Text messaging does not damage children's written or spoken grammar

Using ‘text speak’ does not damage children’s understanding of written or spoken grammar, according to Nuffield-funded research presented to the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Section Conference today.

Researchers from Coventry University collected text messages from three groups of children and young people (83 primary school children, 78 secondary school pupils and 49 undergraduates), who were then asked to complete a series of standardized assessments to measure their IQ, spelling ability, and understanding of written and spoken grammar. This process was repeated a year later to show any change in the relationship between texting and grammatical development over time.

Although most participants in all three groups violated grammatical convention in their text messages, researchers found no evidence that this affected their understanding of written or spoken grammar at either point in time.

For the primary school children, there was an association between punctuation errors in texts and spelling ability. Children who made fewer punctuation errors when texting tended to be better at spelling and quicker to process writing than those who made more errors in their texts.

For the undergraduate group, there was some evidence of a link between punctuation errors in texts and the spelling ability and grammatical understanding of participants. However, this link was weak and researchers concluded it was more likely related to the IQ score of students.

Professor Clare Wood, who led the research team, said:

“We found no evidence of a link between poor adherence to grammatical convention when texting and children’s general grammatical understanding. Therefore there is no reason to assume that because children play with the representation of written language when they are texting that this will somehow damage or undermine their appreciation of standard grammar over time.

“In fact our study has shown that for both children and adults, grammatical violations are not a consistent feature of texting behavior. The amount of errors people make in their text messages appears to change over time”.

Concerns about text speak unfounded

The research team concludes that these findings demonstrate that concern about the impact of children’s texting behaviour on their understanding of written and spoken language conventions is unfounded.

The latest findings follow an earlier study led by Professor Wood that showed children’s use of text abbreviations can have a positive effect on literacy outcomes and may even enhance children’s understanding of conventional spelling.

Upcoming events featuring this project
  • ‘Understanding Children’s Literacy’ – 11th October 2012 – Coventry Techno Centre (Download flyer)
  • ‘Text Messaging and Language Development’ – 24th October 2012 – Coventry University London Campus

To sign up please go to the Coventry University events page.

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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