HigherEdMorning.comThe hidden problem with Twitter

The hidden problem with Twitter

July 23, 2009 by Geneva Reid
Posted in: In this week's e-newsletter, Tech News

Oxford University Press has been studying the language of Twitter these past six months – take a look at what they’ve found.


Seems the most commonly tweeted word is (hold the drum roll) “the.”

And because Twitter thrives on users talking about themselves, the second most commonly tweeted word is “I.” Interestingly, “I” ranks tenth in regular written communication.

Oxford University Press also found gerunds are heavily utilized by the Twitter crowd – among the most popular words are “going,” “getting” and “watching.” Tech terms such as “Google,” “Facebook,” “blog” and “Mac” also rank high with users.

Here’s more of what came from monitoring 1.5 million random tweets. There were:

  • 2,098,630 total sentences
  • 22,431,033 total words
  • close to 15 words per tweet, and
  • nearly 1.5 sentences per tweet.

And compared to formal writing, the casual lingo of Twitter includes a greater frequency of “OK” and “f***.”

So here’s the question: Is Twitter – along with instant messaging and texting – contributing to the destruction of language skills among college students?

Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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  • http://sidorkin.net Sasha Sidorkin

    No more than oral conversation would ruin the written language skills. No more than e-mail or texting would. You cannot destroy grammar, because it is inborn. You could detroy spelling, but it is not essential, is it?

  • Marg

    I instant messaging, texting, and tweeting is just like reading another dialect. Cockney, Caribbean, Louisianian, or many of the other greats of the world.

  • http://commutermusings.blogspot.com Courtney Crocker

    I believe that researchers should acknowledge the difference in spoken language, which is rarely grammatically correct, and written language. Twitter, texting, and social networking Web sites are generally cataloged by college students as an electronic conversation among their many means of communication. Spoken language is being captured in electronic written formats. While they are written down, that does not mean that researchers can confuse these “conversations” as the communicator’s formal writing structure. You would never accuse an author of having poor language skills based on a casual conversation that you had with the author. In the same way, you can not judge the language skills of college students based on their tweets, texts, and posts to networking Web sites. If college professors suddenly experience an influx of papers that show no understanding of how to properly write Standard English, then I believe that would be cause for worry. Until then, unless we are going to start judging written language skills on verbal communication skills, no thought should be put into the “structure” of electronic conversations, or on their “contribution to the destruction of language skills among college students.” There is not the needed interdependence between the two to allow for that conclusion.

  • Brandi

    I fully believe that Instant Messaging, texting, twittering, and social networking via the web are all contributing to a disintegration of English language skills. I text, IM, and socially network, and my friends and family actually tease me because I still utilize the skills I was taught in school. It is shameful that the generations that will be running our country can’t spell the word “anyway”.

  • Bonita lenger

    Yes, I believe the he tech devices of today are destroying not only the language skills, but the social skills of our young people today. I have heard stories of young people in the same room that chose to text each other rather than talk. What a shame!

  • C Dzadek

    Twitter is probably yet another sign of our grotesque self-centeredness, but it’s not destroying our language skills. Contrarilly, I propose that the brevity necessitated by just 144 characters directly challenges users to compress their words/thoughts – a quality that is definitely lacking in the writing produced by college students. Tweeting might turn us all into poets.

    I find the majority of college students still understand that “lol” doesn’t belong in a term paper.

  • http://???????? Boyd Lanier

    “So here’s the question: Is Twitter – along with instant messaging and texting – contributing to the destruction of language skills among college students?”


  • Baloo559

    Twitter, instant messaging and texting ARE contributing to, let’s call it degraded language skills, by providing a set of forums in which these degraded skills are accepted and encouraged. I believe acceptance is primarily a function of the youth of the majority of contributors. They lack experience with more formal language and don’t seem to grasp the subtly and nuance that come with its complexity. Degradation is encouraged by the fact that even the best texting phones or IM clients are poor writing instruments. 12 keys are inadequate as are one eighth scale, not quite QWERTY keyboards. Further encouragement comes from the satisfaction developing personalities take in expressing themselves in creatively alternative manners, especially if it tends to confuse authority figures.

  • BJ

    Yes, I do believe that these avenues of communication (among others) are affecting our ability to communicate in formal writing. Proof? I am an educator. You should read some of the language/spelling in papers that I see! And yes, I do believe that spelling is very important.

  • Sue M

    When e-mail was first being used in our company, I was upset because the information going out had spelling errors, grammatical errors, and was downright ugly as compared to the memorandums we used to send out. This is business where first impressions usually mean so much…I was told that the message is what is important, not correct formatting, grammar, etc.
    So, did I waste my time learning all of that?
    I really don’t understand how that can be acceptable in business – for goodness sakes…at least put on the automatic spell-check for your e-mails!

  • Brian

    It’s a 50/50 situation. 50% don’t have spelling skills and the other 50% are just too lazy.

  • SS

    BJ when you say “Proof? I am an educator. You should read some of the language/spelling in papers that I see! And yes, I do believe that spelling is very important.”, how do you know the bad spelling you see is a result of electronic communication? As often noted “good spellers are born, not made”. Some people just can’t get their head around the difference between “their” and “there” while others pick up on it intuitively. Go back a hundred years and look at term papers. You’re going to find plenty of the same mistakes you see among your students today.

  • B man

    Yes it is. Many recent grads can not communicate very well in a professional atmosphere. The good news is that most don’t have jobs anyway so at this point it doesn’t matter. LOL

  • http://facebook Catherine Politi

    Did the abbreviated wording used in telegrams destroy the English language? I don’t think so. Neither will Twitter, or texting in general – as long as schools continue to stress good language skills in the classroom. As an English teacher and student of linguistics, I realize that English and all other living languages are constantly evolving, so Twitter and its “siblings” will affect English, but not to necessarily destroy or devalue it. As for spelling, well, English is a terrible model for spelling, so maybe these mediums will improve it!

  • John Fenimore

    Twits twitter.
    Enough said.

  • Heather

    Just to be clear, shortening the word “right” to “rite” is not poetry! Nor is the use of the sentence, “wer can i fine sum mor info on ur school?” when addressing a university admissions officer. (Sadly, this is a true story.) It terrifies me to think that any high school in this country would grant a degree to someone this lacking in communication skill. I find it extremely disturbing that anyone would feel spelling and grammar are unimportant. If texting and tweeting do indeed aid the progression of a new dialect or language, then it should be recognized as such and given nomenclature to properly separate it from English, so that “English” teachers will stop accepting it in their classrooms.

  • S.Schmeckpeper

    The emphasis on “I” and gerunds in Twitter should be expected since Twitter’s purpose is to express what one is doing. Also, within casual texting/microblogging environments the spelling mutations make sense to conserve space and typing time. But the point is to communicate, so the sender must be careful to know their audience.

    Of great concern is how frequently people carry contracted words into other communication formats. People need to be able to write and speak correctly and to be able to discern appropriate “language” for different environments and audiences. In the college environment we’re observing an increasing number of students who don’t know that “u” iand “lol” are not words.

    By the way (or should I say, “BTW?”), if you want to know how literate we are in the U.S., view a random sampling of Craigslist ads. It’s amazing!

  • Denise

    You’d better believe it! I can envision a day when older and elderly folks won’t be able to read what would have been considered a simple note, nor will young people remember proper English usage to write one! Trust me! This is the future.

  • Matt

    Ctonrary to puopalr oinpoin, crocert seplilng is otefn uncasrneesy in odrer to dihcepr manenig. Werid!

  • Jill Lindsey

    I believe that Twitter, messaging and texting language is just like the dictation shorthand from the last century. My mother wrote in shorthand and it just looked like a bunch of symbols to me but she and others skilled in it decoded it with fluency. No one but Golden Agers know or use shorthand anymore, but now we text. It is simply a new shorthand for a new context in a new age. Formal language is constantly evolving too. Think of the transition from Olde English to American English. Change does not have to mean destruction of language- its just evolution. Just like shorthand was a symbol system for more formal language, so is texting- the meaning is conveyed through a symbol system and translated in our minds. Spelling is just agreed conventions- those have and will continue to change over time. The onlyproblem of concern should be when the meaning one is trying to convey cannot be discerned by the reader. We have to have common understandings for any symbol system to work- formal or informal.

  • Renee

    I don’t believe Twitter, texting, etc., have ruined our students’ ability to spell and write correctly. I believe the destruction begins in elementary school when kids are NOT taught to read words phonetically. My own children are perfect examples. One was taught to read phonetically (in conjunction with the “sight words” concept) and she writes and spells beautifully. Another was taught to read using only sight word concepts. As a teenager, his spelling is atrocious. Learning grammar is a bit like riding a bicycle–even if you don’t ride for a while, when you get back on a bike, the “how to” pretty much comes right back to you.

  • Matt

    I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdnieag. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt!

  • Jim Post

    Who cares?

  • Anna

    If I’m not mistaken, there were issues with academically unprepared students before March 2006–the month Twitter was established–and maybe even way back in the olden days of the 1990s, before texting and IM were so popular. Twitter is an intriguing communication tool for which we are still inventing uses. Those here who write it off would do well to look more closely.

    The world has been coming to an end for quite some time :) Try a broader perspective on for size.

  • http://www.letters-and-surveys.blogspot.com Betsy DeGeorge

    In an Mother Jones interview with linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley is asked if Twitter will “dumb-down” our sentences. He answered:

    “It’s just silly to imagine that this form of communication could have any effect on language. The English sentence has done very well for itself over the last thousand years or so, and it’s not about to autodestruct because kids have suddenly started to text message each other rather than passing notes under their desk. In fact, what we’re taught in school—the gospel according to Strunk and White—is to be concise. What imposes more constraints of conciseness than Twitter? So in that sense, Twitter could be the greatest thing that’s happened to English since print.”

  • SS

    Heather, what’s the problem with addressing a university admissions officer with “wer can i fine sum mor info on ur school?”? If the request was received by email the admissions officer should anticipate that requests possibly be sent from handheld devices using a format appropriate for this device. To me the quick spellings suggest that the sender has a flexible brain that is not hung up in decorum. As such, the sender would probably do well in and after college and be a pride to the school. If I were an admissions officer, I would reply quickly and hope the person would apply to the school.

  • jrb@msu

    As long as texting is treated like vocal dialects, I have no objection. Cajun, Cockney, etc. are fine but rarely get transcribed unless the accent is essential to the story. Likewise telegrams – they serve a purpose but we don’t ever see “telegram text” in written stories or formal correspondence.

    But when this sort of “abbrev-speak” traverses the chasm into formal writing I think we risk losing a substantial chunk of our discreet and collective cultures, so much of which are recorded as written words (not wrds). Just as learning a second languange enhances the developing brain, so does an understanding of the colorful and deeply descriptive nature of the written word.

    SS I think you miss a key point with using text speak for formal communications – sometimes, like it or not, we _have_ to adhere to a minimal level of decorum, and frankly students who cannot adopt such probably have an issue with authority which suggests ther are not the best candidates for a good old fashioned college experience (where the instructor still wields authority) – perhaps they are better suited to informal cloud-based learning, just before they step out to that job at Burger Queen.

  • Emily

    The very dialogue English and Composition programs have been having for the past several years now.

    It seems that rhetorical awareness and appreciation for situation in regard to all the dialects we use is the key to helping young writers, speakers, composers learn to navigate language communication. There are good reasons to truncate, or “bastardize”, written language in certain situations, and good reasons not to in others.

    In the end, we have to acknowledge that the language we use today is a “degraded” version of its many predecessors, to those who might return from the dead to hear it and read it.

  • Miami

    Twitter is for children and adults that have yet to mature. It is most definitely affecting the children in grammar school because they will grow up believing that misspelling words into short hand is acceptable and the way things are supposed to be done.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, Twitter – along with instant messaging and texting are contributing to the destruction of language skills among college students. They are also hindering communication skills in the workplace. I have had two staff members (out 22), in the last year that received verbal warnings and low assessments because of their written communication skills. On closer examination I realized that their writing skills were lacking in similar ways. I questioned them individually about their use of texting. They were both heavy users of texting and the likes. Sadly, one of them was a business major. He should have know how to write a proper business letter.

  • Ddrhl

    It’s not technology as much as it’s allowing for excuses such as “it’s good enough,” “you know what I mean,” “I’ll have a secretary,” “it’s not important,” or even “it’s the same thing.” The language (oral or written) you use must match the situation in order to be clearly conveyed. I teach math at a community college and all e-interactions with my students must be in formal written English. All verbal communications in my classes are with proper grammar. All written information requires proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and terminology. All diagramming requires using the proper tools. Anyone who allows less than one’s best from others will get just that…less than one’s best. Now multiply that by the number of times we communicate!

  • Audrey

    As a college teacher, I do not see a difference between my technology-dependent (even addicted) students and others in regard to writing skills. Some are excellent; some are awful; most are in-between. I will admit that good writing has become increasingly rare, but I saw that decline way before Twitter and texting, so I have to conclude it has more to do with what students are taught earlier in school and the performance standards they are expected to meet. Students who text and twitter are very capable of shifting gears and writing excellent research papers, essays and lab reports. What I do find, however, in my heavy texters is an astonishing self-centeredness. Grades, assignments, and standards are all considered negotiable. And “working really hard” in a class consists of occasional attendance and reading maybe a third of what is required – more than that simply intrudes too much on text and twitter time. The idea that a student’s uninformed opinion is of equal or greater value than any information to be found in a journal or text seems to be a somewhat dysfunctional side of Twitter. Students with a good sense of balance don’t have these problems. They can effectively use the technologies without shutting off other kinds of social and intellectual development.

  • http://HigherEdMorning Juan Sandoval

    I have worked at a university for the last 32 years and I find it shameful that that most of our students cannot write. I edit, as a favor to some students, thesis and dissertations and find that even those who are doctoral candidates experience difficulty. Many insitutions of higher learning have had to establish remedial programs. At our “writing center,” students mostly go to have their papers revised–it takes too long to try to teach them what they should have already learned!
    What are our students learning in elementary schools? Even in high school, few become accomplished writers. We are graduating a whole generation of students who can’t write a coherent letter of application or an office memo. Also, students spend so much time on their computers and never take time to read books. Education is in a sorry state and it appears that we are only here to produce semi-literate employees for corporate america.

  • mark savvy

    I agree one hundred %. Soon we will have fat fingers and small brains.


    Yes, welcome to the destruction of the English Language. This innocent act of using improper English, consequently, is bound to become a bad habit. I’m a grad student who has personally witnessed students using IM, Texting, and Community Website (Twitter, Facebook) jargon in their Gordon Rule college level papers. To add insult to injury, they constantly have to be reminded not to use short-hand words or face academic consequences. I do believe that we shouldn’t base language skills on electronic and verbal casual conversation, but when incidences like this one in where their education is jeopardized then we should pay close attention to how modern technology is affecting language and communication skills overall. These habits are being instilled in out youth and will perpetuate simply out of habit.

  • barb451

    The college students I am familiar with already had a serious deficiency is spelling before Twitter was invented.

  • JKH

    This is a very interesting topic and I was flabbergasted at the fact that Matt is correct- it took me only a few extra seconds to read the post that he wrote in what looks like gibberish! I think in a formal paper setting that grammar is indeed important but as some have pointed out this about connection and socializing for this generation. The point about short-hand is also appropriate- I took short-hand and couldn’t write OR read any of this now (except maybe my own name which gets back to that “I” stuff in Twittering).

  • Marco Orozco

    I do not believe that text or twitter have to do with any English problems. I have just finished with my studies at college and no one talks like how they text or tweet. There have been English grammar problems way before cell phones and internet from what I remember growing up and there was always people commenting about it either blaming music or any other trend. The language of text and tweets are just slang for people to get their point across in the limited space they are given.

  • Craig Jones

    You can destroy grammar. Although the ability to speak grammatical sentences is probably genetic, the grammar sppken is entirely learned. In English the subject usually occurs first in a sentence, but in Welsh the first word is typically a verb (you can put the subject first but a special form of the verb to be is needed). So word order is not genetic. In English the spelling of a word is not affected by its grammatical context, but in Welsh it is (my dog, your dog, her dog, and our dog are fy nghi, dy gi, ei chi, and ni ci). So spelling is not genetic. In English pronouns do not decline, but in Welsh they do (on John, on me on you, on her are ar John, arna i, arnat ti, arni hi). So declention is not genetic. And, arna i is spelled correctly, so capitalization is not genetic either. This only scratches the grammatical differences between English and Welsh, but my point should be made.

    Students who cannot spell have reading difficulties. The fact that already skilled readers can decode scrambled words quickly says nothing about the problems of poor readers.

    Nevertheless, the problem is not with Twitter. The problem is with students not being taught when and how to use standard English.

  • dennis

    who give a rats a__ . Its not like talking to some one its text and the faster some one understands what your saying the better.

  • James Batchelder

    What you wrote is very intriguing, but the point here is not whether or not we can understand the message or not. I believe it is how we present ourselves. I am afraid that we are completely losing respect, professionalism, and decorum as a society. I understood everything you wrote, but if you had sent me a letter or email written that way, I would either question your intellect, your opinion of the institution I represent, or your respect of me. I have difficulty with spelling so I am diligent in proofing what I write. I also hope that my spoken communication is grammatically correct; I just do not have to worry about the spelling when I am speaking.

  • kevin

    Here are a few issues: Unlike Twitter/email/text when a person was using short hand it was a person trained in that form of communication as a professional.

    Also, the example of the telegraph is horrible. Telegraph was limited in its use and not available to every person, or used by so many, as is Twitter/email/text.

    I am also a college instructor and I see Twitter/email/text style spelling in papers turned in now that i did not see even 5-10 year ago.

  • Karin

    Absolutely. I saw it in the grad course I taught recently. Students used poor grammar, spelling and punctuation even in formal papers being turned in for a graduate library course. Not only do these things make you look uneducated, but they also make it harder for other people to read, as they have to take time to translate what you WROTE into what you MEANT. Poor grammar and spelling is also a significant barrier to communication at the most basic level. I don’t really want those reading what I write to be trying to second-guess what I meant to say — I want it to be utterly clear.

    As an employer, incorrect grammar and spelling in a cover letter or resume are an automatic disqualification, as they show a lack of attention to detail, general sloppiness and lack of professionalism. If a person is seeking a job and can’t be bothered to proof his or her cover letter, then that shows lack of respect for the recipient and a lack of seriousness about wanting to work at Ithaca College.

    I absolutely do not agree that “quick spelling” indicates a flexible mind and the person would do well in the workforce. It indicate sloppiness, impatience and lack of concern for clear communication — and good communication skills are vital for almost every job. I would not want to hire such a person.

  • Karin

    P.S. If I had a red pen to note all the grammar and spelling mistakes just on this page, the discussion would be even more colorful!

  • Frank Mumford

    In my opinion, Twitter is better than listening to most college student’s grammar. They don’t type the word “like” every third or fourth word.

  • Dick Ephgrave

    I read a large number of business plans and resumes in my work. Believe me, the concept of written and verbal literacy has been lost somewhere in our dysfuntional education system.

    Still, I am not convinced that social networking slang is responsible for its demise. I believe the heart of the problem lies in the lack of emphasis being placed on written and verbal skills in most of our school curriculums. The majority of students that I interview today have not lost their literary skills; they never had any to begin with. That cannot reasonably be blamed on Twitter.

  • John B

    Twitter and texting represent the latest incarnation of “Vulgate English” or “written slang”. I do not “Tweet”, and I text infrequently. There’s always been a crossover regarding how we speak versus what we write … rarely does the spoken word achieve the same linquistic clarity as something written (and edited). As long as students are aware that there’s a difference between professional communication and the informal, casual passing of information, I don’t see an issue … at the very least, it should provide English instructors with some long-term job security …

  • SS

    jrb@msu, I understand the concept of varying levels of formality. I would never use texting abbreviations in a letter, and I don’t do so here. But I don’t think a generic request for more information about a university must adhere to as high a level of formality as you do. Did you consider that maybe the expectations differ from school to school and from admissions officer to admissions officer?

  • Paul

    Maybe the “hidden problem” is with people analyzing Twitter and not the people using it.

  • http://www.wbu.edu/academics/divisions/religion_and_philosophy/ David W Howle

    These comments respresent a wonderful diversity of views, many of which are informed. Here are the points that seems most germane:
    1. Since language, written or oral, is about communication, both the writer/speaker and the reader/listener must be able to decipher the code accurately. Would-be twits must learn to read tweets, and the disenfranchised (both real and imagined) will often establish code that resists interpretation by authority figures. Language can serve as a tool for communicating or for cloaking.
    2. Twitter, IM, and, to an extent, texting are most subversive not due to brevity or poor spelling or grammar, but due to their narcissism. The continually self-focused message implies “I don’t really care what you think (about spelling, language, or my thoughts). This message is about me.”
    3. The decline in writing skills is most related to what happens in schools rather than in popular culture.
    4.The English language will continue to survive and evolve because it must.

  • Jess

    Linguistics prof. George Nunnberg says Twitter “may be the could be the greatest thing that’s happened to English since print” because it demands “conciseness.” But have a look at the Oxford report again: the second most-used word in tweets is the most unnecessary in Twitter messages; who else would be sending the message but “I”? College papers are full it, too. “I am of the opinon that…,” “I believe that…” Huh! No kidding [or -- WTF?]. I thought your dog was writing the paper.

  • Karin

    wer can i fine sum mor info on ur school?

    My problem with the sample text is the word “fine.” The other words are obvious abbreviations or common slang — your brain still has to work extra to translate or decode the meaning, but “fine” is not any kind of abbreviation for “find,” and is confusing on the first reading because it is a real word — just not the one intended. Even “sum” makes some sense here despite being a different word than was intended because people have seen this kind of short-hand before. But “fine” makes no sense.

    This was just one small example of why this kind of so-called “communication” actually SLOWS the process down. It puts the burden of communication on the recipient instead of with the person who is trying to communicate, and that is bound to be a problem. Ultimately, it’s lazy, disrespectful and sloppy, as well as a hinderance to communication.

  • Sharon

    Well, SS, here’s the deal. In the real world, judgments are often made about us before we are even seen or talked to. I have worked with admissions at my university before and poor grammar and syntax in admissions essays can say alot about your level of professionalism and gives us insight on your ability to convey a message. Not fair? Maybe not. But, it’s true. How quickly do you think that person would get hired if they applied for a job that way? Twitter, text and instant message on your own time, but know when to turn it off and get professional.

  • Kyla F

    Look at these comments! They are so poorly written. Enough said.

  • hh

    Yes, Twitter, instant messaging, and texting ARE contributing to the destruction of language skills among college students. It is that simple.

  • Joe

    I mean, like, whatever. I mean, like people like twitter or like text and like email and, I mean, they like don’t sound any different from when they like just like, I mean regular talk or something. See what I’m saying?

  • Will

    This is a difficult time for university presses. I am pleased that OUP still makes contributions to the store of human knowledge.

  • Walter

    Yes, it’s definitely contributing to very poor spelling – especially sound-alike words: to, too, two; there, their, they’re; etc… which I’d estimate are misused by some writers close to 100% of the time. Random spelling adds another level of ambiguity and possible misunderstanding. The brevity needed for sites like Twitter, while forcing people to be concise, also contributes to our society’s sound-bite mentality, (or are those bird bites?)

  • Ross Jacobs

    I have often replied to twitters and text messages with “?, Please resend your message with clear english spellings, so I may understand.”. We do not have to accept these messages in such abreviated formats just because they are initially sent that way. We also have the right to ask others to address us in what we feel is a more conducive manner for the matter at hand. It is our fault if we degrade the value of our communications by inappropriately accepting a format of expression from a venue of social networking that has no desire to adhere to those values. Trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Just beacuse these are all digital forms of communication that can converge and be combined -should they be? The rush to harness the latest focusing opportunities in students lives often lends the new connectivity to stretch the depth and discipline of our basic communication structures, yet the fundamentals remain. Communication is occuring – it is our job to set the bar sufficiently high enough, with due dilagence and flexibility to maintain its value as evolution occurs

  • paperevolver

    I’m tired of old people trying to kill things like rap music and newspapers and now the english language. Rap music, newspapers, and language are not dying they are evolving. if u scared go 2 chuuch : )

  • paperevolver

    It’s funny that old people get all nostalgic about the good old days when everyone spoke and wrote perfect english, men opened doors for women, and families went to church twice on sundays. The same ppl that are spelling words wrong on twitter were spelling words wrong before twitter. I’ve been to a real library or 2. I’m done. Thank you, Mr. Belvedere.

  • Lori B

    Think about what the world was like before we had the printing press: everything was conveyed by spoken word or image. After Guttenberg invented the printing press, people were finally able to convey their thoughts in writing that would last for centuries. More and more people learned to read, and in America, we had an age of enlightenment that resulted in scholarly works by writers like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Public discourse – discussion about public life – was at its zenith.

    Today we are sliding back to spoken word, as written phonetically on Twitter, and as images seen on TV. Public discourse is primarily infotainment, and we get our public discourse from talking heads on FOX News and CNN. It’s a lot more than Twitter that’s ruining our language skills.

  • Tom Atkinson

    With trillions of SMS communications last year and the emerging technologies of Twitter, I fail to see any point in discussing this issue. This is merely another form of expression in the evolution of our language and poses no more threat to modern language than the prose of the 16th century. Every generation fears change from the standards to which they are accustomed. The future generations will surely debate the extinction of all written languages in favor of voice messages, which may require the old posture of thinking before we speak. Who knows, at some point oral may become obsolete to reading thoughts. In any case, our attention might be better focused on effective use since education merely reflects society rather than defines it. Ultimately, we can no more control the use of language than the words created to define it.

    For a current article about use of mLearning technologies in the classroom, Google: Pockets of Potential.

  • http://www.jennykoreny.com Jenny Kay

    Twitter is a reflection of the times we live in, an age of rapid speed sharing and receiving of information. Most Twitter guides and blogs about social networking recommend speaking English and not “chat speak.” Most of the users I follow are not the problem, but like most groups there will always be a percentage doing something the academic world deems as less than credible. It is a neutral tool, the user decides how it is best used.

  • Jay

    I don’t even use twitter and I think this article is a waste of time. My true thought is, “Who cares?” Let’s use some common sense. You’re usually tweeting about something YOU did (hence the use of I’s). You only have a 140 character length, hence you shorten works. So what? I must shorten stuff when I text all the time. Big whoop.

  • Joel

    maybe we are learning to communicate more efficiently. Language is a tool, a technology that we have developed to transmit information. I have no problem with it changing as long as it works.

  • Mel—

    Karin – excellent points in your post. People, in general, have become sloppy in their grammar, spelling and speech. I’m not a teacher but work for a large midwest university. I can’t begin to tell you how often I hear such statements as: “We was all going to the movie” and it drives me crazy! They should have learned to say this properly in grammar school, “I was” and “we were”. And how many people don’t know their “there’s”, “theirs” and “they’re” or “your” and “you’re”. In my office and in others I’ve worked for, when you submit a cover letter with your resume, be SURE you’ve checked and rechecked it before submitting it. YOU may not think it makes a difference but WE do and we’re the ones who decide whether or not you’ll be called for an interview. Any letters with obvious grammar or spelling errors are set aside and may or may not be acted upon. Your spelling and grammar will be vitally important when you’re out looking for a good job because it shows a number of characteristics about you: accuracy, editing ability, responsibility (you took the time to check your work before sending the final draft), and even your intelligence is on the line (i.e., we wonder if you really don’t know the correct spelling or were you just careless in checking your work?).

    Last but not least, please, please, PLEASE do NOT text while you’re driving! No matter how good of a driver you THINK you are, there’s no excuse this insanity. Unfortunately, I’m seeing this happening more and more often all the time. Technology can be a great tool – but only if used responsibily.

  • Walter

    Why do people (revolver,tom) assume that any attempts to adhere to standards are an attempt to live in the past? I’ve got no problem with the language evolving. If it didn’t change over time we would be speaking Latin or Old English and wouldn’t be able to speak about modern concepts. But if you want to be able to effectively communicate there has to be some common ground – you can’t just make up your own rules and expect to be understood (or respected).

  • Kimani Trapp

    Change is Inevitable, In order to evolve ,We must be able to teach as well as adapt, Like the quote says”The more things change , the more they stay the same”. For example: In the 60′s the word “MAN” was like a period after every sentence and we are in the year 2009 and you wouldn’t believe that over 100 million people still say “MAN” after a sentence. In the 70′s the African-American Culture made up a lot of words in their own Culture that became known as Slang or S-lang ( short for Street Language) hence the word SLang. Slang was the term that it was called when African-Americans spoke their own created language of American Culture in the Ghettos and Projects in the 70′s and 80′s and it’s so funny How in the 90′s they termed this same language Ebonics (Ebony meaning black and nics short for phonetics). This word Ebonics was created to seperate African -American Slang from other Cultural slang. The African-American culture has been more disected than a frog in a science class. I love the change of Language whether it be from the urban areas or the suburban areas, It represents the Generations and when you look back at history there is a story to tell and we should all appreciate that this takes place because if it didn’t ,imagine How boring this world would be, kind of like a Dictatorship… which the world is not to far from, but that’s a whole other story.

  • http://www.lcc.edu Gordon

    Petrty Naet. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulacity uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae teh huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas thuohgt slpelnig was ipnorantt!

  • Chuck West

    Sasha, grammar is not “inborn.” Grammar is learned orally by a young age, and the grammatical structure of any language can deteriorate in the mouths of the uneducated. Also, spelling is not essential?! WHAT!? I teach English in a university and a community college. You bet e-mail, IM Chat, text messaging, and now twitter are all contributing to a decline in the writing, and hence communication skills, of America’s witless young. And some of the witless older people as well. Thank god for the MLA who preserve the grammatical and spelling integrity of the English language.

  • Linwood

    The decline of written English in America predates Twitter. It is faulty logic to compare a static sample of Twitter correspondences with normal written English and then conclude that Twitter is the culprit of this decline.

    Proper written English is but one tool for communication. The beauty and strength of English lie in its malleability. Twitter is one example of how English can be shaped and caressed into a new form of communication. Twitter does not compete with standard written English; it complements it.

    Many who hold most tightly to proper English grammar do so because they have nothing of substance to hold or communicate.

  • Karin

    Chuck West makes an excellent point — the critical point is that we are seeing a decline in the ability to communicate. If the person reading what you wrote can’t be sure what you meant, or misunderstands what you wrote because you were sloppy and used the wrong words, incorrect spelling or cryptic abbreviations, then you have FAILED to communicate.

    If you were a person of importance, like the President of a country, or head of a large corporation, being misunderstood could lead to a major disaster. On an ordinary person level, you can still cause much trouble and grief in your life and the lives of others if you don’t communicate clearly.

    It isn’t a matter of being “old,” hung-up or living in the past. It’s a matter of caring about being clear in your meaning.

    I think the sloppy writing goes hand-in-hand with sloppy thinking. I can’t tell you how many people have attention spans no greater than a gnat’s. If you haven’t the patience to read a complex essay, think about it and understand the ramifications — you can’t really understand our complex world. How can you make informed decisions when you vote, for example, if you don’t understand the issues with any more depth than a sound-byte (or some people write sound-bite)?

    We have been conditioned to have no ability to defer gratification — we are trained to need instant gratification, to have no patience, no focus, no discipline for concentration and deep thinking. It’s scary to think of the fate of the world in the hands of people who cannot and/or will not take the time to think things through and to communicate clearly.

  • http://wheatdesign.com wheat

    Twitter is just one more mode by which people can display their inarticulateness. Some people use it very wittily, but it’s mostly just play-by-play updates that are of vague interest, like snippets of conversation overheard in a convenience store.

    I thought this comment on the post was instructive “Did the abbreviated wording used in telegrams destroy the English language? I don’t think so. Neither will Twitter, or texting in general – as long as schools continue to stress good language skills in the classroom.” Language is contextual, after all. There’s a time and a place for formality and informality when it comes to language use. The problem is, most of the kids I teach only have access to one mode: they write like they speak, and they don’t speak well.

  • Chuck West

    Karin, thank you, and you extend my point about clear communication in a very strong and coherent way. YES, sloppy writing IS a symptom of sloppy thinking. But, in 2000 this country elected a man to the presidential office who was a sloppy thinker, a sloppy communicator, who could not use logic, and who made poor decisions, which to me is a symptom of the way the majority of the voting public at that time conducted their own thinking, writing, and logical conclusions (or illogical). I also teach a bevy of students who write the way they talk and don’t see the need to discriminate between formal and informal or semi-formal communication. Hopefully, they’ll learn this in the workplace. But judging from the communication skills of several young employees I have encountered recently, it appears they may not.

    As for Linwood’s comment that “Many who hold most tightly to proper English grammar do so because they have nothing of substance to hold or communicate,” GIVE ME A BREAK! Someone has to gaurd the integrity of malleable systems from the thoughtless mangling of the ignorant masses. I agree that English is flexible, adaptable, and a wonderfully sentient language. Let’s don’t sit back and watch it go entirely to hell. There IS a historical reason to spell “through” rather than “thru”!!

  • Texas DJ

    To slang or not to slang…that is NOT the question.

    My concern leans less toward the break down, or disintegration of language (written or oral), but more towards the notion that the texting/twitting generation won’t make crucial distinctions of “when” which type of communication is appropriate to the audience or venue. I have actually been present in an interview where the person being interviewed turned to her interviewers as she was exiting the room and stated: “TTFN”. This is economically detrimental to this individual’s personal success and economic well being (because she did not get the job for which she may have been equally qualified as another individual who knew enough to not speak “text” to a room full of University Deans). Which on a larger scale will ultimately determine successes & failures in and of a global market economy (and GNP) that this individual must participate in.

    Another instance comes from my wife’s place of employment where they write extremely high-value insurance policies dealing with millions of dollars every hour…my implication being that clear & concise exchanging of information between employees and other offices in other states is critical in order to not waste corporate time, or your client’s money. Yet this does not seem to deter some members of the e-generation from emailing other corporate-type folks who may be in their 40′s & 50′s, statements (if you can really call it that) such as: “AFK”. I am, and have been, a network administrator for 20 years and even *I* didn’t know that “AFK” is online gaming terminology for “Away from keyboard”. This person has been warned about the inappropriateness of these types of communications skills in the workplace, but she persists in a manner that one is inclined to interpret as she believes that “she can’t help it”…which of course is complete B.S. (imho).

    Cute & catchy? Are you “in with the in-crowd”? Yes. Appropriate to the audience or venue? Not even in the ballpark, and you don’t even know it. Is it going to move you, your job and your economy (personal as well as nationwide) forward? Doubtful. Might it deter those efforts? It already has, at least in the two aforementioned examples. Want another?

    Do you remember the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team showing up at the White House to meet then-President Bush…and three-quarters of them were wearing flip-flops? Same evolution. Little or no concept of audience or venue appropriateness is becoming common-place, yet not “accepted” by most upper echelons of society. I for one, believe that this behavior will have longer-term and almost imperceptible consequences for the economic well being of the younger and future generations of this country if they are largely unable to make these critical distinctions.

    Just my 2 cents.

    And oh!…BTW…the TTFN gal was also wearing flip-flops!

  • Randall

    As you read through these comments, do you find yourself evaluating the message based on the manner in which it is presented? A number of comments touch on this, but it may be worth repeating. Getting your message across effectively depends a lot on your audience’s opinion of YOU. The fact that “Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy” is readable, regardless of the spelling jumble, misses the point. By the time you have read three or four words of such a post, you probably have already decided “this guy’s an idiot!” and you cease to care about the content of the message; you have written off the sender and their opinion.

    You probably quickly arrive at a decision on the worthiness of a writer’s point of view based on how thoroughly they butcher their spelling, word choices and grammar. If you have come this far in this current long list of comments, you undoubtedly have weighed many on the usage scale and found their opinions, and possibly their writers, lightweight. Maybe in a Twitter environment, wherein the informal “all about me” between friends condones shortcuts, it is acceptable. Just about everywhere else where the written word is used to educate, inform, motivate or persuade, successful communication requires a higher standard. The educator who understands this will provide an invaluable service to students.

  • Karin

    Good concrete examples, Texas!

  • Gene

    The casualty isn’t writing skill, but intellectual focus. Twitter is just the latest invitation to fragment one’s attention to the extent that careful thought becomes physiologically impossible.

  • Walter

    Randall – funny you mention that. I get hundreds of email messages at my job each day. The quickest way for me to sort SPAM from legitimate messages at a glance is poor grammar and spelling. They get deleted without a glance. When I read a blog and the person trying to communicate can’t spell, write a coherent sentence, or go four words without a profanity, the content of their message is lost, as it their argument.

    As a personal peeve, people like Chuck above also kill their argument when they can’t help but tie every discussion to their personal politics: blame the president, blame the Jews, blame global warming. Please, if your argument was stronger (either argument) you wouldn’t have to try to bundle them together like sticks. Rather than making your argument stronger it just muddles and sidetracks the discussion.

  • http://jsclark.net J.S. Clark

    OMG LOL texting is destroying English? #fail

  • Chuck West

    Walter, apparently you can’t read. I did not “blame” the president. I simply pointed him out as an example of the kind of mental jelly we are debating here. Maybe I’m Republican? How do you know? You don’t, because I did NOT bring in “my politics” nor did I lay “blame.” But you, without reading carefully, or thinking about what I said, jumped to your own foregone conclusion that any time someone mentions GWB s/he is promoting a political agenda, which in my book, puts you in the camp of non-thinking voters.

  • Walter

    No, read it and I understood. You don’t appear to be able to read. The random politics ruined your argument, not helped it.

  • Walter

    Chuck, BTW: I don’t care, nor did I ask, nor make assumptions about your political affiliation. But you were the only person he felt it necessary to mention politics. Your whole post would have been stronger if you had left politics out of it because the debate wasn’t about politics. It only served to weaken your statements. I often see the same “logic” used to inject the other topics I mentioned (they weren’t random) into otherwise unrelated discussions.

    I stand by my statement. Don’t insist on making this personal.

  • Chuck West

    Walter, don’t kid yourself. EVERYTHING is political, especially language and how it is used. However, if you choose to see the inclusion of a politician as an example as a political statement, then you are in large company. I won’t say good company, but certainly large company. Still, I should hark to the first rule of communication, which brings us back to the debate at hand: It’s not the intended message that is the message; it is the received message that is the message. It doesn’t matter what I intended; all that matters is how you misunderstood it.

  • Chuck West

    Sort of like the recent Sarah Palin-David Letterman debacle.

  • Walter

    If you read my earlier post you’ll see that we appear to be agreeing. It wasn’t the inclusion of a politician, it was the inclusion of your personal opinions about that politician, stated as if they were facts, that made it political and which were out of place. If the kids we were talking about had been old enough to vote for GWB, even that would have made more sense, but 2000? – that’s almost a decade ago. When I reread your post by omitting that rambling, run-on, wholly political sentence it made a stronger statement. Including it was a major distraction to me, (that should be obvious by now) because I see bundled arguments like that all too often, and I have yet to see it do anything but weaken all of the individual statements. You’d have gotten the same reaction if you’d mentioned Bush Sr, Clinton (either one), or Obama in that context.

    I’m glad you got my point – just like the kids who insist on using Valley-speak, or text-speak, or profanity when it isn’t appropriate, I was distracted by your inclusion of politics in a discussion which had, until then, been delightfully party neutral and politics free.

  • Walter

    And isn’t it clever how we brought the discussion back on topic.

  • http://wheatdesign.com wheat

    “Ctonrary to puopalr oinpoin, crocert seplilng is otefn uncasrneesy in odrer to dihcepr manenig. Werid!” And if the only purpose of language were to be a “meaning container,” this would be a valid point. But besides the aesthetics of a well-constructed sentence, there is a rhetorical function to language that is, at times, quite apart from its literal meaning. In most contexts, if you were to submit a sentence like the one above, your intelligence or sanity would be called into question. Any wrench will turn a bolt, but there’s a continuum of quality in wrenches, which is why people who turn lots of bolts invest in better ones. Feel free to extend that metaphor.

    To the Walter/Chuck debacle, I’d say that trying to create politics-free discussions (or even believing that such things are truly possible) is a particular political position. I think that Chuck’s mention of the former president’s lack of linguistic skill–if it was that, and not simply a clever rhetorical move–is relevant, if only tangentially, to the topic under discussion. But, as I read it, I knew he would probably catch flack for it. And, when you’re trying to convince other people of your point, handing them ammunition to fire back at you isn’t often a wise rhetorical maneuver. In short, there’s some truth to what each of them has put forth. And I’ll back away from that now, lest I draw some fire myself.

  • biggreenpea

    I hope we, as a society, keep looking at this issue as I am of the opinion it will have an effect on language and communication. But the issue will be more about the effects of our younger generations, not so much those in college or adults with a solid language base before using these technologies. These technologies lend themselves to poor spelling and laziness, and this is what people seem to be justifying…their right to be lazy in their use of language if they want. But how technology shapes our children’s brains and how they learn, how they learn to express themselves and what they are able to discuss is where we should be focusing. Contemplate 1984 and newspeak for a bit…what is the point of newspeak? Consider too the current state of awareness in America as effected by such things as right wing radio and FOX news. The question is, will people have the ability to critically assess what they are being told. Will these next generations have the skills in large enough numbers to overcome the degenerative effects of sound bite communication trends. Don’t we already lament the need for political figures to say what they need to say in as short and uncomplicated a way as possible to fit the news feed?

  • YZP

    Yes, Twitterease, is a mutilation of the English language. Isn’t it enough that the “British and the Americans are separated by a common language” (W. Churchill)? I wonder whether we should starrt calling the Twitters, the nation of TWITS or may be partial wit? When would you guys apply for UN membership??

  • YZP

    Yes, Twitterease, is a mutilation of the English language. Isn’t it enough that the “British and the Americans are separated by a common language” (W. Churchill)? I wonder whether we should starrt calling the Twitters, the nation of TWITS or may be partial wit? When would you guys apply for UN membership?? Seriouslly, What is the rush??

  • Karin

    Bingo, Gene — the fragmentation of attention is a key issue. Because we are immersed in an environment full of distractions and marketing ploys to grab our attention and pull it in all directions at once, we lose the ability to focus deeply on anything. Instead, our minds flit from one thing to the next like a butterfly across the blooms, all surface, no depth.

    At the same time, we live in an incredibly complex world which requires seriously deep investigation and thought to understand even a portion of it, while our attention spans for comprehension are being atrophied from without.

    Twitter is just one of many outward signs of this internal disintegration. Like any tool, it has potentially positive uses. But overall, it is another venue for people to condition themselves to shortening their attention spans even faster.

  • Karin

    biggreenpea has it right also.

  • http://www.jennykoreny.com Jen Kay

    Too bad these comments weren’t all 140 characters, then I’d have time to read everyone’s argument.

  • http://www.mdc.edu Peter

    What many people miss is that college students do not possess the basic English language skills to know the difference between text writing and college level composition. I deal with it daily.
    Learning the rules to break them is fine; not knowing the basics is an educational fraud, an unacceptable bridge to stupidity. Just ask basic grammar school questions on language and see the results of what is not being taught. Remember dates, places, and facts? Who needs them when one can google? But who is the googleman, and is his truth true?
    Twitter and text: a tool for some, one more companion for others on the road to ignorance

  • Kathyp

    It is sad to read so many comments with grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors. Unfortunately, casual language is used too often when students write formal papers. This is a nightmare for those of us who have to read and grade these papers!

  • peggy britt

    WOW!! Who knew? Well, I must say, I had a clue when (1) I watched them start to teach reading WITHOUT fundamental phonics , which not only helps with reading but adds a set of attack skills for words unfamiliar to the reader and (2) a horrible practice called “inventive spelling”? To use a very appropo colloquialism “What da wurl!” Why not just learn to spell it correctly the first time? And why no more spelling tests? It’s not surprising that this educational dumbing down, wittingly or unwittingly, has given thrust to this sub-language. Do I use it? Yes! But I’m glad I went to elementary school at a time that at least I can tell that it IS a sub-language.

  • Mary B

    In response to Sasha Sidorkin–

    You don’t think a social life composed of 15-word utterances is deleterious to the arts of oral communication? Do you hold conversations in which everything you say can be said in 15 words or less? Do you write e-mail like that to your friends? I can hardly believe it, but if it’s really true I can only imagine that you are a dramatically visual person who communicates mainly through body language and enjoys the stimulation of painting, silent film, and/or instrumental music. Because no one could enjoy a conversation chopped into 15 word sections. Try writing one as a creative writing assignment! Than look at your response here again.

  • Mary

    Students cannot spell, write, or think. “Cannot” is one word, by the way. What is a major sentence error? Oh, you don’t know, do you? A comma splice is one of the major sentence errors. Now write a sentence with a major sentence error. Don’t be an idiot. Who would hire you anyway.

  • http://www.higheredmorning.com/is-twitter-harming-the-english-language Betty L

    We all know what NCLB stands for, don’t we?

  • Texas DJ

    Okay…I’ll bite. What does NCLB stand for?

  • Betty L

    I wasn’t trying to be cryptic or rude; I was just trying to avoid launching into a tirade about how the current educational system is more and more removing any emphasis on developing children’s analytic and reasoning skills in favor of memorization and recitation. NCLB stands for No Child Left Behind. The lack of free thinking and reasoning skills is showing up more and more to the point that one can see it in students at the college level.

  • Harmonia

    Just knowing that Twitter exists has messed up my English but good!

  • Harmonia

    People who “twitter” are twits, isn’t that obvious?

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  • Marg

    Is the English Language a skill or an art? Isn’t art determined by the artist?

  • paradox

    For all those who are are commenting against these technologies, why are you using them to comment on how much you hate ithem?

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  • http://tweeplotto.com Mike G

    I think Twitter is definitely affecting the English language. But people were already having problems before with text messages.


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