Corrupting English

Text messaging is trashing Irish students’ writing, the Irish Department of Education reported. The said “The frequency of errors in grammar and punctuation has become a serious concern” after studying the writing habits of 15-year-olds. They go on: “Text messaging, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, seems to pose a threat to traditional conventions in writing.”

Further, the Irish Times reports, students who have adapted to using text messaging also tend to answer questions in short, terse language rather than “seeing questions as invitations to explore the territory they had studied and to express the breadth and depth of their learning and understanding.”

I could not find the original report on Ireland’s Education Department Web site, so I cannot rightfully comment on how stubborn its writers are being on the issue of grammar. Here’s what I know, however. Languages change, and those changes will initially be seen as corruptions by the purveyors of the older forms. Certainly, SMS language is shorter, terser, and less dependent on grammar; but do not think that it is devoid of expressive power or that, because of its simplicity, it has any less expressive power than Standard Academic English.

Perhaps these students aren’t spending enough time on their grammar lessons. Perhaps SMS language is changing the way we think about questions and answer them. But then again, the students studied were 15 years old. Perhaps they didn’t care. Perhaps they had other things on their minds. Who knows? The fact is, if traditional grammar works better, they will have to use it later in life–in college or business or wherever. If SMS language works and is accepted by those they need to communicate with, they will use it.

We should not necessarily look at SMS as an attack upon English. We should look at it as a new form of expression that is not corrupting our language (as infiltrated by foreign influences as it is already!) but rather increasing its depth and variety.


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