Can Texting Harm Language Ability?A new linguistic study suggests university students who extensively text are less accepting of new words.

In the investigation, graduate student Joan Lee designed an experiment to understand the effect of text messaging on language. She found texting has a negative impact on people’s linguistic ability to interpret and accept words.

Lee’s study revealed that those who texted more were less responsive to new words as compared to students who read more traditional print media such as books, magazines, and newspapers.

Lee queried university students about their reading habits, including text messaging, then presented them with a range of words both real and fictitious.

The findings came as something of a surprise as language originality and creativity seem to be a characteristic of text messaging.

“Our assumption about text messaging is that it encourages unconstrained language. But the study found this to be a myth,” said Lee.

“The people who accepted more words did so because they were better able to interpret the meaning of the word, or tolerate the word, even if they didn’t recognize the word. Students who reported texting more rejected more words instead of acknowledging them as possible words.”

Lee believes reading traditional print media exposes people to variety and creativity in language that is not found in the colloquial peer-to-peer text messaging used among young people.

She said reading encourages flexibility in language use and tolerance of different words. It helps readers to develop skills that allow them to generate interpretable readings of new or unusual words.

“In contrast, texting is associated with rigid linguistic constraints which caused students to reject many of the words in the study,” said Lee. “This was surprising because there are many unusual spellings or ‘textisms’ such as ‘LOL’ in text messaging language.”

Lee believes word frequency influences the acceptability of words for texters. “Textisms represent real words which are commonly known among people who text,” she said. “Many of the words presented in the study are not commonly known and were not acceptable to the participants in the study who texted more or read less traditional print media.”

Source: University of Calgary

Woman texting photo by shutterstock.