Texting: A New Register or Style in the L2 Curriculum?

Bonnie Reimer

The blog is somewhat related to the interesting perspective Melissa brought to texting last week.  Since I have some slightly different issues and perspectives to share, I thought it would be better to post a new blog rather than comment.

A couple years ago, I was teaching paragraph writing to a low intermediate ESL class of adult newcomers from various countries. One of the students, who had been in Canada almost a year, had recently started the level and was just beginning to write compound sentences, so his assignment was to write a paragraph of about 75-100 words incorporating both simple and compound sentences. At the time, we had not covered register or style, but I was still quite taken aback when this Afghani male in his 30s emailed me the paragraph completely in textese, some of which I could not decipher. This learner was able to clearly read the paragraph to me though he had difficulty expressing his writing in a more formal style. This was the first and only time I had received a writing sample in textese although I occasionally receive writing with abbreviations and symbols. I had hoped to get some input from my colleagues, but this had never happened in any of their classes.

Discussing style and Giles’s accommodation theory, Van Herk (2012) does not mention writing, but I assume the theory could relate to knowing your audience in the sense of writing. Thus, did my student assume I would understand textese or did he not understand that this was an inappropriate style for his teacher or an assigned paragraph? Perhaps, this was the only type of writing he had done in English within his “community of practice.” If so, how did he learn it? More importantly, if this is the type of writing he and other second language (L2) learners need to communicate within their community, should texting be part of the L2 curriculum?

I did a preliminary search on linguistic databases; however, I could find little research on teaching texting in the classroom. Most of the research related to the effects of texting in the classroom (Dansieh, 2011; Irina, 2012; Wagner-Loera, 2016) or using texting as a tool to teach (Lopez Rua, 2007).  On the other hand, there was an article discussing how teachers might use texting to create English puns (Lems, 2013) and a quick Google search offers many published lesson plans. Obviously, texting is being taught in some classes even though there seems to be little research to back it, so what is the rationale? There is no doubt that many teenagers all over the world text in their respective languages. This phenomenon seems to be partly replacing emailing, which is a form of writing often covered in L2 curricula, in which different writing registers and styles are covered. Stockwell (2007) broadly describes register as “a sort of social genre of linguistic usage” (p. 9). He further explains that changing the mode of an interaction also changes the register, where mode would refer to the spoken, written or emailed medium of communication. On the other hand, style refers to the level of formality (Stockwell, 2007; Van Herk, 2012). This leads to my final question: is texting a register, mode, style or something else?

References

Dansieh, S. A. (2011). SMS texting and its potential impacts on students’ written communication skills. International Journal of English Linguistics, 1(2), 222-229.

Irina, A. (2011, August 31-September 11). A cell phone in the classroom: A friend or a foe? Paper presented at  the European Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL).

Lems, K. (2013). Laughing all the way: Teaching english using puns. English Teaching Forum, 51(1), 26-33.

Lopez Rua, P. (2007). Teaching L2 vocabulary through SMS language: Some didactic guidelines. Estudios De Linguistica Inglesa Aplicada (ELIA), 7, 165-188.

Stockwell, P. (2007). Sociolinguistics: A resource book for students (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Van Herk, G. (2012). What is sociolinguistics? Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Wagner-Loera, D. (2016). The effects of texting and electronic language-switching on english as a second language (ESL) students’ performance and cognitive load: Side effects of mobile assisted language learning (MALL) (Order No. 10133396). Retrieved  from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

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5 thoughts on “Texting: A New Register or Style in the L2 Curriculum?”

  1. Hi Bonnie,

    I would like to categorize such stylistic texting into style because of the social meanings included here. As you assumed, they even use such language variant even in writings which are handed into teachers. This means the formality does not change in accordance with the social setting, so texting does not belong to register. I don’t think it should be classified as mode either, since mode, in my view, is related to the tone to a larger extent. “Speakers” in texting do not have an intention to reach any other literary purpose other than communicate the meaning to each other. Thus, I prefer to put it as a style. Besides, texting reflects features of a particular group, making them more qualified as a style.

    Liting Liu

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  2. Hi Liting,

    Thanks for your comments. You make a valid argument for style, but I wonder if some learners use texting language in formal situations because they do not understand or have not learned different levels of formality, which depends on the audience.

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  3. Thank you for a thought-provoking post, Bonnie! I find your example of an entire paragraph given in text speak quite interesting, particularly given his age. I have a Mexican friend who is was a teenager when we started talking online, and she would tax the limits of my Spanish comprehension by sending all of her messages in “texting Spanish” (this was actually the inspiration of my previous post). There, I would attribute it to age and context, but it surprises me that an adult would not have a stronger sense of when it’s appropriate/inappropriate to use “textese.” For that reason, I am inclined to suspect that perhaps that was simply all he had command of. At the same time, it seems to me (given the experience I just mentioned) that it would be quite difficult to learn text talk without some sort of prior knowledge of more formal writing. On the other hand, if most or all of his previous experience was gained through communicative contact rather than in a classroom, perhaps text speak would be all he had. Text lingo really is an interesting phenomenon!

    Melissa

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  4. This post is really interesting to me because I have had similar experiences with my students when I was teaching in China. When I was teaching my students a unit about emails and business letters, my students had posed the question of why is it even important to learn how to write letters. This was really surprising to me because I had always written letters and learning how to write letters teaches students how to write in a formal way. Over the course of the next few weeks, students sent in assignments with abbreviations, slang terms, and I even received some letters that have been written in a “texting” style.

    This got me thinking about how modern times have really changed our next generation and I feel that this is an important topic to have in the L2 curriculum as we need to acknowledge these changes. Not only would it attract the interest of students, it would also give teachers a chance of shaping this modern form of communication into a formal method of writing in the classroom. What I mean by this is that texting is a very engrained method of communication in our everyday lives. Just recently, I was shocked when educational companies (of which I was applying to), requested to communicate with me through Skype and texting. I have been communicating with my bosses through texting and it’s a very strange phenomenon because I often consider texting very informal and I have not been taught how to be formal through texting.

    This is why I see teaching about “texting” is very important today because these communication methods are being used in different everyday situations and in accepting this truth, we could assist students in benefitting from this trend. I don’t believe that we should promote texting as a proper or academic form of writing, but rather highlight how students can text appropriately in situations that require it and identify the rights and wrongs of texting. The reason why I also insist on teaching texting to L2 students is because it’s a completely different language used among the younger generation. Showing L2 students the proper ways of using texting in different situations and teaching the writing style would help them understand certain English phrases that are mainly used in the style.

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