mayB dey rnt dat bad, a/all.
That’s one way to phrase the conclusion of a new study on how the economical but decidedly nontraditional slang words in text messages affect the language skills of young people.
Researchers at Coventry University in England ran 88 grade-school students through a battery of literacy tests. Then, the researchers asked each child to write responses to 10 real-world scenarios – asking a friend what to wear to a birthday party, for example – and measured how frequently the students used “textisms,” such as abbreviating “tonight” as “2nite.”
Parents and educators have long complained that such slang words erode a student’s English skills. But the results of the study, published in this month’s edition of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, tell a different story. The analysis found no evidence of a relationship between frequently typing in textisms and diminished spelling ability. The more textisms students used, the higher they tended to score on measures of word-based learning and vocabulary.
The report suggests that when kids use text message lingo, they are actually being artful – not just lazy – and building a heightened awareness of letter patterns and sounds. In support of the theory, the study found reading ability correlated more positively with sound-based textisms, such as substituting “wiv” for “with,” than with acronyms, such as writing “lol” in place of “laughing out loud.”
A factor behind the results might simply be the increased exposure to the printed word that text-messaging inspires. The fun and ease of the medium encourages extra language practice, especially by children whose skills are poor and who are otherwise discouraged from reading. Kids who obtained a mobile phone at an early age performed the best on the literacy tests.