0

Trbl w/ txting
Is text messaging ruining students' writing skills?

"Idk." "Brb." "Ttyl."

For anyone who isn't somewhere between the ages of 15 and 25, those simple, Internet-born acronyms can be enough to get the blood boiling.

To many, the convenient but maddening phenomenon of text- and instant-messaging shorthand may as well be another language altogether.

But are the boomers who get lost in translation really the ones out of touch? Or is the joke actually on the young texters, leaning increasingly on the use of their button-mashing slang like a linguistic crutch?

The students and teachers of Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee are of several minds on the matter.

"Texting is definitely a significant part of high school culture," said senior Kyle Tate. "You see a lot of kids walking around with cell phones and whatnot."

Peachtree Ridge English teacher Tom Myers can recall a time when that wasn't the case.

"The thing is," Myers said, "when I started teaching awhile ago, cell phones were sort of a novelty. And then, as the years went by, every kid had them."

Tate theorized that, as texting technology became commonplace, the virtual vernacular of its shorthand lingo evolved simply as a means of speed and "sheer convenience."

Clearly, it takes less time to type a simple "ttyl" than to spell out "talk to you later." But some English purists wonder if the urge to abbreviate seeps into students' subconscious.

According to a story in USA Today, a measure enacted in New Zealand last year allowed teens to use texting slang on national exams, despite language-lovers' vocal cries to the contrary.

Myers said a student in a past newspaper writing class of his put together a piece in response to the international controversy.

The article, Myers said, spurred debate among the Peachtree Ridge student body, as well as the school's administration.

"We got a bunch of different reactions," he said.

Myers added that he finds it unlikely any U.S. schools would adopt the same kind of leniency as the ones in New Zealand.

"I think you'd be hard pressed to see a law like this get passed (here)," he said. "At least, not on a national level."

Still, it's an issue bound to cause a stir, typically dividing the populace along generational lines. Some grown-ups who can't comprehend the convoluted language shake their heads at the mere notion of a world where a slew of jargon that's incomprehensible to the uninitiated has become one of the most popular means of communication among America's youth.

Shorthand in the classroom

Tate said text-message typing may lead students to bad writing habits that can work their way into in-class essays.

"I think some of the unconscious grammar mistakes that texting reinforces probably do show up (in assignments)," Tate said, adding: "I know that I don't want to write everything out if I have to text message."

Joy Choi, another Peachtree Ridge senior with a strong interest in reading and writing, admits that even she doesn't always stick to the rules when texting friends, opting to keep all letters lowercase and forego the use of proper punctuation.

She said she knows better than to let those tendencies slip into her schoolwork, however.

"I definitely think it can be damaging," Choi said, "but as long as a student knows when to adjust to correct grammar, I think it's OK."

Others may have a harder time, she added. She's heard of instances where instant messaging shorthand was used in class writing - students spelling "got to go" as "g2g" or using "w/" as a replacement for "with."

Peachtree Ridge English teacher Hillary Lowe said she's encountered students using text speak in her own classroom. "I have noticed that, at times, students will often shorten their words, use abbreviations and things of that nature," Lowe said.

The most common example of this, she added, was students shortening "you" to "u" in their in-class writing.

"I think they're subconsciously doing it because they've gotten so used to it with all of the e-mailing and the texting and the IMing," she said. "It's not that they're doing it on purpose. ... That's just how they're used to communicating these days."

Myers, however, said he would be more likely to see "text talk" in an informal atmosphere like a student's personal journal entries, not in the papers he actually grades.

Texting isn't the only problem

Myers stopped short of naming shorthand the sole scapegoat for the decline of proper English, saying "there could be a variety of reasons that kids might struggle with formal essay writing."

Choi said texting is only the tip of the bad grammar iceberg, indicative of a much larger downward trend.

"The whole Web culture is dissolving the writing mind," she said.

Choi also pointed a finger at yet another culprit for contributing to a seemingly society-wide disregard for spelling and syntax: popular music.

Tate shared that sentiment, opining that pop culture promotes a pervading sense of "anti-intellectualism."

From track titles like Timbaland's "The Way I Are" and Fall Out Boy's "Thnks Fr th Mmrs" to the woefully misspelled moniker of chart-topping singer (and Atlanta native) Soulja Boy Tell 'Em, respect for the English language is arguably at an all-time low on the radio.

"I just feel bad for kids who listen to those songs and think that 'soldier' is spelled 'S-O-U-L-J-A," Choi said. "I just think that it's teaching kids the wrong (things) because they're so continually exposed to it - on the radio, on their iPods, whatever. They're kind of being ingrained with the wrong influence."

Myers, on the other hand, mostly shrugs off the "overblown" gloom and doom outlook professed by worried purists, those who bemoan the popularity of shorthand slang and the so-called lacking linguistics of American youth.

He said every generation "kind of looks back and says, 'We wrote better, we had better grammar in our writing,' that kind of thing."

"I understand the concern," he said. "(But) I personally don't buy into it. We had the same rap lyrics when I was growing up. ... Kids are going to listen to the kind of music that's popular."

Bucking the trend

Tate describes himself as part of that rare breed of texters who insist on using proper punctuation and avoiding abbreviation, even at the expense of quickness.

"I feel almost like a loser using good grammar when I text," Tate said, "but I usually write stuff out. It's just something that I've never gotten into the habit."

For those who are, Tate prescribed a hefty dose of proofreading, which he said would help students avoid handing in papers riddled with "u's" and "r's" where "you's" and "are's" should be.

English teacher Lowe said she herself engages in texting, but like Tate, opts to keep things grammatically sound.

"It drives my husband mad," she said, laughing. "... Because it takes me way too long to text."

Tate said lately he just tries to avoid the practice altogether.

"If people text me, I usually just call them back," he said. "I find it to be a lot more expedient."

Expedient. Now there's a pretty big word for a texting teen. Maybe the kids are alright, after all.