A study from the University of Toronto’s Linguistics Department has now verified what many writing teachers have been trying to argue all along — instead of ruining kids’ grammar, IM is actually a different discursive register and that kids end up code switching between IM and other forms of communication quite clearly. Here is an excerpt from an article about the study from technewsworld.com:
“What we found is that kids are using the colloquial vernacular language but they’re also using this formal language that isn’t used in speech,” says Denis, 21.
“So it’s really a combination, a fusion of both these styles. It wasn’t surprising to me because I’m a user of instant messaging and … I knew that it wasn’t as bad as people say it is.”
Tagliamonte says participants would use different levels of diction, both informal and formal, in their speech. For instance, they’d use “shall” alongside words such as “gonna.”
“It shows that this generation of kids is fluidly moving through media of communication that just didn’t exist before and they’re doing it extremely well,” she says.
Katherine Barber, editor-in-chief of Canadian Oxford Dictionaries, says she views instant messaging as a sub-dialect of English that likely won’t have an effect on spelling.
“The analogy I always like to make is, you know, we used to have things called telegrams and people had to tinker with their syntax, their normal syntax, to write,” she says.
“Telegrams as well, they created this telegraphese and that hasn’t had an effect on the language as a whole. It was used for that particular circumstance and that’s where it stayed.”
I have been asked many times if I think that technology is enabling kids (with spell check in Word) or ruining their spelling (with IM) and my answer has always been that kids will switch discourse based on the rhetorical situation. If we teach them that way. This study appears to confirm that pedagogical belief.
What do the rest of you think? Is IMing really just a chance for kids to code switch and practice different language? Or, is English doomed? I would be curious to hear what you think.