In his second term, President Theodore Roosevelt tried to "reform" U.S. spelling, to make it simpler and easier to write words. But what Roosevelt failed to do, the practice of "texting" may succeed in doing. And not everyone thinks that's a good thing.
Drew Cingel, a doctoral student atÂ Northwestern University, says the group of adolescents known as "tweens" are forming poor language skills and he blames texting. When people send texts, they tend to shorten words, use abbreviations and initials.
These usages quickly spill over into everyday usage. Cingel says more tweens are performing poorly on grammar tests.
"They may use a homophone, such as gr8 for great, or an initial, like LOL for laugh out loud," said Cingel. "An example of an omission that tweens use when texting is spelling the word would, w-u-d."
Cingel said the use of these shortcuts while texting, especially if they do a lot of texting, may hinder a tween's ability to switch between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar. The consequences can be severe, such as not getting a job because you wrote "i wud b a gr8 worker:)" on a job application.
To prove his point Cingel gave middle school students in a central Pennsylvania school district a grammar assessment test. The researchers reviewed the test, which was based on a ninth-grade grammar review, to ensure that all the students in the study had been taught the concepts.
The researchers then gathered information about each student's texting habits.
Decline in grammar scores
"Overall, there is evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the number of adaptations in sent text messages, controlling for age and grade," Cingel said.
Not only did frequent texting negatively predict the test results, but both sending and receiving text adaptations of words were associated with how poorly they performed on the test.
The damage appears more pronounced for spelling than punctuation. Typical punctuation and sentence structure shortcuts that tweens use during texting, such as avoiding capital letters and not using periods at the end of sentences, did not seem to affect their ability to use correct capitalization and punctuation on the test.
Ahead of his time
Roosevelt's idea to change the spelling of words like "through" to "thru" was met with extreme hostility by Congress, the Supreme Court and the nation's newspapers. Alas, he appears to have been a full century ahead of his time.
Young people are now changing the language to accommodate small screens and tiny keyboards. Cingel said he started the study after receiving texts from his young nieces.
"I received text messages from my two younger nieces that, for me, were incomprehensible," Cingel said. "I had to call them and ask them, 'what are you trying to tell me.'"