knowledge that people have about grammar and acknowledge that these levels may range from implicit to explicit awareness (see Gombert, 1992).
For example, when texting, people might display an implicit level of grammatical awareness by producing only violations that do not compromise meaning. For formal grammatical tasks, more explicit awareness is often necessary.
Text-messaging isn’t, like, ruining young people’s grammar
If you think that young people seem to be spending more of their time “face-to-screen” than “face-to-face”, you’re probably right. And a lot of that screen time seems to involve reading or writing English that duznt look quite lyk it shld.
It’s not surprising that many teachers, parents, and young people themselves feel concerned about this constant exposure to non-standard written English. It seems quite plausible that frequently seeing to/too written as 2, or people written as ppl, might mean that these kinds of spellings could start to creep into students’ formal writing.
Fortunately, in recent years the research has returned a fairly robust conclusion. Rather than spoiling children’s spelling, exposure to “textisms” (the abbreviated spellings of text messages) is actually associated with better literacy skills. For adults, there seem to be few consistent relationships between usage of textisms and spelling skill.
However, there has been less research on textisms that represent not the re-spelling of individual words, but violations of grammatical conventions. capitals get ignored, theres no apostrophes in sight, and sentences get separated not by standard punctuation marks, but by ironical laughter lol or expressions of emotion ☺
If it’s okay to write im coming, sarah!!! when texting, how will younger children learn, or older children remember, to use the conventions of grammatical English writing?
Together with my colleagues at Coventry University in the UK, Professor Clare Wood and Ms Sam Waldron, I looked at young people’s text messaging and grammar over the course of a year. We worked with 243 participants from primary school, high school, and university in the Coventry area.
At our first time point, these young people provided us with copies of all the text messages that they’d sent in the last two days. We analysed these messages for their violations of standard English grammar. The three most common types of violation were:
• omission of capitalisation and punctuation (hi how are you)
• omission of words (common in casual speech but not standard writing, as in am going out now. want to come?)
• unconventional punctuation (using multiple punctuation marks (??!!!), or emoticons ☺, kisses (xxx) and initialisms (lol) in place of normal punctuation)
Less common but also present were word-level grammatical violations, including apparently deliberate violations such as is you and does they, and word reductions such as hafta, tryna for have to, trying to.
Modern use of abbreviations and unusual punctuation in text messages doesn’t mean young people don’t know proper grammar anymore, they’re probably just saving time. Shutterstock
The participants also completed a set of tasks to assess their formal grammatical and spelling skills. One year later, we asked the same students to complete parallel forms of the same grammatical and spelling tasks.
Overall, we found no evidence that the use of grammatical violations in text messages is consistently related to poorer grammatical or spelling skills in school students.
Although omitting capitals and punctuation was associated with poorer later spelling in primary school, the other significant relationships were positive.
Primary and high school students’ use of ungrammatical word forms (eg, does you), and high school students’ omission of capitals and punctuation, and use of word reductions (eg, gonna) were all associated with better or faster spelling development.
In the university group, the use of word reductions was related to better spelling twelve months later.
We did see one negative link: the tendency to omit capitals and punctuation predicted poorer later performance on tasks of spoken and written grammar.
However, this tendency seemed to be mostly explained simply by individual differences in general ability level, rather than anything specific about texting.
These results tie in with most previous work on literacy skills and text messaging. In their school years, students are consolidating their knowledge of written language.
“Playing around” with language in the informal setting of texting provides the chance to practise alternative ways of linking sounds and letters (“Hey, I could write thanks as thanx!”), an ability which is well known to underlie strong reading and spelling skills.
Further, trying out unconventional ways of combining words (you is the best), saving space while maintaining meaning (I going now), or adding emotion to a message (yay!!! ☺) encourages children to engage with the very grammatical conventions that they’re transgressing.
By early adulthood, we see a much more muted relationship between the use of textisms and formal grammatical and spelling skills.
We suspect that this is because young adults are no longer so interested in using their linguistic skills to play with written language in the casual format of texting.
Instead, their message writing style seems to be shaped by the expectations that they and their friends have about how text messages “should” look, the self-correction functions of their phones, and the desire to include emotional expression in their messages.
In short, the evidence suggests that grammatical violations in the text messages of children, adolescents, and adults do not reflect a decline in grammatical knowledge.
Young people seem well aware that different types of communication require different ways of writing.
As long as young writers can maintain this awareness, then the violations of grammar common in digital communication need not be perceived as a reduction in writing skill, but rather as the addition of an alternative, casual style to the writer’s repertoire.
Editor’s note: Nenagh will be on hand for an Author Q&A session between 2 and 3pm tomorrow (June 20). Post any questions about text speak and grammar in the comments section below.
Grammar Rules for Texts and Instant Messages
By Geraldine Woods
Do you want to read this now, or save it for L8R? If that last “word” is a mystery to you, you haven’t been using typing on a Blackberry, a cell phone, or a similar device. Although texting and tweeting are relatively new, there are some basic grammar guidelines that will help you make yourself clear.
Text messages can be written in formal or informal English. When you’re deciding how formal to be, try these guidelines:
- Consider the identity of the person receiving the message. If he or she is a friend who can practically read your mind, formal English isn’t necessary. Abbreviations and half-sentences are probably fine, and you don’t need to worry about capitalization and punctuation. The less friendly the relationship, the more correct your language and grammar should be
- If you’re the boss, you make the rules. Your subordinates aren’t going to point out that you lowercased a word that should be in caps if they want to keep working for you!
- Think about the impression you’re trying to make. If you’re writing to a potential client, formal language may show respect and care.
- Save abbreviations such as ttyl (talk to you later), lol (laugh out loud, indicating a joke), and ctn (can’t talk now) for someone who is your bff (best friend forever). However, some abbreviations are acceptable in business or academic writing. For example, you may begin a message with “FYI” (for your information) and ask for a reply “ASAP” (as soon as possible).
Compressing your thoughts into the smallest space doesn’t get you off the hook when it comes to grammar, however. Remember one rule, no matter what you’re writing with, on, or to: Be clear!
Your reader has to understand what you mean, or your message is a failure. Period, end of story. With that principle in mind, check out these guidelines:
Dropping words in your writing
Because every character counts, you may at times break the complete sentence rule when you’re texting. The most common cut is the subject of a sentence. For example, you may type
Left meeting early. No progress.
to someone who knows that despite having an early dinner date, you attended a session of the Grammarians for Punctuation Reform. However, don’t omit a subject unless you’re absolutely sure that no confusion may result.
For instance, suppose you and a colleague spoke about the meeting and decided that the key figure was the leader of a pro-apostrophe lobby. His support for punctuation reform is guaranteed to convince everyone else.
His disapproval means that any proposal is dead on arrival.
Upon receiving the previous text message, will your colleague know who left the meeting early? In such a situation, it’s better to type one of these options:
President left meeting early. No progress.
I left the meeting early. No progress.
Articles (a, an, the) and conjunctions (words that join, such as and, or, but, and so forth) can often be omitted. Just be aware that the resulting message sounds rushed and at times strange
Dropping punctuation and capital letters in writing
Some handhelds automatically correct your typing by inserting capital letters and a period after you’ve typed two spaces. Capital letters may be a pain to type when you’re on the go. Yes, some people text
saw helen after the meeting
Texting May Lead to Bad Grammar
Texting could lead to a decline in language skills, warns a new study that found tweens who text are more likely to fall short on grammar tests.
Many tweens take shortcuts or use so-called techspeak when sending text messages. “They may use a homophone, such as gr8 for great, or an initial, like, LOL for laugh out loud,” Northwestern researcher Drew Cingel explained in a statement. Other shortcuts include dropping non-essential letters, such as changing the word “would” to “wud.”
To study the effect of these habits, Cingel gave a group of middle school students in central Pennsylvania a grammar assessment test. The students were then given a survey that asked them to detail how many texts they send and receive, their opinions on the importance of texting and the number of shortcuts in their last three sent and received text messages.
The results of the survey and the test, which were reported in the journal New Media & Society, showed a link between poor grammar scores and frequent texting.
What’s more, both sending and receiving techspeak-riddled texts seemed to affect how poorly the students performed on the test.
This suggests tweens might not be initiating all of their bad language habits, but might also be influenced by the grammatically incorrect messages sent by their friends and family.
“In other words, if you send your kid a lot of texts with word adaptations, then he or she will probably imitate it,” said S. Shyam Sundar, a Penn State communications professor who worked with Cingel. “These adaptations could affect their offline language skills that are important to language development and grammar skills, as well.”
In addition to a natural desire to imitate friends and family, the researchers speculated that some texting tweens made poor grammar choices in more formal writing because they had trouble switching between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar.