Tech Savvy: Heavy use of abbreviations in texting erodes kids' grammar skills, study says.

Share story

If you have teens, you’ve probably grown accustomed to seeing them lighted by the glow of a phone screen. Well, there’s some good and bad news coming from the hours they spend speed-tapping notes to one another.

Good news: The hours your kids are spending face-to-phone are paying off. They have become fluent in a second language. Bad news: That language is texting.

And worse: There isn’t (yet) a texting portion on the SAT, so they’ll need to work harder to recover those grammar skills they are killing with every LOL and BRB.

A new study confirms what many parents suspect. The more kids send and receive texts, the worse their grammar skills become.

With “the culture of mobile communication — quick back and forth — inevitably, there are compromises on traditional, cultural writing,” said S. Shyam Sundar, professor of communications and co-director of Pennsylvania State University’s Media Effects Research Laboratory, which conducted the study.

“Techspeak,” as Sundar and his research partner Drew P. Cingel call it, has become so routine and prevalent among young users that it’s eroding their foundation of basic grammar.

“Routine use of textual adaptations by current and future generations of 13-to-17-year-olds may serve to create the impression that this is normal and accepted use of the language and rob this age group of a fundamental understanding of standard English grammar,” they said in their published findings.

Basically, kids aren’t able to “code switch” — shift between standard grammar and the abbreviations used in text messages, Sundar said. Those abbreviations have essentially become the words for them.

Adults not raised on text-friendly abbreviations in their formative years are able to shift between formal and informal language, Sundar said. Kids consuming a steady diet of “textual adaptations” aren’t.

“Results show broad support for a general negative relationship between the use of techspeak in text messages and scores on a grammar assessment,” the study results said.

Linguists aren’t particularly disturbed by the trend, Sundar said. “The linguists will tell you the language is very dynamic.”

True, words that were once dismissed as just catchy lyrics among certain demographics have made it into the mainstream — and into the dictionary.

The researchers had kids ages 10 to 14 take a grammar test. And it turned out those who sent or received texts recently performed worse on the exam.

Here’s a sample of the questions, so you can test yourself to see how text saturation has affected your grammar:

1. During the flood, we (dranked, drank, drunk, drunked) bottled water.

2. Fortunately, Jim’s name was (accepted, excepted) from the roster of those who would have to clean bathrooms because he was supposed to go downtown to (accept, except) a reward for the German Club.

3. I don’t know how I could (lose, loose) such a big dress. It is so large that it is (lose, loose) on me when I wear it!

4. (Its, It’s, Its’) an honor to accept the awards certificates and medals presented to the club.

5. Worried, and frayed, the old man paced the floor waiting for his daughter. (Correct/Incorrect)

The answers: 1. drank; 2. excepted, accept; 3. lose, loose; 4. It’s; 5. incorrect (it should be “afraid”).

So, did you get them all correct? If so, WTG!