The Effects of Text Messaging on English Grammar

By Aaron Parson

Whether u luv its convenience or h8 it for corrupting proper writing, txt spk has left its mark on th Eng lang. With an ever-growing number of media that emphasize brevity -- texting, IMing, Twittering -- text speak has grown beyond cell phones to affect the way people write, the words people use and the grammatical choices people make.

New Vocabulary

There's no denying that text speak has had a profound impact on the English vocabulary, one of the primary components of changing languages. While abbreviations and slang might not have a place in professional writing or academia, they have permeated daily life, with terms like *cray* and *YOLO* making it into dictionaries. Old standards like *BRB* and *LOL* are so well known that some people even speak them aloud. And if you include Twitter lingo as an offshoot of text speak, consider the prevalence of the term *hashtag*, which among young people has become a synonym for the hash sign itself.

Sentence Structure Changes

Language also changes through the way people write and form sentences. Texting has a notoriously lax set of rules -- *no one complains if a text doesn't end with a period* -- and that attitude has taken seed in the rest of the language. According to linguistics professor Naomi Baron in an article in [Educational Leadership](http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar09/vol66/num06/Are-Digital-Media-Changing-Language%C2%A2.aspx), people have grown less and less concerned about following the rules of English grammar over recent years. Texting wasn't the beginning of this shift, but as Baron writes, "computer and mobile-phone technologies add fuel to the linguistic fire."

Language Malleability

The rules of English, as taught in a classroom, prescribe a correct word and grammar for every situation: "lay" vs "lie," "can" vs "may," "it's" vs "its." *But in the realm of texting, the emphasis is on brevity and clarity.* Any message that makes sense is allowed, and those messages vary widely. If you're looking to shorten "love," do you write "lv," "lov" or "luv?" Perhaps even a simple "<3". Consider even the preceding sentence, where the abnormalities of text lingo prompted the period to fall after the quotation marks for clarity, against the rules of American English grammar. Once this lack of attention to correct language becomes the norm in texting, it carries over to non-texting use as well. A [study](http://nms.sagepub.com/content/14/8/1304) at Wake Forest University found that middle schoolers who texted more performed worse on grammar tests. Not every texting convenience had the same effect, however: "Word adaptations" -- think abbreviations and slang -- had a negative impact on the test, but "structural adaptations" had no significant effect.

Texting's Own Grammar

Texters might not care about periods, commas and apostrophes, but that doesn't mean that texts are grammarless. English professor John McWhorter claims that one of texting's best known terms, *LOL*, is actually a form of grammar. The term almost never actually means "*laughing out loud*." Instead, it serves a grammatical function, giving a message an air of levity. [McWhorter compares "*LOL*" to the suffix "*-ed*"](http://ideas.time.com/2013/04/25/is-texting-killing-the-english-language/) in that it denotes past tense "rather than 'meaning' anything."