Teachers everywhere are bemoaning the use of text and facebook language in the papers their students are submitting for grades. I’m in this camp some days, too. Even email seems to be losing its formality, and I’m sometimes frustrated who treat email to me as a series of text messages. Or–just as frustrating–those who send me attachments with nothing at all in the body of the email.
However, what’s clear from these experiences is that students (especially young students) need information on where this kind of language is appropriate and where it’s not. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to approach this instruction is to embrace text language. Here’s an article that helps illustrate my point:
As linguist Scott Kiesling (University of Pittsburg) explains, acronyms that were once reserved for online usage are making it into everyday speech, but with restricted uses:
“You wouldn’t say, ‘OMG, that person just jumped off a cliff,'” he explains. “But you’d say, ‘OMG, do you see those red pants that person is wearing?'”
Having your students identify and gather similar examples of text-speak allows you to teach a number of things at once. Your students learn first-hand about data collection. They can perform simple statistical calculations about who is or is not more likely to use these forms based on their data, and they can make hypotheses about how their data would change if they expanded this project.
Students can also look for slight (but significant) contextual differences in how text-speak is used, such as the ones that Dr. Kiesling points out in this article. This will raise students’ awareness of the role that context and other social factors plays in language patterns, which, ultimately, will make them more sensitive to language in the classroom.