Effects of Netspeak and CMC on Language and Literacy

Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years to determine whether frequent use of netspeak and CMC platforms affects literacy or language skills in young people, and the results thus far have been mixed. In a study on netspeak use on instant messaging platforms and spelling ability for a diverse group of adolescents, no detrimental effects were found besides occasional typos and misspellings; in addition, the subjects never misspelled any of the netspeak-specific vocabulary, indicating that young people are learning correct spellings for a new style of language without any conventional instruction (much to the chagrin of Thamus) (Varnhagen et. al. 2009). In a 2008 study focusing on texting’s effects on literacy for children between 10-12, any associations between the two were “either positive or non-significant”, and the relationships in the non-significant pairings “were in the direction of a positive relationship between texting and school writing outcomes” (Plester et. al.).

The struggle to find a tenuous connection between language abilities and CMC use is likely due to there being multiple factors contributing to the development (or decline) of linguistic skills rather than one specific type of CMC; the amount of time that participants spend online needs to be taken into account in future studies, as does the age when young people begin to regularly use these technologies (Thurlow 2006). While it is true that heavy use of the more informal CMC platforms during a child’s early educational years could negatively affect standard language development, social skills and cognitive abilities, the exact same claim can be made towards television or other communicative technologies. This problem is not unique to netspeak and CMC platforms; by substituting large quantities of time that a child would spend learning through traditional means (read: at school or reading/writing at home) with hours spent in a single place or with a single device, it seems painfully obvious that this could potentially harm their learning process. The problem appears to stem from the lack of established norms for “healthy” amounts of time to spend with these technologies, not from any inherently detrimental qualities about them or the language styles used while communicating them.

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