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    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyExploring the relationship between children’sknowledge of text message abbreviations andschool literacy outcomesBeverly Plester*, Clare Wood and Puja JoshiCoventry University, Coventry, UKThis paper presents a study of 88 British 10–12-year-old children’s knowledge of textmessage (SMS) abbreviations (‘textisms’) and how it relates to their school literacyattainment. As a measure of textism knowledge, the children were asked to composetext messages they might write if they were in each of a set of scenarios. Their textmessages were coded for types of text abbreviations (textisms) used, and the ratio oftextisms to total words was calculated to indicate density of textism use. The childrenalso completed a short questionnaire about their mobile phone use. The ratio oftextisms to total words used was positively associated with word reading, vocabulary,and phonological awareness measures. Moreover, the children’s textism use predictedword reading ability after controlling for individual differences in age, short-termmemory, vocabulary, phonological awareness and how long they had owned a mobilephone. The nature of the contribution that textism knowledge makes to children’sword reading attainment is discussed in terms of the notion of increased exposure toprint, and Crystal’s (2006a) notion of ludic language use.According to the Mobile Life Report (2006), 92% of British mobile phone users feel thattheir phones are an essential part of their daily life. The BBC reported that in September2007, nearly 5 billion text messages (or SMS, Short Message Service) were sent in Britain,about 4,000 per second. Young adolescents from 12 to 15 spoke recently in a publicforum in the United States about the place of digital technology in their lives, andmany mentioned their phones, some commenting upon their sometimes excessiveenthusiasm for texting (Kids Speak Out, 2007). Fifty percent of young adults questionedsaid they would rather text than talk to their friends (Reid & Reid, 2005). The Mobile LifeReport found that 51% of 18–24 year olds sent or received at least six texts a day. Further,the Ofcom (2006) Media Literacy Audit, which focused on British children, reported that8–11 year olds sent an average of 16 texts per week. Online and paper glossaries of‘cyberspeak’ or ‘netspeak’ or ‘textspeak’ abound (e.g. Crystal, 2004; Ihnatko, 1997;* Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Beverly Plester, Psychology Department, Coventry University, Coventry CV1 5FB,UK (e-mail: b.plester@coventry.ac.uk).TheBritishPsychologicalSociety145British Journal of Developmental Psychology (2009), 27, 145–161q 2009 The British Psychological Societywww.bpsjournals.co.ukDOI:10.1348/026151008X320507
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietySanderson, 1993), giving lists of symbols and abbreviations of various sorts that havebeen used in computer mediated communication. Indeed, young people as a grouphave been defined by others in terms of their computer mediated communication, forexample ‘Generation Txt?’ (Thurlow, 2003).Thurlow (2003) examined over 500 older British teenagers’ text messages forcontent and communicative form. He concluded that the messages demonstrated adeptand creative communicative ability, and did not demonstrate the corruption of languagefeared by many. Thurlow (2006) has followed with a critical discourse analysis of over100 media articles about text messaging, drawing out several themes of high profileconcern to the journalists, with the flavour being decidedly negative and oftenexaggerated, published with little regard to the actual uses of text messaging, and oftenin the face of evidence to the contrary. We read of reported intrusions of text languageforms, or ‘textisms’, in standard English writing, and anecdotes are cited to show otherforms of apparent decline in written English, in coursework, and examinations(e.g. Associated Press, 2007; Sutherland, 2002). Text messaging is a rapidly growingphenomenon, and has seen research into its social and communicative aspects (Reid &Reid, 2005), its linguistic aspects (Crystal, 2006a, 2008), but little research on theinteraction of text or SMS literacy with standard English literacy with pre-teen children.This is equally concerning in that such influential articles could be used to informeducational policy decisions in the absence of empirical evidence.Katz and Aakhus (2002) have called for expert-framed academic discussion aboutthe use of technology in communication, to balance the folk-framing of anecdoteand opinion. They have asked for data-driven conclusions. Kasesniemi and Rautiainen,in the Katz and Aakhus volume, published an extensive survey of Finnish adolescentsbetween 13 and 18 years of age. They examined the SMS culture among the youngin a country with one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership and usagein Europe, through surveys, individual interviews, field notes, mobile communicationjournals by teenagers, text messages collected by the teenagers (p. 173). Overall, theperspective taken by the texters interviewed was highly positive, although theauthors acknowledged a more negative view expressed in the wider population.Others (Crystal, 2005, 2006a, 2006b; O’Connor, 2005) have argued for more positiveapproaches. Crystal has emphasized the linguistic flexibility and metalinguisticcompetence that might be entailed as people move between alternative forms oflanguage as appropriate in different contexts.O’Connor (2005), acknowledging concerns about the effects of SMS and instantmessaging (IM) on teenagers’ schoolwork, notes also that some educators value thesemodes of communication in getting young people interested in expressing thoughtsin writing, and drawing attention to modes of expression. O’Connor cited Americanteenagers’ positive views, but also those which acknowledged the potential forinterference with academic register language as SMS and IM users develop moreautomatic usages of the abbreviated word forms that are seen to characterize textmessages, (e.g. Bell, 2003; Helderman, 2003; Lee, 2002). Ling and Baron (2007) havenoted some significant qualitative and quantitative differences between text messageand IM language, however, but O’Connor’s conclusions might be cautiously extended toBritish pre-teen text users.Pre-teens have been the fastest growing market for mobile phone companies (Hale &Scanlon, 1999), and more recently, the Ofcom Media Literacy Audit found 49% of British8–11 year olds had their own mobile phones. Little research has focused on this agegroup’s phone use, text literacy, and associations between interactive media and146 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societyother literacies, including the language skills required for success in English at school(Wartella, Caplovitz, & Lee, 2004). As written standard English words come to berecognized and used freely through experience, so also should text abbreviations forthose words, as they are used in sending and receiving text messages. With youngerchildren using text messaging and other interactive media, it will be important to seewhat associations appear, and to explore the implications for the language curriculum.Pre-teen and adolescent and young adult studies have all examined texting issues withparticipants whose written language skills are already in place, but as the age of firstmobile phone use falls, children may come to be texting contemporaneously with theestablishment of reading and writing skills, and what we find about the relationshipbetween computer mediated communication literacies and standard school literacy willbe even more important.The idea that the use of textisms when text messaging may be positively, rather thannegatively, related to reading attainment in children is not an illogical proposition if welook at the existing literature on reading acquisition and consider the nature of the morecommon forms of text abbreviation that children appear to use. Many, if not most,textisms are essentially forms of phonetic abbreviation, as in the example of ‘2nite’instead of ‘tonight’. To produce and read such abbreviations arguably requires a levelof phonological awareness (and orthographic awareness) in the child concerned.Phonological awareness has been the focus of reading research for a number ofdecades now, and such research has demonstrated a consistent association betweendifferent forms of phonological awareness and reading attainment (e.g. Adams, 1990;Snowling, 2000).A further factor that is reliably associated with reading attainment is exposure to theprinted word. Stanovich and West (1989), for instance, in a study with adults, foundthat their measure of exposure to text was able to predict word processing abilityindependently of phonological skill, through orthographic processing skills.Cipielewski and Stanovich (1992) demonstrated that children’s reading ability in fifthgrade, roughly the age of our younger participants, was predicted strongly by theirmeasure of text exposure, an Author Recognition Test, after earlier reading ability andorthographic decoding skill were accounted for. Stainthorp (1997) produced aChildren’s Author Recognition Test as a British equivalent, which was also shown topredict reading.Stanovich (1986) documented a rising spiral relationship between phonologicalskill, orthographic decoding skill, word recognition, vocabulary, and ability to free upattentional resources for the engagement with the meaning of text, and so increasethe likelihood of further meaningful exposure to print. Dubbed the ‘Matthew Effect’,Stanovich proposed that some of the associations between abilities might be fruitfullyseen as reciprocal, rather than one way, thus adding to the spiral. He also documentedthe inverse effects whereby those poorer in early skills increasingly find it moredifficult to engage meaningfully with reading material of interest to them, and may fallfurther behind.It is possible that the freedom from regulated orthographic and spellingconventions, and default to phonological coding that is one characteristic of textabbreviations, could yield an increase in exposure to text for poorer readers, andimprove motivation to engage with written communication without the constraintsof school expectations.In terms of spelling, although the textisms may be orthographically unconventionalin one sense, they do demonstrate an awareness of alternative legitimate orthographicText messaging and school literacy 147
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societyspellings within English (e.g. ‘ite’ is pronounced the same as ‘ight’), albeit supplementedwith the use of numerals as shorthand characters. Moreover, it is important toacknowledge that exposure to misspellings may not have a negative effect on thesubsequent learning of correct spellings in children (Dixon & Kaminska, 2007; Ehri,Gibbs, & Underwood, 1988), through a proactive inhibitory effect, although exposureto misspellings after learning correct spellings may be deleterious for adult readers.In other words, although textisms are ‘misspellings’ in a conventional sense, they arephonologically and orthographically ‘acceptable’ forms of written English, and forchildren there is no evidence that knowledge or use of them would cause interferencewith their learning of conventional written English.Two initial studies have already explored some of the relationships betweenpre-teens’ use of text language and standard school attainment (Plester, Wood, & Bell, inpress). In the first of these investigations, a mixed relationship emerged. Eleven year oldchildren were categorized as either more or less frequent text users, on the basis ofwhether they were above or below the median in estimated number of texts sentper day. The more frequent text users scored significantly lower in verbal and non-verbalreasoning assessments than did children who reported that they did not use textmessaging at all, and marginally lower than the children who were below the medianestimate. The children were asked to translate a text message (with textisms) intostandard English, and another from standard English into a text message. Frequency oftext use had no effect upon the proportion of text abbreviations used. All groups usedroughly 58% textisms in their translation. Furthermore, the children with the highestratio of textisms to total words, the ones with the most densely abbreviated style, werethe children with the highest verbal reasoning scores, regardless of their level ofestimated use of text. The verbal reasoning measure used (the Cognitive Abilities Test) isused by schools to predict children’s attainment in English Key Stage tests, and is highlycorrelated with performance on English National Curriculum Key Stage 2 and KeyStage 3 English language measures (Strand, 2006).1A second study aimed to explore this mixed result by assessing 10–11-year-olds,using more varied textism translation exercises and a standardized spelling test.The children’s Key Stage 2 writing levels were also used in the analysis. This study foundthat knowledge of textisms was positively associated with spelling attainment, and thatit was use of the more phonologically based forms of textism that could explain the mostvariance in conventional spelling scores. When the data were analysed by Key Stage 2attainment Level, the children achieving a Level 5 in writing were using the highestproportion of textisms in the translation exercise, and were using significantly morephonologically based text abbreviations than the children achieving Level 4.One observation was that the children in the second study, who had scored in thehighest two levels of their Key Stage 2 English language assessments, were able to movefreely into a very different register of language by using so-called ‘Youth Code’ textisms,which represent spoken casual pronunciations, such as ‘dat fing’. Thurlow (2003)refers to this type of textism as ‘accent stylization’. But the children also knew thatsuch language was not appropriate in the context of their formal testing, showing1Key Stages represent phases in the English National Curriculum for state maintained schools, from beginning primaryeducation at Key Stage 1, to ending secondary education at Key Stage 4. Standardized assessments take place in English,Mathematics, and Science at the end of the later Key Stages: Key Stage 2 assessments at age 11 and Key Stage 3 assessmentsat age 14.148 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societymetalinguistic knowledge. Another observation was that the children appeared to benovice texters, in that they used many different textisms for the same word, and had notadopted codified text language forms, such as might be found in the netspeak glossaries(Crystal, 2004; Ihnatko, 1997; Sanderson, 1993).Two main conclusions can be drawn from these early studies. First, there was littleevidence that using text language was damaging to pre-teen children’s standard Englishability. Second, there was, in contrast, a strong positive relationship between their use oftextisms and other measures of their English ability.RationaleThe present study set out to understand the nature of the apparent positiveassociation between conventional literacy and knowledge of textisms. As therelationship may be explained by individual differences in phonological awareness andorthographic decoding, the children were assessed on these skills, alongside otherbaseline cognitive measures, such as vocabulary and short-term memory (given thepreviously observed relationship between textism use and verbal reasoning ability).Moreover, previous research had not considered the association between children’sreading ability and their texting behaviour, so standard measures of word andnon-word reading were also included. Exposure to text is another factor associatedwith reading progress, but we did not wish to add yet another formal test to analready lengthy set of measures for the children to complete. However, we didassess, how long the children had access to a mobile phone, as this may be seen as ameasure of a form of informal text(ism) exposure, which may be pertinent to ourresearch question.As text language is both productive and receptive to be functional, and has featuresakin to both written and spoken language, we would expect to find associationsbetween texting and both reading and spelling measures. We were interested inparticular in the extent to which any association is mediated by either phonologicalawareness or cognitive factors, the children’s age, or the length of their exposure totexting. A secondary question considered the children’s use of specific forms of textismand the association between these forms and the various literacy outcomes.MethodParticipantsEighty-eight children took part, recruited from Year 6 and 7 classes in five schools in theMidlands, UK. These schools represented a wide range of socio-economic urban andsuburban catchments. There were 55 girls and 33 boys, with an overall mean age of 10.6years (SD ¼ 0:64). About 78% of the children had sole use of a mobile phone and 15.4%could borrow one when they wished. The mean age of acquiring a first phone was 9.0years, (SD ¼ 1:34 years, range 6–12 years). The children reported using their phonesmost for texting and talking, as follows: texting 38.8%; talking 30.6%; 15.3% playedgames most; 10.6% took pictures most; and 4.7% cited ‘other’ uses. When asked whomthey talked to most, 54% said friends, 27.1% said parents, 16.5% said other familymembers, and 2.4% reported ‘others’. When asked to whom they sent text messagesmost, 68.7% said friends, 15.7% said parents, and 15.7% said other family members.About 55.3% of respondents said they used predictive text at least some of the time and44.7% said they never did.Text messaging and school literacy 149
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyMeasuresThe children were given a questionnaire asking age, sex, school year, whether they hadsole use of a mobile phone, or could borrow one, when they had received their firstphone, what purpose they used the phone for most, whom they phoned most, whomthey texted most. They were then tested individually on the following measures, whichwere administered according to standardized instructions.The British Picture Vocabulary Scales II (Dunn, Dunn, Whetton, & Burley, 1997)was included as a baseline measure of children’s receptive vocabulary, so that this couldbe used as a control variable in statistical analyses, as vocabulary scores are oftenassociated with reading and spelling attainment. Standardized scores were used insubsequent analyses.The forward and backward digit span subtests from the British Ability Scales II(Elliot et al., 1996) were also included as baseline variables to give an indication of thechildren’s verbal working memory capacity, given the known association between thephonological loop and phonological awareness and word reading (e.g. Passenger, Stuart,& Terrell, 2000). Ability scores are reported.The word reading and spelling subtests of the British Ability Scales II (Elliot et al.,1996) were used as simple measures of conventional reading and spelling ability, andability scores were used in the analyses presented here. To provide a measure ofalphabetic decoding ability, the Non-word Reading subtest from the PhonologicalAssessment Battery (Frederickson, Frith, & Reason, 1997) was also used, and raw scoreson this measure are reported.To assess the children’s phonological awareness two measures were used whichwere selected as suitable for children in this age group: the Spoonerisms subtestfrom the Phonological Assessment Battery (Frederickson et al., 1997), and theElision subtest from the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (Wagner,Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1999). It should be noted that because of the differencein US and UK pronunciation of some of the items on the Elision subtest, whichrequires the children to say a word when a specific phoneme has been ‘removed’,items 13 and 16 were omitted from the test. Raw scores for both measuresare presented.To assess the children’s knowledge of textisms, we developed a measure thatrequired the children to write their own text messages, as we wanted to elicitspontaneous text messages from the children, but we had previously found considerabledifficulty getting children to remember to save, or record, or submit their record, oftheir own actual text messages. So, we gave the children 10 scenarios, and asked them towrite the kind of text message they might write in each situation (full details areprovided in Appendix). For example:. You’ve just seen your friend riding in his or her Dad’s brand new car [you decidewhat kind] and it’s brilliant. You’d love to have a ride in it because it’s a really sporty,fast one and you love cars. Your friend’s Dad is pretty good natured and very proudof his car.The elicited text messages were scored for types of textism used, and the ratio oftextisms to total words used. In order to compare our results more closely with theanalysis of older adolescents’ text messages reported by Thurlow (2003), we adopted,and then adapted, his classification system, which has more categories than we hadpreviously used. Acronyms, for example, refer only to formal ones such as BBC, and150 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyInitialisms is the label given other textisms such as LOL, laugh out loud where the sameprinciple has been used. We found that, unlike his findings, that we had many instancesof omission of apostrophes where they were appropriate, so we added that asan additional category. If more than one alteration was employed in a single word,we categorized on the basis of the first change made. The 12 categories we used wereas follows:. Shortenings (bro, sis, tues). Contractions (txt, plz, hmwrk). G-clippings (swimmin, goin, comin). Other clippings (hav, wil, couldn). Omitted apostrophes (cant, wont, dads). Acronyms (BBC, UK). Initialisms (ttfn, lol, tb). Symbols (@, & ,:-o). Letter/number homophones (2moro, l8r, wuu2). Misspellings (comming, are [for our], bolinase). Non-conventional spellings (fone, rite, skool). Accent stylization (wiv, elp [help], anuva)Informed parental consent was obtained for all children prior to participation.All children were briefed about the nature of the study and were advised that they didnot have to complete any assessment that they did not wish to. All children wereassessed individually in a quiet area of the school and the order of the tasks wasrandomized to minimize order effects.The children were tested in three sessions of approximately 20 minutes, spread over3 days that were separated by up to a week, according to the convenience of theparticipating schools. The children and schools were debriefed at the conclusion of thestudy and thanked for their participation, but received no direct reward forparticipation.ResultsTable 1 presents the summary statistics for the children’s scores on each of the mainmeasures taken in this study. It can be seen that a wide range of abilities was obtained.Table 1. Summary statistics for all measuresVariable Mean SD Minimum MaximumBPVS II vocabulary standard score (N ¼ 84) 102.46 16.41 47 139BAS II digit span forward ability score (N ¼ 85) 146.12 18.59 88 194BAS II digit span backward ability score (N ¼ 86) 116.77 22.79 59 190BAS II word reading ability score (N ¼ 86) 152.28 25.92 31 187BAS II spelling ability score (N ¼ 80) 106.93 14.01 55 141PhAB non-word reading raw score (N ¼ 87) 16.76 4.10 2 20PhAB spoonerisms raw score (N ¼ 87) 20.86 5.52 0 28CTOPP elision raw score (N ¼ 86) 14.09 3.27 3 18Ratio of textisms to words used in scenarios 0.34 0.17 0.04 0.79Text messaging and school literacy 151
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyThe participants had vocabulary levels typical for their age (mean 102.5, SD ¼ 16:4).Mean reading and spelling scores equated to the attainment expected of a child of 11; 3and 10; 3, respectively, which is in line with or better than what we would expect of thechildren in this sample. It should be noted that the use of scenarios to elicit textmessages in this study has resulted in a lower (and arguably more realistic) level oftextism use than has been previously observed, with the density measure indicatinga ratio of .34 (compared to .58 and .50 noted by Plester et al., in press). A genderdifference was observed, as girls had a higher ratio of textisms to total words thanboys, Fð1; 76Þ ¼ 6:38, p , :05. The girls’ mean ratio was .38 (.16) and the boys’ ratiowas .28 (.17).Individual difference measures associated with literacy and textism measuresPearson correlation coefficients were calculated between the measure of textknowledge, age, how old the children were when they got their first mobile phoneand the various cognitive and literacy-related measures (see Table 2). In addition to theoriginal measures, two composite measures were calculated, a composite cognitivescore, comprising vocabulary, and digit span forward and backward z scores; acomposite phonological and alphabetic decoding score, comprising phoneme elision,and spoonerisms z scores, along with non-word reading. Table 2 shows that theseindividual measures are strongly related within each composite measure.Table 2 shows that the children’s age was correlated only with the age at which theyreceived their first phone. Table 2 has also identified a number of marginally significantcorrelations. The age of first phone was either significantly or marginally associated withall of the reading skill and spelling measures, although it was not associated with thecognitive cluster of measures. The measure of text language skill was associated eithersignificantly or marginally with word reading and spoonerisms, and with that, thecomposite phonological score.To assess whether the children’s age, vocabulary, short-term memory, phonologicalawareness, and decoding skill, or length of time owning a mobile phone may explain theobserved relationship between word reading ability and children’s use of textisms,structured multiple regression analyses were conducted and the results are shown inTables 3 and 4. Age was used as the first step in the first analysis, to verify the apparentlack of relationship between it and other measures, and age of first phone was enteredfirst in the second analysis.It can be seen that despite this very conservative analysis, the children’s knowledgeof textisms was able to account for a significant amount of variance in word readingscores which was additional to that accounted for by vocabulary, phonologicalawareness, alphabetic decoding ability, short-term memory, the children’s current age,and the age at which the children got their first mobile phone.Analysis by types of textisms usedIn addition to our central analyses of variables predicting word reading, we also lookedat how various types of textisms were associated with literacy measures. Table 5summarizes the children’s use of the 12 types of textisms used by the children inresponse to the scenarios given. It can be seen that most of the children usedcontractions, letter/number homophones, non-conventional spellings, and accentstylizations, with homophones and accent stylizations being used frequently when theywere used, compared to the use of other forms.152 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyTable2.Pearsoncorrelationsbetweenmeasureoftextismknowledge,howlongusingphone,andvariousindividualcognitiveandliteracymeasuresAgeAgeoffirstphoneDigitspanforwardDigitspanbackwardBPVSvocabularyCompositecognitivescoreNon-wordreadingPhonemeelisionSpoonerismsCompositephonologicalscoreBASIIspellingabilityscoreBASIIwordreadingabilityscoreAgeAgeoffirstphone.366**Digitspanforward.1522.057Digitspanbackward2.0782.179.317**BPVSvocabulary.0302.139.195þp¼:094.298**Compositecognitivescore.0382.136.802**.821**.303**Non-wordreading2.1172.215þp¼:055.257*.378**.289*.388**Phonemeelision.0302.212þp¼:063.301**.529**.489**.516**.332**Spoonerisms2.1122.276*.374**.510**.562**.547**.538**.613**Compositephonologicalscore2.0682.293**.373**.541**.486**.593**.486**.897**.899**BASIIspellingabilityscore2.1662.212þp¼:073.221þp¼:066.515**.304*.463**.627**.319**.534**.475**BASIIwordreadingabilityscore2.139.273*.203þp¼:077.461**.506**.414**.638**.593**.712**.732**.701**Ratiooftextismstototalwordsinscenarios.1002.þp¼:057.213þp¼:076.135.298**p#:05;**p#:01;þmarginallysignificant,p,:10.Text messaging and school literacy 153
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyAs not all children used all these various forms of textism, non-parametriccorrelation coefficients were calculated between use of these different forms of textismand the word reading and spelling measures. These are presented in Table 6. It canbeen seen that there are fewer significant relationships between spelling and thetextisms compared to word reading and textisms, and that the strength of thoserelationships is also weaker than those observed for word reading. For word readingTable 4. A sequential regression analysis with children’s word reading ability scores entered as thecriterion variableModel 1 R2Change F Change pAge of first phone .073 4.993 .029Age of first phone, memory, vocabulary .484 33.316 ,.001Age of first phone, memory, vocabulary,non-word reading, phonological awareness.042 6.253 .015Age, memory, vocabulary, non-word reading,phonological awareness, ratio of textisms to total words.029 4.661 .035Table 5. Summary statistics for the 12 types of textisms used in elicited texts with scenarios (NB Meansare based on those children who used that type of textism rather than whole sample and indicate howmany were used on average by those children over the 10 scenarios)Mean SD Minimum MaximumShortenings (N ¼ 48) 2.00 1.30 1.00 8.00Contractions (N ¼ 74) 9.01 10.24 1.00 53.00G-clippings (N ¼ 40) 2.33 2.12 1.00 12.00Other clippings (N ¼ 59) 3.49 2.8 1.00 10.00Missing apostrophes (N ¼ 61) 3.23 2.49 1.00 12.00Acronyms (N ¼ 1) 1.00 – 1.00 1.00Initialisms (N ¼ 26) 2.88 4.26 1.00 21.00Symbols (N ¼ 33) 4.30 3.89 1.00 15.00Letter/number homophones (N ¼ 72) 13.18 8.87 1.00 34.00Misspellings (N ¼ 51) 3.04 2.28 1.00 11.00Non-conventional spellings (N ¼ 74) 6.96 6.59 1.00 39.00Accent stylization (N ¼ 71) 13.28 9.61 1.00 38.00Table 3. A sequential regression analysis with children’s word reading ability scores entered as thecriterion variableModel 1 R2Change F Change pAge .000 0.028 .867Age, memory, vocabulary .420 23.944 ,.001Age, memory, vocabulary, non-word reading,phonological awareness.124 17.616 ,.001Age, memory, vocabulary, non-word reading, phonologicalawareness, ratio of textisms to total words.037 5.594 .021154 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societyability, the strongest relationships were observed for use of homophones, rsð78Þ ¼ :421,p , :001, and accent stylizations rsð78Þ ¼ :507, p , :001, both phonologically basedtypes of textism.DiscussionThis study has examined the relationship, in 10- to 12-year-old children, between usageof text message abbreviations (‘textisms’) and school literacy attainment. As expected,we found associations between textism use and phonological awareness. What is mostimportant, the extent of children’s textism use was able to predict significant variancein their word reading ability after taking into account age, individual differences invocabulary, working memory, phonological awareness, non-word reading ability, andthe age at which participants obtained their first mobile phone. This suggests thatchildren’s use of textisms is not only positively associated with word reading ability, butthat it may be contributing to reading development in a way that goes beyond simplephonologically based explanations.We acknowledge that correlational analyses cannot lead to a conclusion thatexperience and skill with texting actively contributes to children’s word reading ability.That experience and skill can, however, contribute to the prediction of their wordreading ability independently of the other measures used. It indicates that textingexperience and skill are deserving of further study, and require longitudinal study.To draw even stronger causal conclusions would require experimental intervention,but there are ethical and pragmatic concerns that urge caution in any research thatmight be seen as encouraging mobile phone use in younger children.It will be noted that there was no association found between overall textism useand the children’s spelling and non-word reading scores. This suggests that, as anti-cipated, at this stage of development there is no evidence of a detrimental effect oftextisms exposure on conventional spelling. This finding is compatible with the conclu-sions of Ehri et al. (1988) that exposure to misspellings need not compromise children’slearning of correct spelling. Instead, we would argue that many of the children’stextisms reveal an understanding of ‘conventional’ letter-sound correspondences andTable 6. Spearman correlation coefficients between reading (N ¼ 78) and spelling measures (N ¼ 72)and the different forms of textism observed in the studyWord reading SpellingShortenings .133 .261*Contractions .328** .179G-clippings .362** .268*Other clippings .205 .148Missing apostrophes .199 .202Initialisms .062 .005Symbols .386** .277*Letter/number homophones .421** .221Misspellings 2.343** 2.269*Non-conventional spellings .234* .146Accent stylisation .507** .345***p , :05; **p , :01.Text messaging and school literacy 155
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societyorthographic rules present in English, even though the resultant spellings are viewedas unconventional. For example ‘nite’ as an alternative to ‘night’ does not break anyEnglish language conventions, as it borrows the orthographic form from ‘bite’. The useof letter and number homophones also reveals a creative recognition of phonologicalsimilarity.However, perhaps we might have expected evidence of a stronger positiveassociation between textisms use and the measures of spelling and non-word reading.This may be because both spelling and non-word reading require alphabetic decodingskills, whereas word reading can be tackled by accessing a learned sight vocabulary ofwords that can be read without recourse to letter by letter decoding or recoding. Sightvocabularies are typically built up through experience with text, and so it may be thatthe overall pattern of associations found in this study is indicating that at least part of thecontribution that textisms are making to children’s reading development is explained bythe additional contact with text that mobile phones are also affording the children.The strong associations between age of first phone ownership and reading skillmeasures bears this out. This would certainly be compatible with the findings ofStanovich (1986), Cunningham and Stanovich (1990), Cipielewski and Stanovich(1992), who have established that experience with text contributes independently toreading ability. But the modest correlations between text language skill and othermeasures require explanation. Although textism use was not strongly associated withmeasures other than spoonerisms and composite phonological score, and word reading,it did contribute independently to predicting word reading ability when other measureswere accounted for. Text language use is seemingly contributing to reading in a way thatmay not be fully reflected in the measures of language and cognitive skill we have used.It is worth pausing to consider how text and IM language has been characterizedby various authors as playful, ludic, (Crystal, 2006a), comfortable (O’Connor, 2005),vigorous, and ‘writing as recreation rather than work’ (Helderman, 2003). Texting is fun,and owning a mobile phone gives children access to a technology that they enjoy using,and which also provides them with the opportunity to engage in additional (andsometimes frequent) written language activity. The textisms themselves are creativeexpressions of children’s engagement with language and they are motivated to becomeliterate in their use in order to communicate with their friends rapidly and effectively,and in a way that they feel in control of. The ludic hypothesis is strengthened bythe fact that textism use was associated most strongly with spoonerism scores.Creating spoonerisms has a clear sense of play in it.There is less judgment attached to text messaging than to other forms of writing –children can write as conventionally or unconventionally as they wish, with or withoutpunctuation or capitalization, and all spellings are legitimate as long as the conventionfor ‘reading’ them is an established one that will enable the recipient to understand it.This point in itself is borne out by data showing that the most commonly used formsof textism were those that were more phonologically based, whereas more symbolicforms were less common, and as Sutherland (2002) observes, texting has only afew hieroglyphs (codes comprehensible only to initiates). Glossaries of text language(e.g. Crystal, 2004; Ihnatko, 1997) give no frequency data, nor did Thurlow’s (2003)taxonomy, but we have seen here that the more mysterious textisms do not appearoften, at least with pre-teens.If we look at the different forms of text abbreviation observed in this study, and howtheir use was correlated with the literacy measures, we observe some interestingassociations that also suggest that the association between textism use and literacy is not156 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societyjust about phonological awareness. For example, there was a high correlation betweenuse of symbols and both reading and spelling scores. These symbolic forms have to havetheir meanings learned, and so these may be indicative of the children’s ability to learnnew forms of orthographic representation, and without the corruption of alreadylearned orthographic forms.The textism ratio showed a sex difference with girls showing greater use of textismsrelative to boys. This would be compatible with findings regarding older adolescentsand adults (Reid & Reid, 2005), that males’ messages are intended, by and large, toconvey information, and in this, are shorter and more direct than females’, which aremore frequently intended to sustain relationships and share commentary. Therefore girlswill use more symbolic forms to convey emotion (such as ‘x’ as the end of messages, andemoticons), and it could be argued that the use of textisms compared to real words is, initself, used to establish and maintain relations between speakers, given that so many areshorthand terms for phrases about emoting (e.g. ‘lol’, ‘omg’) and relating (ttfn, CUL8R).We have shown that the children who scored the highest in the use of accentstylization also scored highest in standard literacy measures. The element of funwith language is also captured in the high frequency of accent stylization textisms.These engage the children in using phoneme–grapheme conversion rules to createorthographic representations of the language register normally only spoken, ‘streetspeak’ language, informal and used as a sign of belonging to an in-group for whom thepermission rules allow such language use. When questioned informally about using thatregister of language in schoolwork, the children found even the suggestion ludicrous,suggesting that texting ‘street speak’ indicates metalinguistic awareness.They are aware of the two registers of language, and of the boundary conditionssurrounding the appropriateness of use of each. When we have seen linguisticallyable children using an alternative register freely and appropriately, we might doubtthat publicized occurrences of text abbreviations in coursework or examinations(Associated Press, 2007; Thurlow, 2006) are the result of children’s loss of standardEnglish proficiency, or even their not knowing the boundary conditions and permissionrules for their use. Other explanations might be sought, perhaps in deliberate floutingof the permission rules, for any one of several possible reasons; or perhaps theexperienced texter’s mental representations of the divergent graphic forms expressingthe same word’s meaning and sound might be equally potent, and likely to emerge whenthe meaning is cued. Young people’s comments suggest this could be an explanation(e.g. Lee, 2002). If this were to be the case, remedial action would need to enhance thestudent’s proof reading motivation and skill in order to spot such non-wilful intrusions.Educators (O’Connor, 2005) have seen text and IM experience as valuable in raisingchildren’s awareness of the appropriateness of various registers of language, andencouraged their use in the language teaching arena, but with explicit teaching aboutthe category boundaries and permission rules that apply (Helderman, 2003).We found that some children in this study were given their first phone as young as6 years of age, and that within a 2 year age range, the younger they were at time oftesting, the younger they were when they received their first phone. ‘Generation Txt’(Thurlow, 2003) increasingly applies to younger and younger children. The age of firstphone was strongly associated with a number of measures of standard literacy, all in thedirection that suggests that experience with a mobile phone has been a positive factor inliteracy. This finding too calls for further exploration, in determining how experiencewith mobile phones interacts with children’s other experience in charting the course oftheir literacy development. Experience with other forms of computer mediatedText messaging and school literacy 157
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Societycommunication, for example IM, e-mail, chat rooms, bulletin boards, websites such asMyspace or Facebook, on-line games, might factor into children’s profile of literacies asthey become a more common feature of young people’s lives. Young adolescentsspeaking of their digital technologies often mentioned these facilities alongside theirmobile phones (Kids Speak Out, 2007).We acknowledge that the text messages we based our conclusions upon are notnaturalistic messages, being elicited in an experimental setting by the use of scenarios.Generalization of findings to naturalistic texting should be cautious. The children herewere aware that the topic under investigation was texting, and if any situationaldemands are evident in their messages, it is likely to be an excess of textism use in anattempt to comply with perceived demands. That itself would be evidence of thechildren’s awareness of the linguistic constraints of text literacy.We have not explored the effects of socio-economic status, parental education, orcultural values on the outcomes seen in this research, but further work might profitablyexplore these with respect to the age of first phone ownership, the role of parents orpeers in engaging children in the texting skills, as well as early reading experience.Formal exploration might follow of the relationship between children’s exposure totexting and their exposure to other forms of print, such as is central to Stanovich’s work,extending to exposure to other forms of digital text such as IM, e-mail, and educationalsoftware, all of these being related to standard literacy measures.Investigating in some detail the relationships between textism use and literacywith the present sample of children has led us to conclude that there is nocompelling evidence to support the negative statements made in the media regardinghow children’s written language development is being disrupted by exposure totext abbreviations. As Thurlow (2006) notes, although the collection of on-line andpaper glossaries and translation mechanisms might suggest that text literacy is aboutthe abandonment of conventional literacy, and selected anecdotes illustrate that point,the elicited text messages written by this group of pre-teens would be almostcompletely comprehensible to anyone willing to exercise phonological awareness,and recognize texting as a written acknowledgement of speech, if not having allfeatures in common with speech. Most of the children’s use of symbols and initialismswere uses of devices common to standard informal written English communication,for example & @ xxx, ttfn.In parallel with the lack of evidence found here for the demise of standard Englishamong the young, we have presented evidence that facility with text literacy ispositively associated with standard English literacy. As the possession of mobile phonestouches younger and younger children by the year, continuing research into the waysusing these phones contributes to developing linguistic competence will be veryimportant. The children studied here are already fairly well established in their writtenlanguage skills, but as more children receive phones near to the beginning of theirprimary school years, the interaction between phone use and language skills may have adifferent profile, and it will be important to know how we might best use texting andother computer mediated communication in the children’s repertoire of choice toenhance their language skill acquisition.AcknowledgementsWe thank the children and schools who supported and contributed to this study, and RuthStronach and Deborah Felton who helped with the data collection.158 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyReferencesAdams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA:Bradford.Associated Press (2007, 26 April). Irish Government Blames Text Messaging for Teen Illiteracy.Fox News.com Retrieved April 26, 2007, from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,268733,00.html?sPage ¼ fnc.technology/personaltechnologyBBC News (2007, 5 November). Britons Sending 1bn Texts Weekly. Retrieved November 5, 2007,from http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/1/hi/technology/7075005.stmBell, B. (2003). Associated Press. (2003, 13 July). N. C. educators say instant messaging helpsstudents write. The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved March 14, 2004, from http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observer/news/local/6296395.htmCipielewski, J., & Stanovich, K. E. (1992). Predicting growth in reading ability from children’sexposure to print. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 54, 74–89.Crystal, D. (2004). A glossary of netspeak and textspeak. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Crystal, D. (2005). How language works. London: Penguin Press.Crystal, D. (2006a). Language and the internet (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: CambridgeUniversity Press.Crystal, D. (2006b). The fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot and left. Oxford:Oxford University Press.Crystal, D. (2008). Txting: The gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1990). Assessing print exposure and orthographicprocessing skill in children: A quick measure of reading experience. Journal of EducationalPsychology, 82(4), 733–740.Dixon, M., & Kaminska, Z. (2007). Does exposure to orthography affect children’s spellingaccuracy? Journal of Research in Reading, 30(2), 184–197.Dunn, L. M., Dunn, L. M., Whetton, C., & Burley, J. (1997). British Picture Vocabulary Scales:Second edition (BPVS II). London: NFER Nelson.Ehri, L. C., Gibbs, A. L., & Underwood, T. L. (1988). Influence of errors on learning the spellings ofEnglish words. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 13, 236–253.Elliot, C. D., Smith, P., & McCulloch, K. (1996). British Ability Scales: Second edition (BAS II).Windsor, UK: NFER Nelson.Frederickson, N., Frith, U., & Reason, R. (1997). Phonological Assessment Battery. London: NFERNelson.Hale, C., & Scanlon, J. (1999). Wired style: Principles of English usage in the digital age.New York: Broadway Books.Helderman, R. S. (2003, 20 May). Click by Click, Teens Polish Writing; Instant Messaging TeachesMore Than TTYL and ROFL. The Washington Post, p. B.01.Ihnatko, A. (1997). Cyberspeak: An online dictionary. New York: Random House.Katz, J. E., & Aakhus, M. A. (Eds.), (2002). Perpetual contact: Mobile communication, privatetalk, public performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Kids Speak Out (2007, 30 April). Retrieved May 31, 2007, from http://nalu.geog.washington.edu/rchild/youth.htmlLee, J. (2002, 19 September). I Think, Therefore IM. New York Times, p. G.1.Ling, R., & Baron, N. S. (2007). Text messaging and IM: Linguistic comparison of American collegedata. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 26(3), 291–298.Mobile Life Report (2006). Retrieved October 10, 2006, from http://www.mobilelife2006.co.ukO’Connor, A. (2005). Instant messaging: Friend or foe of student writing. Seattle, WA: NewHorizons for Learning, Retrieved October 10, 2006, from http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/oconnor.htmOfcom (2006). Media Literacy Audit: Report on media literacy amongst children. Last accessedJanuary 2, 2008 http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/medlitpub/medlitpubrss/children/Text messaging and school literacy 159
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the SocietyPassenger, T., Stuart, M., & Terrell, C. (2000). Phonological processing and early literacy. Journalof Research in Reading, 23, 55–66.Plester, B., Wood, C., & Bell, V. (2008). Txt msg n school literacy: Does mobile phone use adverselyaffect children’s written language attainment? Literacy, 42, 3, 137–144(8).Reid, D. J., & Reid, F. J. M. (2005). Textmates and text circles: Insights into the social ecology of SMStext messaging. In A. Lasen & L. Hamill (Eds.), Mobile world: Past, present and future(pp. 105–118). London: Springer.Sanderson, D. (1993). Smileys. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly and Associates.Snowling, M. (2000). Dyslexia: 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.Stainthorp, R. (1997). A children’s author recognition test: A useful tool in reading research.Journal of Research in Reading, 20(2), 148–158.Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differencesin the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360–407.Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (1989). Exposure to print and orthographic processing. ReadingResearch Quarterly, 24, 400–433.Strand, S. (2006). Comparing the predictive validity of reasoning tests and national end of KeyStage 2 tests: Which tests are the ‘best’? British Educational Research Journal, 32, 209–225.Sutherland, J. (2002, 11 November). Cn u txt? Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved May 31, 2007.Thurlow, C. (2003). Generation txt? The sociolinguistics of young people’s text-messaging.Discourse analysis online, 1(1). Retrieved March 24, 2006, from http://www.shu.ac.uk/daol/articles/v1/n1/a3/thurlow2002003-paper.htmlThurlow, C. (2006). From statistical panic to moral panic: The metadiscursive construction andpopular exaggeration of new media language in the print media. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(3), article 1. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue3/thurlow.htmlWagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., & Rashotte, C. A. (1999). Comprehensive Test of PhonologicalProcessing. Austin, Texas: ProEd.Wartella, E., Caplovitz, A. G., & Lee, J. H. (2004). From Baby Einstein to Leapfrog, from Doom toThe Sims, from instant messaging to internet chat rooms: Public interest in the role ofinteractive media in children’s lives. Social Policy Report, 18(4), 1–18.Received 27 June 2007; revised version received 8 May 2008AppendixText message scenariosSituation 1It is Saturday morning, it is a sunny warm day, and you don’t have any plans, but you’dlike to go somewhere with your best friend. Your parents have told you its ok with themif you go out with you friend.Situation 2You are on your way to meet your friend, waiting at the bus stop, and the bus has justgone by and not stopped, so you are going to be late.Situation 3It is Tuesday. You just got home from school, and you have so much homework to dothat you don’t think you will be able to go to the club you usually go to on Tuesdaynights, but you know one of the others in the club will be coming by to pick you up.160 Beverly Plester et al.
    • Copyright © The British Psychological SocietyReproduction in any form (including the internet) is prohibited without prior permission from the Society[You decide what kind of club: swimming, judo, tennis, music, scouts, guides, and thelocal youth club.]Situation 4Your best friend’s birthday is at the weekend, and he or she is having a party. [You decidewhat kind of party]. You aren’t sure what you want to wear to look great, and anotherfriend is always good at helping you decide. You also aren’t sure what to get for apresent, and want to see if you might buy something together with this other friend ifthat’s ok with him or her.Situation 5There is a new person in your class at school, and he or she hasn’t talked to anyone yet,but you know that he or she is from another country somewhere. You think he or shelooks nice enough, but you’re not sure about just going up and talking to them. Yourbest friend also would like to talk to them, but is a little unsure. Both of you feel sillyabout feeling unsure because you’re usually confident. Your friend has just sent to a textsaying maybe together somehow you could get to know him or her, and wants to knowwhat you think.Situation 6Your sister’s cat was just hit by a car up the road from your house. It was killed instantly,so you couldn’t even try to take it to the vet. You know she doesn’t know, because shehasn’t come home from school yet, but you don’t want her to see it on the way home.Situation 7You know a secret [you make one up], and you’re dying to tell someone you can trustnot to tell anyone else.Situation 8Your friend’s Gran has just presented him or her with a home made jumper that she’sworked really hard to knit, and you and your friend know that her arthritis makes it hardfor her to use her hands. But it’s a really awful and she’s going to insist that your friendwears it. Your friend has sent you a text asking what he or she should do.Situation 9You’ve just had a text from your Mum. She’s in the middle of the supermarket and wantsto know what you’d like for dinner. She’s also forgotten to feed the dog and you knowhe’s out of food.Situation 10You’ve just seen your friend riding in his or her Dad’s brand new car [you decide whatkind] and it’s brilliant. You’d love to have a ride because it’s a really sporty, fast one andyou love cars. Your friend’s Dad is pretty good natured and very proud of his car.Text messaging and school literacy 161