Is texting dumbing us down?

Texting. Everyone does it, some of us compulsively. But there is apparently a price to pay for all that furious tapping – as new research indicates the practice may affect our ability to interpret and accept new words.

According to University of Calgary researcher Joan Lee, individuals who text more are less accepting of new words, while those who read more traditional print media such as books, magazines, and newspapers are more accepting of the same terms.

“Our assumption about text messaging is that it encourages unconstrained language. But the study found this to be a myth,” Lee explained.

“The people who accepted more words did so because they were better able to interpret the meaning of the word, or tolerate the word, even if they didn’t recognize the word. Students who reported texting more rejected more words instead of acknowledging them as possible words.”

Lee hypothesizes that reading traditional print media exposes people to variety and creativity in language that is conspicuously absent in the colloquial peer-to-peer text messaging used among youth or “generation text.” 

She believes reading encourages flexibility in language use, along with tolerance of different words. Of course, reading also helps individuals develop skills that allow them to generate viable interpretations of new or unusual words.

“In contrast, texting is associated with rigid linguistic constraints which caused students to reject many of the words in the study,” said Lee. 

“This was surprising because there are many unusual spellings or “textisms” such as ‘LOL’ in text messaging language.”

Lee also noted that for texters, word frequency is an important factor in the acceptability of words.

“Textisms represent real words which are commonly known among people who text… Many of the words presented in the study are not commonly known and were not acceptable to the participants in the study who texted more or read less traditional print media,” she added.