R students saying g2g to proper grammar?

OMG! Does reading shrt frms used in online instant messaging make you cringe? You may not be alone.

The debate over the influence of online instant messaging on literacy has been raging at least since AOL Instant Messenger, the most popular messaging service among the school’s students, first debuted in 1997.

The New York Times and USA TODAY have reported on teachers fed up with online acronyms appearing in graded assignments and published stories about parents across the nation erasing instant messaging programs from the hard drives of their children’s computers after reading what they were writing to each other.

Parents and educators worry that embarrassing online slang will invade all forms of student writing, possibly even resumes, causing the already blurry line between formal and informal writing to disappear entirely.

But wait a minute. New research overwhelmingly shows such fears might be overblown.
“When the main purpose of an IM is to have a real conversation, there are surprisingly few features of what the press and parents characterize as online language,” Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University in Washington, D.C. said. Baron, an expert in computer mediated communication, has studied the transcripts of IM conversations among college students for several years.

Her findings suggest that by the time students enter college, the contents of IM conversations are largely grammatical and spelled correctly. In a 2005 study, she found that only 121 of more than 11,000 words were misspelled.

“IM conversations are somewhat more formal than face-to-face speech,” she said. For example, Baron found that although college students use contractions about 95 percent of the time in face-to-face speech, they were only used about two-thirds of the time in IM.
Another linguistics researcher, Sali Tagliamonte at the University of Toronto, has come to similar conclusions. In a study of IM conversations between 71 teens aged 16 to 19, she found that popularized online expressions, such as “ttyl” (talk to you later) or “hwk” (homework), occurred less than three percent of the time.
“The common belief among the kids is only ‘newbie’ users use weird acronyms,” Tagliamonte said.

English teachers at school say that shortcut abbreviations do sometimes crop up in timed writing, but they aren’t prevalent.

“There might be a ‘u’ there or a ‘b/c’ for because, but no smiley faces,” English Department Chair Larry Weber said. “You’re pressed for time, and so you cut corners where you can. I’m not reading a lot of stuff that looks like a text message.”
Students also argue that abbreviations are not necessarily the result of new technology.
“Something like ‘b/c’ I’ve never seen online, but that’s a note taking abbreviation,” Sam Alper ’07 said.

“It’s a lot easier for that to slip into your in-class work, because that is your in-class work, just not what your teacher sees.”
If anything, the fact that IM provides students with another opportunity to write seems to have made them better at doing it.

A 2005 study at Cambridge University has found that, although students today are much more comfortable using nonstandard English than they were 25 years ago, the quality of writing has grown dramatically, as teenagers exhibit “far more complex sentence structures, a wider vocabulary and a more accurate use of capital letters, punctuation and spelling” compared with the year 1980, the British newspaper The Times reported.
However, such improvement may not be entirely due to the use of IM.

“More writing is absolutely harmless and sometimes even useful,” Baron said. “However, just as banging out ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano every day doesn’t turn you into a concert pianist, writing without input and growth isn’t a big deal.”

Other teachers are anecdotally experiencing trends contrary to the Cambridge study.
English teacher Geraldine Harding has noticed that in the last few years an increasing number of students think it unnecessary to memorize the names of characters and places, and some even forget to capitalize them on timed exams.

“In the last two years, I’ve been really rather amazed by some students claiming that they don’t think it’s necessarily all that important to know the names of characters in books,” she said. “Maybe I’m making a connection that’s not necessarily there, but I really do think it has a lot to do with not understanding the significance of the capital letter.”

At the beginning of the school year, the yearbook editors decided to set their page titles in fully lowercase type, a decision that drew criticism from several middle school teachers who worry about the fading importance of capitalization, Editor-in-Chief Hannah Dean ’07 said. Dean defends the yearbook’s decision as a stylistic choice, not a grammatical one.
Students such as Kendall Bass ’07 do admit to typing all letters in lowercase when using instant messaging, but studies show that students are fully capable of code switching, or compartmentalizing different styles of writing for different circumstances.

“Our students are intelligent enough to know the difference between formal and informal speech,” Weber said.

Aside from capitalization, older students seem make a point of using correct grammar and punctuation whenever possible.

When Kate Liebman ’09 began to notice acronyms like “ur” for the word “your” appearing in her history notes, she quickly made an effort to kick the habit.
“I make a point of spelling it out now,” she said.

In particular, the use of abbreviations tends to decrease as students get older because they are so accustomed to typing in words correctly for formal schoolwork that it actually becomes easier to type “you” than “u,” Baron said.

And of course, seeing poor grammar used online can be downright embarrassing.

“Seeing everyone spell everything wrong just kind of annoyed me,” Bass said. “So I stopped doing it.”