Sunday, April 29, 2007

cn u rite?

According to a recent CNN report, an Irish education commission claims that the popularity of text messaging on mobile phones is threatening writing standards of Irish schoolchildren. These are the same schoolchildren who were among the top 10 performers in an international survey of literacy standards compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2003.

I guess we should have seen it coming.

I have written in this blog many times about the decline in writing standards among American children, as reflected in some of the ungrammatical, misspelled, and shoddily constructed stuff that crosses my desk - most of which was written by people who are college graduates. But I've seen it get worse over the years as, first, the looser and more free-wheeling spelling and grammar of e-mail worked their effect on writing standards, and, later, as text messaging reduced sentences to collections of letters and symbols.

How bad is it? Well, like so many things, it depends on who you ask and how you look at the issue. A quick Google search on this topic led me to a 2005 paper by graduate student Amanda O'Connor (http://www.newhorizons/strategies/literacy/oconnor.htm). The paper, titled "Instant Messaging: Friend of Foe of Student Writing?" offers an interesting look at the influence of evolving technologies on student writing and reaches somewhat more forgiving conclusions than I might have expected. Ms O'Connor concludes that "At this point in time, it is not possible to determine specifically the effects of instant messaging on formal writing." She does, however, also conclude that - for better or worse - instant messaging and related communications technologies are here to stay and are becoming an important part of childrens' literacy. She offers suggestions for how teachers can instruct their students in when various types of communciation are appropriate.

I'm not a nose-in-the-air linguistic purist by any means. I love puns (the worse, the better) and am not above sprinkling phonetic shortcuts and emoticons in my e-mail. But, as Ms O'Connor notes in her paper, there are times for which various types of communication and stylistics are appropriate. And to the extent that instant messaging and other shorthand forms of communication interfere with the ability to compile properly-spelled words into complete, grammatical sentences, and those sentences into formal letters, reports, or other official documents, I think they're a minor menace.

I can only hope that teachers of writing will do their best to ensure that their students graduate grade school, high school, and college understanding how to write for their intended audience. And to understand that this audience may not always consist of friends power-thumbing instant messages.

Have a good day. Write a comment and let me know what you think of this topic. Complete sentences will be appreciated!

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

1 comment:

curious said...

I guess we have to agree to disagree on this one.Im a college undergrad and i send and receive around a 100 text messages a day.The short forms we use saves time while typing on the mobile and also gets the message across!so wheres the harm?Although i use short forms it doesnt mean i cant spell my words corrrectly.I obviously dont use such abbreviations while writing my term paper or my exams or even this comment.I could have easily made do with many of the letters and vowels in this passsage and i havent; which shows im perfectly capable of writing a proper message.Which leads to the argument that most of us are capable of distinguishing the right place for using our shortforms.I guess as long as you got your basics right thers no harm in using shortforms. (dis s hw i cud hav wrtn tat post-i gues v havta agree 2 disagree on dis 1!im a coll undergrad n i sen n receve arnd a 100 msgs a day!de shrt forms v use savs tme while typin on the mob n also gets de msg acros!so wers de harm?although i use shrt forms it dosn mn i cant spell ma wrds corectly.i obv don use such abbre while writin ma term ppr or xms or evn dis comm.i cud hav esly md do witout mny of de ltrs n vowels in dis psg n i hvnt!wic shws im perfectly capable of writn a prpr msg!wic lds 2 de argumen tat mst of us r capable of dstngushin de prpr place 4 usin our shrt forms!i gues as lng as u gt ur basics rite thers no hrm in usin shrt forms!