New tech = New lit: Deconstructing the sms-ay

27 07 2009

First week of university down. It looks like they might actually try to teach me something.

One of the units I’m taking is Multiliteracy in Middle Years. It involves identify and using different text types (in the classroom), and identify and also teaching your students which grammar is suited to the textual style. To explain the latter, the lecturer gave us this example – it’s the first few lines of what a 13 year old UK student submitted when asked to write an essay about what they did last holidays:

My smmr hols wr CWOT B4, we usd 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY. it’s a gr8 plc.

Anyone … ? I think she* visited Kuwait or something.

Some of you are probably smacking your heads in disbelief at that little effort. Grammar Nazis are possibly having fits. It is not even consistent, the writer ignored quite a few punctuation points and vowels, but then decides that an apostrophe for “it’s a gr8 place” is deserved (correctly).

What should a teacher do when confronted with this?

Should they tell the student it’s wrong and do it over? Should they punish the student? Should they suggest the student go to remedial English? Should they chat with the child’s parents?

News reports have been popping out for a while now that show that texting is not a barrier to literacy levels, possibly the opposite. Being able to transform language into different layers of complexity – acronyms, abbreviations, code (numbers for words) – actually shows a sophisticated understanding of the English language. Assuming the story continued and actually explained what they did last summer, all the student has done here is shown an inability to identify and use the correct grammar suited to the prose (an essay).

If texting on your mobile, this style may be completely acceptable. With new technology and times, come new forms of literacy – and that’s not a bad thing. It’s worth considering that this form of literacy may be even more relevant to ordinary people these days than Elizabethean couplets. But neither are suited for an essay.

Now while you might tell the student it is wrong not appropriate language to be using and ask them to do it again (I wouldn’t do any of the other stuff for a first time) – they more important responses are probably making sure they actually have the skills to complete the task you set in the first (what is an essay?) and why the language they used was not appropriate for that style (rather than using the “w” word).

Now, not to blow my own horn, but I did much better than a lot of my classmates at being able to understand this (being a graduate diploma the median age is a bit higher than an undergraduate course) – but there is a still a few bits I had no idea (CWOT??).

The completely expanded text:

My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend, and their three screaming kids.I love New York. It is a great place.

For those of you who are interested, you can find the complete “sms-ay” in this article (which considers “&” as text speak to place in its glossary), or on this message board – note how the OP (original poster) describes it as “language rape”, contrast that to the interpretation I provide above about sophiticated layering of textual transformation.

*Interesting self observation, why do I automatically assume a girl wrote this?

Image credit: “Pls Optus” by aagius. (Creative Commons – ByNC-A-ND)




3 responses

29 07 2009
A Free Man

I’m the grammar Nazi of which you speak and I think the kid should have been soundly beaten.

I’m only half kidding.

30 07 2009

I’ve gotta say I did inside gasp and laugh out loud at this when it came up on the lecture screen.

But I think the point I got out of this was that there is a difference between a child who is confident and can manipulate language in different ways – and one who simply hasn’t learned to spell. Both have problems that need attention, but you have to recognize the problem at hand if you want to plan appropriate action.

30 08 2009
What does a (good) maths teacher teach? « It’s Alive!!

[…] The other core subject I’m doing this semester: Math […]

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