Texting tweens lack 'gr8' grammar

Text messaging shortcuts by children between the ages of 10 and 14 can lead to the decline of language and grammar skills according to researchers at Penn State.

Text messaging shortcuts often used by tweens — children between the ages of 10 and 14 — can lead to the decline of language and grammar skills according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

Drew Cingel, who studies media, technology and society, said tweens adapt language in order to text but can't seem to re-adapt how they communicate when it comes to formal situations, such as writing an essay for school. Cingel says they use many shortcuts which are great for efficient texting but don't impress teachers.

"They may use use a homophone, such as gr8 for great, or an initial like LOL, for laugh out loud," noted Cingel.  He added they often cut out letters such as wud for "would."

S. Shyam Sundar, who worked with Cingel and is co-director of Penn State's Media Effects Research Laboratory, said these shortcuts may hinder a tween's ability to switch from tech speak to the normal rules of grammar.

"Cultures built around new technology can lead to compromises of expression and these restrictions can become the norm."

The study, published in the current issue of New Media & Society, draws on the results of a grammar assessment test given to middle school students in a central Pennsylvania school district.

As part of the study, researchers also asked students to detail their texting habits, including:

  • How many texts they sent and received in a day.
  • Their opinion on the importance of texting.
  • The kind of language adaptations they noticed in three sent and received texts.

"Overall, there is evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the number of adaptations in sent text messages," said Cingel.

Sundar cautions adults and parents about their own texting habits when it comes to children.

"If you send your kid a lot of texts with word adaptations, then he or she will probably imitate it," Sundar said.

Researchers also noted that certain texting adaptations — such as avoiding capital letters and not using periods at the end of sentences — did not affect the students' ability to use correct capitalization and punctuation.