Texting can be “meaningful” and “creative.”
So says Mitchell Abrams from the Binghamton University student group known as Pipe Dream.
That’s a far cry from what we sometimes hear about texting – that it makes it harder for our generation to know how to spell or to know how to communicate.
Is Mr. Abrams correct? Is texting a help or a hindrance? Does it hurt or aid communication abilities?
Here I will examine Abrams’s statements and critique his conclusion that, “Contrary to popular opinion, the digital medium does not degrade the English language.”
First, Abrams points out how texting bears the brunt of much criticism. The notion that texting encourages misspellings and bad grammar leads many to believe that texting in general negatively impacts our ability to use correct spelling and grammar when necessary.
In short, the concern is that texting “[degrades] the English language for our youth” and will “make us illiterate.”
I find Abrams’s description of the concerns regarding texting to be accurate but slightly exaggerated. Based on my own personal perceptions and experience, more and more people text frequently, from all generations. It’s no longer just a phenomenon among youth but among older millennials, the middle-aged, and even the elderly.
That being said, his point about society’s perceptions that texting denigrates our language is valid, as that does seem to be an attitude among people today.
Incorrect Spelling Does Not Equal an Incorrect Understanding of How to Use English
Next, Abrams states his belief that the popular notion regarding the negatives of texting is false: “…the way I spell in text messages doesn’t reflect my literacy skills.”
I can definitely relate to him in his statements here. In general I try to avoid misspellings and grammar errors when texting, but sometimes I deliberately make grammatical errors (such as not capitalizing abbreviations like “lol” or leaving out commas in a sentence) for one reason or another.
I agree with Abrams in recognizing that just because a word is misspelled or grammar norms are broken in a text message does not mean that the user misunderstands the correct spelling or grammar.
Abrams asserts that texting is “highly misunderstood and lacks research” and therefore has an unfair stigma attached to it.
In order to prove the stigma wrong, Abrams set up a project on the campus of Binghamton University, so that he could study the text messages of students.
One problem I have with his approach is that his premise is biased from the get-go: he wants to prove the stigma wrong. Therefore all of his conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt because they are obviously processed through that anti-stigma lens.
Nevertheless, he does make some interesting points. After analyzing 589 text message patterns he concludes that many misspellings in the students’ text messages were deliberate and served a pragmatic purpose. And most of the time the students didn’t actually use these “respellings,” proving that they do in fact know how to spell words correctly.
Abrams concludes that “you need to have an understanding of the original form before you can manipulate it in a meaningful way.”
I think that his point is a good one. The way I use unconventional grammar or spelling in text messages is usually with a specific purpose in mind. I may not necessarily be consciously aware of that purpose, but I might say “yep” instead of “yes” if I want to convey a certain tone or come across in a specific way.
Abrams’s final conclusion is this: “Instead of criticizing and deriding [texting], we should be embracing this modern form of communication as another way for human beings to express themselves and relate to one another.”
I think Abrams makes some good points and brings up things I never would have thought about otherwise, albeit he is perhaps a bit too strong on some of these points. But in the end, texting really is an interesting method of communication, with room for a lot of meaning and creativity!