Classroom Activities: Computer Language vs. the Real World

Dessin "NON au langage SMS en langage SMS...
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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:

Linguists Intrigued By Acronyms Being Spoken Aloud |

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.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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