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Textese and Standard English as Socially Distinctive Varieties of Language

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Textese and Standard English are socially distinctive varieties of language. Johnson (2012) explained that Standard English is identified as proper vocabulary. Contrastingly, textese is viewed as incorrect and inferior. Hock and Joseph (2009) stated that the dialect of text language is incorrect and has a corrupting influence on the ‘standard’ of formal written English. Those who subscribe to this view declare that text language interferes with students’ ability to acquire Standard English. Furthermore, according to Lenhart (2012) text language is perceived to be a threat to Standard English. This perception gives rise to the question of whether it has become necessary to preserve Standard English from ‘adulteration’ of technologically mediated communication such as text language. For example pidgins, slang words, texting lingo, textese and other computer mediated language form part of an emerging and pervasive force which is contracting traditional purist sentiments about language. In contrast to the principles that govern Standard English the characteristics that define text messaging are also examples of non-standard English.

Time Consuming Process of Developing Literacy Skills

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There are numerous grammatical rules which forms an integral part of language Awoyemi (2013). However, popular culture seem to suggest that using tremendous time and effort to develop literacy skills may not be a popular concept in today’s society as it previously was. It may be that this is primarily so because twenty-first century students have grown accustom to having access to things instantly. In fact, commodities such as instant coffee, instant messaging and even instant cash fosters an attitude of wanting and receiving things quickly. However, not everything in the life of a student can be attained instantly. English teachers are faced with the task of enhancing students writing and formal academic composition, which can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. When teachers are cognizant of the extent to which text messaging influences students’ writing skills adequate planning can be made to improve students’ writing ability.

A popular feature in textese or text language is that it does not adhere to conventional written language use. The pervasiveness of mobile phones has led to concerns being raised about its influence on students’ literacy skills. Bushnell et al (2011) cites that research has been conducted to establish the relationship between text messaging and the influence it has on students’ literacy skills. For different populations the findings differed. Some research showed positive relationships between text messaging and writing related assessment outcomes while others have shown the direct opposite.

Potential Positive Effects of Text Language on Students Writing

The research surrounding the positive influence of text language on students writing leaves numerous unanswered questions. A study conducted by Crystal (2008) revealed that textese has a positive effect on children’s literacy abilities. As students immerse themselves in text messaging the benefits are observable. Text messaging has grown exponentially because it is affordable, reliable, inexpensive – even free in cases where public access to the internet is available, ubiquitous and instant. Furthermore, text language is seen as having several advantages. It is economical and cheaper than making voice calls. There is no unit cost per text, thus users can send as much text messages without having to pay for each text sent or based on the length of the message. Also another benefit of text message is that it is a less intrusive form of communication and nobody hears when the message is sent. No one can decipher or ‘overhear’ what the message is about. Additionally, text messages can be conveyed without interruption. Inherent in text language is language permanence, because messages can be saved for future reference unlike spontaneous speech. Other advantages of text language include features such as reply, forward and delete. It is likely that these advantages may have contributed to seemingly indispensable nature of text messaging even in the formal classroom setting.

Crystal, (2008) postulates that rather than causing havoc on language and literacy practices, texting may provide children and adolescents with “increased exposure to text” and extra opportunities to engage with language. There is also the idea that being engaged in texting may motivate young people to read and write. Further, the use of textisms may increase learner phonological or metalinguistic awareness. In other words, a student’s exposure to the underlying sound structure of language may occur sooner and more frequently than without text messaging. Venkatesh & Morris (2000) maintains that text language enhances and broadens students writing ability.

Text message is used and understood by adults, teenagers and children. Plester & Wood (2009) posits that the ease of use of text language contributes to its growing popularity. Lenhart (2012) research indicate that 88% of adolescents and teenagers occasionally send text messages. The more a behavior is repeated contributes to greater proficiency. Nagy & Scott (2000) supports this view and reveal that attitudes and actions are often transferred from one context to the next. They promote the concept of incrementality which suggests that, each time a word is used it becomes easier for student to transfer it and use it in other settings. Therefore, the practice of using abbreviated jargon in text messaging is easy to use and prevalent. Thus a high level of transfer of this behavior may result in students writing.

Text messaging fosters creativity. This is another advantage of text messaging. One should not overlook the notion that texting has a structure and is phonetically based. The spelling used in text language is unconventional but follows phonetic structure. Crystal (2008) highlights the notion of creativity by pointing to the fact that students use a range of orthographic conventions, including spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis and punctuation. This same idea is supported by Plester & Wood (2009) who reveal that text messaging also allows a level of flexibility with its use. Students have the ability to self-monitor and correct if necessary. Students can also create their own rules based on the need and conversational context. The observable creative expressions evident in text language enriches and enhances writing. Therefore teachers can use informal writing popular in text language as a learning tool.

Potential Negative Influence of Text Messaging on Students Writing

There has been tremendous debate surrounding the idea that the characteristics of textese have the potential to negatively affect outcomes in grammar, usage and mechanics. Textese has linguistic features which deviates from Standard English. Learners make use of phonetic replacements, such as ‘ur’ instead of ‘your’ and acronyms, such as ‘lol’ for laugh out loud and alphanumeric blending such as 1daful for wonderful. This phenomenon has triggered questions about the effects that these characteristics of textese may leave on children’s writing. De Jonge & Kemp (2012) suggests that such linguistic features may lead to the misuse of Standard English in formal writing environments.

In 2017 statistics from the National Telecommunication and Regulatory Committee (NTRC) reveal that mobile devices can be found in most homes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact, a cellular phone is as common to the average Vincentian student as a pencil. Many student own or have access cellular phones and other multi-media devices. Additionally, students use these gadgets to communicate with friends and classmates on a daily basis. In doing so, they adapt to the unconventional and ungrammatical language used in text lingo. It is therefore worthwhile to examine the assumption that text language may ultimately result in language deterioration.

Textese is categorized as non-standard English due to the fact that it incorporates unconventional grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation. Campbell & Mico (2007) posit that such practices can have damaging long term effects on written work produced by students. De Jonge & Kemp (2012) outlined numerous negative consequences which the use of textese or text language can have on Standard English. It was also suggested that in paper and pencil writing text messaging is responsible for the declining standards of spelling and grammar. Thurlow (2001) supports this view and added that students have a tendency to confuse formal English and informal text language. This habit may cause students to make spelling and grammatical errors in their assignments.

Texting is more prevalent among than adults. No doubt a lack of understanding of what the features of text language represent can become create problems. Opposing views can surface if teachers cannot decipher and interpret students writing. Thurlow (2001) alluded to this and states that textese which is referred to as ‘teen-talk’, ‘net lingo’ and ‘webspeak’ is common among teens. It has also been suggested that textese is used less by some adults. This unfamiliarity with textese according to Niedzielski and Preston (1999) makes it hard for teachers to understand what students are trying to communicate. Sentences such as, “Tbh, atm am dwl str8 from kls.” are different to the formal, “To be honest, at the moment am dying with laughter straight from class.” Some teachers may not easily decipher such sentences. Cingel & Sundar (2012) articulates that unfamiliarity with the lexicon used in social media environment may affect their ability to understand and evaluate students’ writing. Other negative consequences of text language include giving a bad impression, causing writers to become lazy and promoting error filled writing.

The debate of the influence of text language on students writing remains topical. It cannot be denied that text language is influential but the extent of this influence has yet to be substantiated. A number of contrasting claims are being made on both positive and negative sides of this ongoing debate. Causal observation of students’ writing is not sufficient to make valuable claims. It is not enough to make a claim but the claims made should be credible. This debate necessitated the need for research and analysis that can clearly determine whether text messaging impacts students writing. However, it will be interesting to see the merits, of these contrasting findings in the Vincentian society and specifically in the writing of Form 3 students of the Georgetown and Thomas Saunders Secondary Schools.

Writing is a complex process. Therefore, to be able to say whether or not text message communication interferes with students writing abilities is a complex issue. Everett, A.T., et al (2016) cites Levine (2002) as saying that writing involves more subskills than any other discipline. Furthermore, the complexities embedded in the production of excellent writing requires students to employ several physical and cognitive processes. Students are required s to convey information and ideas in an academically appropriate style and format. It is often challenging for students to produce written pieces in a grammatically accepted form. Given the nature of writing, it is not surprising that persons may question; ‘What influence, if any, does text messaging have on students’ writing ability?’ Suhr et al (2010) articulates that whether text message communication interferes with students’ formal writing abilities is not one that can be easily determined. This viewpoint is centered on the assumption that text messaging has a direct effect on students’ communication and literacy skills.

Constructivism will help to situate the research questions in Chapter 1 in the literature. The writing ability of students will be examined from this perspective. This will be coupled with the Critical Theory which is concerned with critiquing society and understanding what works. Also, knowledge claims should be considered within the current conditions of the society. Learning is an active and contextualized process of constructing knowledge. Stahl (2011) explains that knowledge is created based on personal experiences and connections with the environment. Therefore, students informal out of school text related behavior will be considered as a key element to shape the researchers understanding of students formal writing practices. Students who are interested in learning tend to perform better academically. Additionally, students’ ability to learn and acquire knowledge is determined by personal experiences and connections with the environment. For the purpose of thoroughly investigating the four research questions, this researcher will focus on data about the use of text messaging on social media settings to examine what effect it has on students’ formal writing.

Writing is defined by the National Assessment Governing Board (2010) as “a complex, multifaceted and purposeful act of communication that is accomplished in a variety of environments, under various constraints of time, and with a variety of language resources and technological tools” (p.3). Teachers therefore need to expose students to a range of strategies which leads to mastery of writing. Therefore, teachers have an important role to play in helping students to articulate their thoughts. Giving students the opportunity to actively participate in collaborative writing experience is meaningful. An uninhibited atmosphere where the simplest writing can be celebrated and revised to continually improve students’ ability is also essential.

Throughout a students’ life the attitude and competence of their teacher can pave the path for success. Learning relies on cognitive and social processes. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky view the development of knowledge as a dynamic interaction between the person and the environment. Cruickshank, Bainer & Metcalf (1999) highlighted that Piaget focused on the mental activity of the learner but Vygotsky focused on the social interactions of the learner. The teachers’ role should not be de-emphasized. Teachers should create situations that fosters change, growth and making connections to previous knowledge. There is no one size-fits-all approach to writing pedagogies. Good writing range beyond any singular process or theory for composition.


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