Does text messaging make us illiterate?…and wrecking language as we know it…..

Text messaging has become a convenient and easy medium that has transformed the way people interact and get in contact with each other (excluding the ever-popular social networking sites such as Facebook…. -_- ). Text talk ‘textisms’ has even developed using abbreviations such as- omg, lol, idk, ftw, wtf, fml; short-handing pre-existing words such as- wz, wat, plz and even creating whole new words to help express ourselves though text form such as- meh. According to the Mobile Life Report which conducted an investigation in 2006, found that 92% of UK mobile phone users feel that their mobiles are an essential part of their daily life.

The debatable question is, does texting make us more illiterate?

Evidence to support the notion that the action of text messaging has a negative effect on grammar and literacy comes from Plester, Wood and Bell (2008), who conducted correlational research through meta-analysis. Their paper reviewed studies which investigated the relationship between children’s texting behaviour, their knowledge of text abbreviations and their school attainment in written language skills. One piece of research used 11–12-year-old children who provided information on their texting behaviour, the children were also asked to translate a standard English sentence into a text message and vice versa. The children’s standardised verbal and non-verbal reasoning scores were also obtained. Children who used their mobiles to send three or more text messages a day had significantly lower scores than children who sent none. They concluded that the result showed that the greater the habit of text messaging has a negative effect on written language skills.

In response to this new generation of language, the latest update of the Oxford Dictionaries Online had published new additions of words, definitions and abbreviations consisting of the initial letters of expressions (made popular through their frequent use in text messages, and other forms of technological communications such as in social-networking sites and emails) such as omg and lol. These new internet and text inspired expressions are now legitimately merging into our English language, which demonstrates how much of an impact technology is changing the future of communication. But for better or worse???

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 (3), 137-144. DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4369.2008.00489.x


7 Responses to “Does text messaging make us illiterate?…and wrecking language as we know it…..”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog! You raised a very controversial issue, explained it in a very clear and easy-to-understand way and supported it with empirical evidence.

    However, I would like to point out that the issue of text messaging gradually creeping in our language and altering it is far from a universal problem; it is rather a cultural phenomenon. Deumert and Masinyana (2008) reported that British people have developed two different languages – one when speaking/writing and one when sending text messages. The one, related to text messages, has adapted language expressions, such as abbreviations and non-standard spellings and since we text more than we write academic assignments, we tend to apply the ‘text’ language to formal contexts, as well. In contrast, the South African native population, for instance, tend to use grammatically-correct expressions and with no abbreviations.

    However, although the sample was representative, in terms of the different cultural contexts, the sample size was relatively small, 22 participants. As such, generalisability on a universal scale may not be possible.

    Overall, a very interesting and engaging post! Well done! =)


    Deumert, A. & Masinyana, O. M. (2008). Mobile language choices – the use of English and isiXhosa in text messages (SMS). English World-Wide. Vol. 29(2). 114-137. Retrieved from:

  2. Although text messaging may have added new words to the English language recently, it is not the first time abbreviations have been added. For example, the words ‘fridge’, ‘exam’ and ‘vet’ are abbreviations which are now used in everyday language despite people thinking that at the time the new words were brutally destroying the English language. Just because people use ‘textisms’ it does not make them illiterate and not everyone who use text messages use textisms. Research suggests that having the ability to use textisms relies on having phonological awareness, meaning that people have to be literate to be able to use textisms properly. The idea of text messaging being linked to illiteracy suggests that every person who texts uses textisms whereas in fact a mean of 53% of texts use textisms (Bushnell, Kemp & Marti, 2011). This evidence suggests that if the population is becoming illiterate, text messaging is not the sole reason.


    Crystal, D. 2008. 2b or not 2b? The Guardian.

    Holm, A., & Dodd, B. 1996. The effect of first written language on the acquisition of English literacy. Cognition 59 119-147.

    Bushnell, C., Kemp, N., & Martin, F. H. 2011. Text-messaging practices and links to general spelling skill: A study of Australian children. Australian Journal of Educational & Development Psychology 11 27-38.

  3. Well known English Language Professor David crystal in an Journal article called the ‘Joy of TXT’ (2010) Highlights the issues that surround text messaging and literacy. He points out that rather than a debate, this particular topic is based on an urban myths that surrounded the emergence of text messaging when it first arrived, a little over a decade ago.
    One such myth is that a child wrote an essay in completely illegible text speak. Crystal (2010) also points out that about 90% of most texts are in standard English as abbreviations will only take you so far. There is still a need to be understood that 100% use of abbreviation would not achieve and would probably not be possible.
    Furthermore Crystal states that text messaging is not linked to a drop in linguistic standards because of things such as being a good speller is important for texting, because to leave words out in abbreviations, you need to know that those words are needed there in the first place.
    So with this viewpoint I would have to say no, and while definitely being implemented in language change, text messaging isn’t wrecking language.

    Crystal, D. (2010). The Joy of TXT. Revista Interacções,16, 9-15

  4. I agree that ‘text speak’ has risen exponentially, even spreading to the older generations (a scary moment when your mum uses the phrase ‘LOL’) so no longer just an issue for young adults/children. Fair enough if individuals want to use these abbreviations for texting, or social networking sites (such as twitter which only allows a limited number of characters per ‘tweet’), it is there choice and can have its conveniences. However, the problem arises mostly in those in the education system, where these abbreviations begin to leak into pieces of academic work. If ‘text speak’ is going to be widely used, then there needs to be a clear definition of when it can be used, and when proper English is needed, this should be instilled to children at a young age, as now children in this culture are being exposed to ‘text speak’ at a very young age.

  5. A very interesting blog, good points raised.
    Text-speak is not the only technological advance affecting language. This BBC article ( ) points out how internet-specific words have formed such as “to Google” having become a commonly used verb as well as words like “troll” have formed. I would not say text-speak nor internet-based-slang words are anything to be prevented. Language, spelling has changed over years. It is a natural process of human progression. Surely the art of communication is to express ideas quickly and accurately. Text abbreviations certainly speed up communication so surely this is actually beneficial to our species?

  6. Very interesting blog topic! I do agree that it seems that all these abbreviations and acronyms are taking over the way we communicate, and affecting the grammar and spelling of younger generations. It also certainly seems that children these days are becoming less and less concerned with using correct grammar and spelling. However, the study you mentioned by Plester, Wood and Bell (2008) is a correlational study, and does not determine cause and effect. I think its important to consider the alternative explanations for the results in this study, and the apparent decrease in correct spelling in today’s youth. For example; those who text multiple times in a day may be more likely to have more of a social life and spend less time studying and writing than those who didn’t text at all.

  7. Very good information. Lucky me I found your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve book-marked it for later!

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