The benefits of chatspeak

When it comes to the brave new world of interpersonal communications via electronic networks, I believe I do quite well for a man who is…how can I put this delicately…no longer teenaged. Or twenty-something. Or thirty-something.

Or, as of this summer, even forty-something.

Despite my advancing years, however, I am still a with-it and happening dude. Not only do I, as you can see, have a firm grasp on the very latest hip-hop jive talk the young folks use, but I do all of the following, dear reader: Tweet, blog, podcast, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Flickr. (I used to MySpace, but I gave it up.)

I do not, however, chat, IM, or text.

It will come as no shock to anyone who has spent any time around teenagers recently, however, that teenagers do. Some of them, it seems, constantly.

As is traditional with something new and different that the kids are doing, this has raised alarm in Certain Quarters. Texting, you see, is not done in rounded, sonorous sentences like those I endeavour to produce for you, my dear readers, on a weekly basis. Instead, many abbreviations are used.

AFAICT, ATYS N English can be said much shorter in IMglish. (As far as I can tell, anything you say in English can be said much shorter in IMglish.)

(And, yes, I did use an online IMglish dictionary to write that last sentence, TYFM [Thank You Very Much].)

The peculiar fact that many letters in English sound like words in English is also made much use of. “CU later!” (Or, taking advantage of the fact that some numbers can double as syllables, “CU L8R!”)

“Surely such shortcuts must be negatively impacting students’ ability to spell full words!” worried teachers and parents have cried.

To which researchers at the University of Alberta have now replied, “Eh, not so much. Oh, and don’t call me Shirley.”

In fact, a study recently published in the journal Reading and Writing, proposed and designed by a group of third-year psychology students led by study author Connie Varnhagen, found that using the “language variations” of chatspeak is actually good for kids.

The researchers surveyed around 40 students, aged 12 to 17, who were asked to save their instant messages for a week. At the end of the study, the participants were given a standardized spelling test.

The researchers’ expectation was that there would a correlation between poor spelling and use of chatspeak. Instead, they discovered that good regular spellers were also good instant messaging spellers—while kids who were poor spellers in class were also poor spellers in chatspeak.

Some other interesting results came out of the study. They found girls use more chatspeak than boys; boys preferred to “express themselves through repeated use of punctuation”!!!!!! If you can believe it!!!!!

Boys who used chatspeak and abbreviations more frequently were poorer spellers, but girls who used more abbreviations were better spellers than their non-abbreviating ohorts.

Oh, and if you are, say, a third-year university student, and you are laughing at this lame attempt by a Man of a Certain Age to write about something that Only the Young Can Truly Understand, well, note this: Niole Pugh, one of the third-year university students actually conducting the study, said the complexity and volume of chatspeak the 12-to-17-year-olds used was so overwhelming that she and her classmates often had to ask their younger siblings to explain it to them…or even (and this makes me feel particularly vindicated) use online dictionaires to decipher it.

The researchers suggest that in the wake of their study, perhaps teachers should be more open to letting kids use chatspeak in the classroom, perhaps even letting them “create instant messages with ideas, maybe allow them opportunities to use more of this new dialect in brief reports or fun activities,” Varnhagen says. “Using a new type of language does require concentration and translating it to standard English does require concentration and attention. It’s a little brain workout.”

Or, as the kids like to text, a LBW.*

*OK, I made that one up.

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