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The Impact of Texting Language on Literacy Skills

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Table of contents

  1. The season of mobile phones and short messages
  2. The language of short messaging
    Two contrasting views
  3. Conclusion

With the passage of time, educators and parents have focused on literacy skills such as reading writing, and spelling and have worked very hard on developing these abilities for their children. Therefore, they are not happy with the visiting of text messaging and its techniques, such as symbols and abbreviations, expressing concerns about the impact of text messaging on the literacy skills of children and adults based on assumptions which may not reflect the reality of the researches results about this topic. For example, Mampa Mphahlele and Kwena Mashamaite concluded that there is a big difference between the standards of text message language and traditional standards of reading, writing, and spelling which meant that learners’ literacy skills are negatively influenced by the ways words are written in instant messages. In contrast, Clare Wood and other researchers explored that the appearance of shortened words such as “shud instead of should” in students’ classwork does not necessarily reflect the weakness of language proficiency, depending on empirical evidence. Therefore, This paper argues that there is a negative reaction amongst many of parents, educators, and media towards the language of text messaging on literacy skills of children and adults who occupied the first rank of text messaging use, in spite of the positive impact as is proven by many researchers based on empirical studies.

The season of mobile phones and short messages

As is said “necessity is the mother of invention”, “Merry Christmas” was the first text message sent by a British engineer, Neil Papworth, to his director at Vodafone in 1992. Papworth claimed that this service can be considered as the biggest achievement in the communication revolution which aimed to simplify the way of communication between customers, allowing them to pass news, or greetings anywhere and anytime. 15 years later, portable devices specifically smartphones started to invade our world extensively, which greatly contributed to the increase the use of text messaging. For instance, “There are approximately 277,000,000 (277 million) “texters” in the United States not including children 12 years old and younger, according to Text Request”. Moreover, PEW Research Center and Statista reported “The most active group age for sending and receiving text messages in the United States were those aged 18 to 29, as 97 percent of respondents said that they did use mobile messaging in 2013”. In other words, people can reach the end of the world from their beds in a matter of seconds. These extraordinary features make text messaging very popular amongst people specifically children and youths. Not only do statistics show the popularity of short message services, however, but there are also many scenes and sounds around us that reveal how people are so attached to instant messaging in their daily lives. For example, the spread sound of keyboard tapping in buses, classrooms, streets, and homes.

The language of short messaging

Short messaging service simplified the way of communication at a surface level and the language of communication at a deep level. Therefore, many studies aimed to analyze the linguistic methods that people use in text messaging to make this communication easier, faster, and more effortless. According to Naomi S Baron messaging language is filled with linguistic features, stating “a number of distinctive linguistic conventions characterizing many people’s use of language on the Internet are beginning to seep into traditional spoken and written language”. Likewise, a professor of language and communication, Crispin Thurlow analyzed the language of short messaging, discovering many linguistic forms appeared in instant messaging. Here are some examples of the most textism forms which are used by the majority of users, as are listed by Thurlow: “shortenings (i.e. missing end letters), contractions (i.e. missing middle letters), G-clippings and other clippings (i.e. dropping final letter), acronyms, initialism, letter/number homophones, misspellings, and accent stylizations”. In addition, people can write messages free of restrictions and limitations such as punctuation, pronouns omission, and ignoring some grammatical rules like the subject-verb agreement rule. These changes divided people into two different groups.

Two contrasting views

Our words are a translation or reflection to our emotions, beliefs, and thoughts towards many things in life, such as “It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbors eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped”. These lines were written by a journalist, John Humphrys, and published in the Daily Mail Newspaper, which revealed worries about the effect of short messaging, expressing hatefulness of abbreviations and emoticons. In this sense, fear and concern increased among teachers and parents about the huge popularity of text messaging language which went beyond text messaging. For example, Mphahlele and Mashamaite discussed the extensive appearance of short messaging language on TV advertisements “we luv u 2”, books titled “the individualized diet solution to staying healthy, living longer and achieving your ideal weight EAT RIGHT 4 YOUR TYPE”, and official documents “REMINDER SPEECH AND POSTER ELIMINATIONS WHEN? 15 OCTOBER 2003 TIME? 9:15-11:00 WHERE? LF119 C U THERE!”. Thus, Humphrys was one of many people who argued against the possible dangerous effect of instant messaging on young people’s literacy skills and English language. Furthermore, Mphahlele and Mashamaite assumed that SMS language creates problems which destroy the writing ability of texters, becoming unable to write in formal English saying “Learners have a tendency of using SMS language as if it were a standard language when they write tests, assignments, and reports. They are therefore unable to differentiate the context and situation appropriate for the use of the SMS language”. This claim was borne from theoretical literature which is the definition of language proficiency “Language proficiency entails the ability to listen, speak, read and write with comprehension observing grammatical, syntactical as well as semantic rules governing that language. These basic language skills cannot all be learned effectively and efficiently when using the SMS language”. However, in a recent study on text messaging in Holland by teachers at the Department of Linguistic and Special Education in different universities of Amsterdam and Holland, Chantal N Dijk et al. found that the majority of proficient users of text messaging have the ability to move between formal and informal written language, similar to bilingual children who can easily move between two different languages, stating “On the other hand, children who are proficient in textese, might have similar advantages as bilingual children have, as they might be considered a special type of bilinguals—in a different modality—having to switch between formal written language and textese. This is so because various studies have shown superior performance on executive function tasks by bilingual children over monolingual children”. Moreover, the results of their study indicated that “text messaging improves children’s grammar performance and create better metalinguistic knowledge, taking into account children age, phone ownership age, vocabulary, and phonological awareness measures”.

In the same way, Plester et al. who are highly respected professors and honorary researchers at the Department of Psychology in the UK and Australia in a previous empirical study investigated positive correlations between short messaging language and phonological awareness, discovering that phonological awareness helps students develop their reading ability. In other words, texism users type what they pronounce which indicates a good reading ability, such as “nite” and “luve” instead of “night” and “love”. This way of typing messages known as “accent stylization” by Thurlow and Plester et al. which is used by the majority of participants, reflecting the right pronunciation of English letters. In terms of spelling, the results of Plester et al. study revealed a high positive association with the ability of spelling, stating “there was a high correlation between the use of symbols and both reading and spelling scores. These symbolic forms have to have their meanings learned, and so these may be indicative of the children’s ability to learn new forms of orthographic representation, and without the corruption of already learned orthographic forms”. In this sense, text messaging enhances children’s literacy skills, in contrast to the frustration and depression which is created by the wrong popular perception of media and some teachers, without taking in consideration the results of the empirical studies which focus on collecting naturalistic evidence. Therefore, Thurlow the public understanding about text messaging can be considered an exaggerated reaction such as Humphry’s criticism which is quoted above, blaming young people for the negative impact of using emoticons and abbreviations on traditional literacy skills. According to Thurlow, the popular perception describes SMS language as a threat or lesion which causes challenges and destructions to children’s academic performance and English Language, saying “The same is especially true of young people’s use of mobile phones and text messaging, they are often understood to be – or rather accused of – reinventing and/or damaging the (English) language”. As well, Dijk et al. strongly criticized the stereotypical views and bad images against short messaging services which unfortunately ignore the results of empirical studies and are based on assumptions, arguing “this is in sharp contrast to findings from several studies showing that children who used textese frequently did not perform poorly on spelling and tasks measuring literacy abilities”.

In 2009, Plester et al. were very interested in reexamining the relationship between the language of short messaging and literacy skills due to the significant role of reading, writing, and spelling on individuals and the community as a whole. Hence, there were 88 participants at the age of 13 and 14 years old from various schools. “The children reported using their phones most for texting and talking, as follows: texting 38.8%; talking 30.6%; 15.3% played games most; 10.6% took pictures most, and 4.7% cited ‘other’ uses”. They were asked to write five responses on certain scenarios about certain situations by using text messaging language on their cell phones; this indeed gave the researchers an opportunity to gain spontaneous text messages then they were asked to transfer these messages into formal written English. Thus, Plester et al. found various forms of texteism were used by participants “like shortening such as sis and bro”. The results showed that students highly scored on literacy abilities measures like reading and spelling skills, phonological awareness, and vocabulary which determined that there are positive links between instant messaging and literacy outcomes, saying “there is no evidence of a detrimental effect of textisms exposure on conventional spelling”.


Overall, our instant world witnesses a series of changes as a result of the coming of technology and becoming a great part of our lives. However these ongoing changes are acceptable by some and rejected by others, this leads to a social debate among authors, researchers, or the public people. As well, as the argument about the influence of short message services on children and young literacy skills. Thus this paper argues that there is a gap between the findings of several studies which followed practical methods and the popular understanding of texting language which leads to increased worries and concerns. Most of the studies revealed positive links for example; Plester et al concluded that “the relationships between textism use and literacy with the present sample of children has led us to conclude that there is no compelling evidence to support the negative statements made in the media regarding how children’s written language development is being disrupted by exposure to text abbreviations”, illustrating the purpose of texting language use is a reason of saving time, money, space, and effort not a result of being lost in conventional skills and language proficiency. Nevertheless, many of longitudinal studies should be made gradually because of ongoing developments.

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The Impact of Texting Language on Literacy Skills. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from
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