addicted by matthew rogersI’m working on a post about taboo words (that means swearing or profanity) that’s not ready for prime time — and recovering from the flu. In the meantime, I highly recommend  today’s post over at Motivated Grammar. Gabe’s point is that, when people don’t actually understand how language works, they see decline and deterioration in language different from their own instead of the underlying patterns. Another linguist makes the point in Teens and Texting and Grammar.

For those of you who worry about the effect of texting on literacy, there are several studies showing no negative effects. But beware of popular media on this topic. The idea that texting is ruining civilization sells papers (er, at least, advertising) just like the topic of overpaid and underworked college professors.  One exception is this piece from the UK’s The Telegraph, which reports responsibly on research by Clare Wood in this area. Note that the comments from readers, however, were profoundly negative.

Linguistics Research Digest — which appears on my Blogroll — blogged about research on texting by Ditte Laursen not long ago. You should also check out David Crystal‘s 2008 book, Txtng: the Gr8 Db8. Here are some of his findings:

  • Text messages aren’t full of abbreviations – typically less than ten percent of the words use them.
  • These abbreviations aren’t a new language – they’ve been around for decades.
  • They aren’t just used by kids – adults of all ages and institutions are the leading texters these days.
  • Pupils don’t routinely put them into their school-work or examinations.
  • It isn’t a cause of bad spelling: you have to know how to spell before you can text.
  • Texting actually improves your literacy, as it gives you more practice in reading and writing.

I will agree that the majority of college students appear to misunderstand the appropriate formality level for communicating with college professors. And, for some of them, that appears to cross over into the workplace. Most of us expect a more formal, professional tone that can’t be conveyed by text-speak. But that is rhetorical deficiency — a serious one!  It has nothing to do with literacy.