Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Today a freshman student told me texting isn't language. Well, it sounds oddly like Orwell's Newspeak but I disagreed. Sure, it's language, a specific register for a specific purpose. He was a freshman, what do they know, right?Here's a recent article on the topic of texting and its effects on English that features the comments of William Kist, author of New Literacies in Action: Teaching and Learning in Multiple Media. Texting, too, is at the ominous heart of this PSA from the AdCouncil's prevention series on Online Sexual Exploitation: "Acronyms," perhaps playing on adult fears of the texting phenomenon.

Out of the loop? For texting dictionaries see Lingo2Word and a quick reference sheet is at dominounplugged.com. Some opportunities to talk about what language is and how technology and media are changing it once again. Remember the invention of the book?

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project report Teens and Technology, almost half of teens have a cell phone and a third of teens text.

With things wordsome, I turn to Google to find out if Geoffrey Numberg has weighed in. Sure enough he's interviewed, along with Naomi Baron on NPR's On The Media in a piece called "Generation Text" recorded in October 2004. These two experts offer a lively debate for consideration.

The whole is not long and worth reading (or listening to). Here's a excerpt:

NAOMI BARON: We know that children learn to talk because there are some people -- we call them adults or older kids -- who already know the system, and the younger kids pick up an awful lot of what we model for them. My question is not "Can you have a range of different registers -some informal, some formal, some texting, some essays that you turn in for class" -- but "Are we modeling those more formal forms of writing that we used to?" And I don't think we are so much any more.

GEOFFREY NUNBERG: The more you write, the better you write. The best way to learn to write is not to learn the rules or take courses. Just sit down and write. To that extent, I think you could argue that the kids who are now doing text messaging and email and, and IMs and so on and so forth, will wind up writing at least as well as and possibly better than their parents or than any generation in history.

Numberg goes on to say that he finds this generation of teens using writing to communicate where previous generations did not. So it's not a matter of different but more.

Insomuch as teens are going to do what teens are going to do when it comes to socializing, the best angle for teachers of English to take is "can't beat 'em, join 'em." Work with the language they love in comparison and contrast to lovely language. Teach the registers of appropriate use. When is texting best? How can texting create better note-taking in class? What sort of poetry evolves? What phonetic tricks do we use when we text? 4XMPL

Finally, in regard to the above excerpt, I agree with both linguists. Baron's right when she says we don't present enough models of good formal writing (how many research papers have students read, besides their own attempts? yet we insist they get it right with one try a year). The more one reads, the better one writes. I can always pick out the avid readers by marking teens' essays. And Numberg's point is generally agreed upon--the more one writes, the better one writes.

Baron adds, "Those habits are easily broken if somebody cares to break them." Teens will text, we must teach.

No comments: