Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Like OMG!!! Texting Isn’t Ruining Grammar

By Magdeline Lum

The use of text slang does not correlate with bad grammar and spelling in young people.

The use of non-standard English in text messaging – such as “to” or “too” written as “2”, or “people” written as “ppl” – is considered a risk that alternative spellings will creep into formal writing, but new research is showing the opposite. In fact, texting is associated with better literacy skills.

Researchers at Coventry University in the United Kingdom examined the text messages of 243 participants from primary school, high school and university, and analysed them for violations of standard English grammar. There were three most common types of violation:

  • omission of capitalisation and punctuation (hi how are you);
  • omission of words common in casual speech but not standard writing (am going out now. want to come?); and
  • unconventional punctuation like using multiple punctuation mark, (!!!??), kisses (xxx), initialisms (lol) and using emoticons (☺).

To a lesser extent, word-level grammatical violations were present and included deliberate violations such as “is you” and “does they”.

The participants were also set grammatical tasks to complete to assess their formal grammatical and spelling skills. Overall there was no evidence that the use of grammatical violations in text messages is indicative of poor spelling skills in primary school. Instead, the results suggested that the ungrammatical word forms and omission of capitals and punctuation were associated with better or faster spelling development in primary and high school students.

Among university students the use of word reductions was related to better spelling 12 months later. However, the tendency to omit capitals and punctuation did predict poorer performance on tasks of spoken and written grammar. This was due to general ability and not to anything specific about texting.

The evidence suggests that young people are aware of the grammatical violations in text messages. This could be that while young people are in school they are consolidating their knowledge of the written and spoken language. Engagement with unconventional use of English directly engages young people with the grammatical conventions being flouted. Young people are aware that different types of communication require different methods of writing.

When it comes to adults there is a less pronounced relationship between textisms and formal use of grammar and spelling. This may be because young adults are no longer interested in applying their linguistic skills to play with the written language in the casual format of texting. The use of language is shaped by the perceived expectation of peers, the automatic correction programming of their phones, and the desire to express emotion in their messages.

As long as people are aware that different modes of communication require different ways of writing, the violations of standard English in texting may well not be a reduction of writing skill but instead a part of a writer’s repertoire.

Love Is in the Eyes

If you want to know whether someone is in love with you, pay close attention to their eyes according to research published in Psychological Science.

Researchers at the University of Chicago in the USA asked male and female volunteers to view photographs of couples interacting and decide rapidly whether they were romantically involved. They were also shown images of attractive individuals looking directly at the camera. The participants were required to tell researchers as quickly as possible whether they felt romantic love or sexual desire for the person.

The eye movements of every participant were tracked. When participants reported romantic love, their gaze was fixed on the face and in the case of sexual desire their eyes moved from the face to the rest of the body.

“Although little is currently known about the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love, these patterns of response provide the first clues regarding how automatically attentional processes, such as eye gaze, may differentiate feeling of love from feeling of desire toward strangers,” said lead author Stephanie Cacioppo.

The identification of eye patterns that are specific to love or lust can help improve measurable indicators that determine whether a person is romantically involved or not.