60-Second Mind

Is Texting Making Us Bad Spellers?

A recent study finds SMS texting is not impacting young people's ability to spell. Christie Nicholson reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

OMG, roflol, ttyl, brb, l8r, lmao, tmlae (the most ludicrous abbreviation ever)...these cryptic creations, as many of you know, are examples of Short Message Service Language, perhaps one of the fastest growing dialects in the world right now.

AKA: SMS, textese, chatspeak is the slang that shortens English into phonetic bits—sometimes images made from punctuation—so that we can send meaningful messages via mobile phones.

In 2008 people sent 2.3 trillion messages, a 150 percent increase since 2000, according to Newsweek. Punctuation, capitalization, grammar and vowels are tossed aside for creations that are often unrecognizable abbreviations of real words. Numbers often replace letters.

Critics say SMS leads to sloppiness, masks dyslexia, and essentially signals the death of the English language.

But research does not support the critics.

A study released yesterday in the journal Reading and Writing found no evidence that texting had any impact on spelling ability.

Forty subjects from 12 to 17 years old were asked to save all their text messages for one week. Then they took a standardized spelling test. Turns out that if you’re a good speller of the Queen’s English you’re also a good speller in textese. Conversely, if you’re a poor speller academically you make more errors in chatspeak. And those who used more abbreviations when texting tended to be better spellers of standard English.

The researchers suggest that chatspeak is a complex, innovative language. And they added that using and translating any new language requires concentration and creativity—and is a real brain workout. 

It seems surprising, bt itz 4 real dud.

—Christie Nicholson

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