Tag Archives: literacy

a smartphone next to an open notebook

How Texting Affects Literacy and Grammar

With all the advancements in communication in the last few decades, texting has become a commonplace form of communication. Because of the quick and often brief nature of texting, a new abbreviated communication register referred to as “textese” has surfaced. Due to the informal nature of textese and its blatant disregard for basic grammar and spelling rules, textese has received a lot of negative attention from the media. Many claims have been made about how detrimental texting is, especially to peoples’ reading and writing abilities. It has been claimed that texting and the use of textese damage spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and literacy. Much research has been done on the effects of texting and surprisingly shows some positive results. Many studies that show negative results, usually among adults, are mixed and inconclusive, often citing a need for more research. Texting may get a lot of bad publicity from the media and others making big claims without doing their research, but it may not be as bad as they assume. In fact, texting may have more positive effects than negative. Contrary to popular belief, texting is not always detrimental to literacy and grammar and is rather beneficial in many ways.

Research indicates that texting does not necessarily have the negative effects on literacy that many people have been led to believe it does. Studies show mixed results, but they largely indicate that texting has positive effects with few or no negative effects on literacy and grammar among children and adults. M.A. Drouin points out that “studies in both the United States and Britain have shown that there are no significant, negative relationships between the use of textese and standard measures of literacy,” and that those studies actually indicate positive effects among children and little effect on young adults.[1] However, research, especially concerning adults, is often inconclusive. With so many variables in regard to people and their environments and circumstances, it is difficult to determine consistent trends and effects brought on by texting. It is likely that an adult’s comprehension of literacy and grammar systems is determined more by his own competency than by his use of language.

Regarding children, research indicates that texting offers some clear benefits. As children learn to differentiate between textese and formal writing, they improve their literacy and grammar skills through texting. If children are capable of such improvement with relative ease, adults should at least be able to differentiate between the registers of textese and standard English and know the appropriate time and place to use each one. Drouin says, “It does not appear that textese just seeps out into writing everywhere and in equal amounts; instead, the average person uses textese thoughtfully, and more often within the contexts deemed ‘appropriate.’”[2] People are not usually oblivious when using textese. They generally seem to make the deliberate choice to use it or not. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron also pick up on this idea of the average person’s awareness in their study: “Our results suggest that the impact of ‘lazy’ language use when texting may have been overstated. Our findings reinforce the need to differentiate between the deliberate violation of grammatical or orthographic convention and a genuine lack of understanding.”[3] When a person uses textese, he is likely doing so consciously. The use of textese does not necessarily mean that people are becoming completely ignorant of the proper rules of grammar and syntax in standard English. People are aware of two distinct forms of communication, even if they do not always choose the best one.

Even in the case that an individual being truly oblivious or grammatically incompetent, textese could still be potentially useful to him if he still wishes to make use of the convenient flexibility of textese. De Jonge and Kemp assert that “if less competent language users are drawn to the creativity and flexibility of textese in a way that improves their language skills through exposure to written language (as has been suggested with younger children), then mobile phones could prove useful in educational settings.”[4] As with children, textese could prove beneficial even to young adults, if it serves to expose them to written language and encourages them to experiment and manipulate it in different contexts. Of course, texting is not preferable or comparable to real language education, but something is better than nothing. Texting has the potential to be beneficial to people of differing levels of linguistic competency.

There are other factors to consider besides the competency of the person texting when considering the effect of textese on literacy and grammar. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron point out that things like the state of the person texting and even the texting device they are using also play make a difference. Factors such as time constraints, emotional states, and who is the intended recipient of a message can all affect how a person texts, as “the use of kisses, emoticons, and multiple punctuation marks might have more to do with one’s tendency to feel or to display emotion and affection, than with one’s grammatical or orthographic prowess.”[5] Different situations call for different levels of correctness and formality; the use or neglect of standard grammar and punctuation in a situation that does not require their strict application does not necessarily indicate any detrimental effects of texting on an individual. Wood and associates also indicate that “the inclusion or omission of conventional punctuation and capitalization might be determined more by the sophistication of self-correcting phone technology than by the skill of the writer.”[6] Even the notorious “auto-correct” functions account for some of the apparent lack of literacy and grammatical skill associated with texting.

Texting is not necessarily as detrimental as people often think. On the contrary it can actually be quite beneficial, particularly to children. Research shows that children who text frequently tend to be better readers. Deacon and Whitzman point out that the more proficient a child is at texting, the more proficient he is at spelling and reading standard English and believe “it seems unlikely that texting, on its own, impairs children’s development of the vital reading and writing skills that they need in the classroom.”[7] Studies indicate that texting does not have negative effects on children’s literacy and rather show the opposite. Van Dijk and associates assert that in most studies “children’s use of textese and their spelling and literacy abilities were found to be positively related.”[8] Drouin and Driver agree that textisms are positively related to children’s literacy.[9] Wood, Kemp, and Waldron also observe that school children “who used more ungrammatical word forms and more unconventional orthographic forms showed better . . . spelling and growth in orthographic processing.”[10] Contrary to what we may have been led to believe, research indicates that the more children use textese, the more their literacy improves.

There are several possible reasons for the positive effects of textese on children. One common idea is that texting is fun because it allows children the freedom to play and experiment with language without regard for spelling and punctuation rules. If children enjoy the fun of texting and using language in this way, they are more likely to enjoy and appreciate other literacy-based endeavors as well, further increasing their interest in the use of language. Van Dijk and associates suggest that texting exposes children to more text and also increases their “phonological and phonetic awareness” to improve their reading skills, suggesting that simple exposure to text itself, whether typing it or reading it, provides practice of sorts and increases children’s awareness and mastery of reading and using text.[11] Wood, Kemp, and Waldron echo this idea as they discuss the phonetic nature of many textisms: “Their use contributes to phonological awareness and phonological processing, which in turn contribute to spelling development.”[12] Simply gaining more exposure to language and putting it to use in different ways contributes to children’s development.

Van Dijk and associates suggest another idea that texting generally increases children’s awareness of different registers and the appropriate times and places to use each register.[13] Texting may help children to understand that there are different registers of speech and writing and to differentiate between those registers as they learn where and when each register is appropriate. Children who frequently use textese may develop advantages similar to those of bilingual children. It is possible that switching between the registers of textese and standard English may exercise similar mental functions to switching between languages. Van Dijk and associates point out that being bilingual strengthens one’s abilities to suppress certain information while making use of information relevant to a given situation, even a non-linguistic situation.[14] A similar process for choosing between registers of speech and writing could offer the same benefits.

Texting has been found to have positive effects not only on children’s literacy but also on their grammar. Much like the effects of texting on basic literacy functions, its effects on grammar are largely positive. Van Dijk and associates found that “the more words children omitted in their text messages, the better their grammar performance,” suggesting that the omission of words in textese may train children’s grammar systems and improve grammatical performance in their speech.[15] Similar to the way exposure to texting and manipulation of language improves phonological awareness, experimentation with omitting words enhances grammatical performance. Van Dijk and associates further explain that “by using textese, . . . children apply rules of grammar and do so in a context-sensitive manner.”[16] When children regularly analyze sentences and make decisions about which words to drop in ever-changing contexts over text, they are essentially doing grammar exercises without even realizing it. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron’s studies agree that texting has no detrimental effects on grammar and found that grammatical violations in texting do not appear to be linked to loss of grammar skills.[17] Texting has no significant detrimental effects on grammar, but rather improves understanding of grammar. Writing is an art form, and as with any art, one must understand the rules before he can break them. Combined with an understanding of the rules of standard English grammar, textese can help deepen a student’s understanding of grammar as he picks grammatical constructions apart and uses them in different ways and contexts. The manipulation of language to write in textese actually exercises grammar systems and improves understanding of grammar. As long as the correct rules are learned, remembered, and applied when appropriate, breaking them through textese offers only benefits.

Many of the claims against texting for its supposed negative effects on literacy and grammar are woefully unfounded. Studies indicate that texting is more often beneficial than detrimental to literacy and grammar. It is especially beneficial to children and likely harmless if not beneficial to adults as well. Texting exposes children to text in new ways and contexts and serves as a mental exercise to sharpen their understanding of grammar. Studies show mixed results regarding the effects of texting on adults, but many apparent linguistic deficiencies in adults can often be attributed to outside factors or to the individual’s own carelessness or lack of linguistic competence in general. Texting may break a lot of rules, but, so long as the distinction between registers is understood and each register is used appropriately, there is likely no need to worry about texting destroying our language skills.


[1]. M.A. Drouin, “College Students’ Text Messaging, Use of Textese and Literacy Skills,” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 27, no. 1 (February 2011): 69, accessed April 5, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[2]. Drouin, “College Students’ Text-messaging,” 72.

[3].Clare Wood, Nenagh Kemp, and Sam Waldron, “Exploring the Longitudinal Relationships Between the Use of Grammar in Text Messaging and Performance on Grammatical Tasks,” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 32, no. 4 (November 2014): 427, accessed April 5, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[4]. Sarah De Jonge and Nenagh Kemp. “Text-message Abbreviations and Language Skills in High School and University Students,” Journal of Research In Reading 35, no. 1 (February 2012): 65, accessed April 5, 2017,  Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[5]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

[6]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

[7]. Helene Deacon and Sara Whitzman, “Does Texting Lead to Poor Literacy Skills?,” Literacy Today no. 67 (December 2011): 15, accessed March 29, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[8]. Chantal N. van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language on Grammar and Executive Functions in Primary School Children,” Plos ONE 11, no. 3 (March 31, 2016): 2, accessed April 5, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[9]. Michelle Drouin and Brent Driver, “Texting, Textese, and Literacy Abilities: A Naturalistic Study.” Journal of Research In Reading 37, no. 3 (August 2014): 264, accessed March 28, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[10]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

[11]. Van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language,” 3.

[12]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 425.

[13]. Van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language,” 3.

[14]. Ibid., 4-5.

[15]. Ibid., 16.

[16]. Van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language,” 17.

[17]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.