Does text-messaging affect a student’s ability to write formal English? Two schools of thought exist on this issue. Educators in several English-speaking countries have been considering the question for several years. The “new” SAT, in use since March 2005, includes a writing prompt that students must answer in twenty-five minutes. Immediately before the debut of the test, The Christian Science Monitor presented opinions on both sides of the issue from linguists, high school English teachers and college professors. Some felt that any type of writing can improve a student’s written response to a prompt. Others maintained that texting impedes formal writing.
Several years ago, the principal editor of the U.S. office of the Oxford English Dictionary, which serves as the definitive authority on the language, responded to queries about technology’s effect on the language. She said text messaging is a natural outgrowth of a living and growing language. According to her, “English is going through the natural progression of language.” Subsequently, a 2006 study from the University of Toronto focused on over 70 local students and found that “instant messaging language does mirror patterns in speech, but that teens, surprisingly, are actually using a fusion of different levels of diction.” The linguists who conducted the study concluded that the teens “actually showed an extremely lucid command of the language. We shouldn’t worry.”
However, not everyone agrees. Recent research coming out of Ireland contradicts previous opinions. A report in the Irish Times from the State Education Commission in Dublin maintained, "The emergence of the mobile phone and the rise of text messaging as a popular means of communication would appear to have impacted on standards of writing as evidenced in the responses of candidates.” The report not only blames “texting's” shorthand vocabulary for poor spelling, it also hints at a larger problem: that children trained to write at a rapid-fire pace are failing to think analytically about test answers. They instead answer quickly, with little thinking and few words. American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron, believes that "So much of American society has become sloppy or laissez faire about the mechanics of writing.” Problems arise when people use the casual language in other forms of written communication.
Perhaps one way of avoiding the pitfalls of abbreviated writing in formal pieces is by thinking about writing and proofreading. After all, effective writing should be readily understandable and not require translation of enigmatic shorthand. Once a writer has constructed his initial draft, he should return to it to edit and revise. Then he can remove grammatical errors, sloppy sentence constructions, abbreviations and shortcuts and transform them into understandable language. An outcry by educators and linguists will certainly not impede teenagers’ use of texting. But if teens can distinguish between informal and formal communication, their writing may not suffer.