Thursday, May 15, 2008

SMS not bad grammar but linguistic renaissance: Study

Parents need not worry - a new study contends that SMSes and online chats actually help teens hone their linguistic abilities, rather than degrade them.

Parental worry has stemmed from the lack of grammar and the extensive use of often-unintelligible abbreviations like LOL, OMG and TTYL in SMSes - also known as instant messaging (IM).

But the study has concluded that IM represents ''an expansive new linguistic renaissance'' being evolved by GenNext kids.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have pointed out that teenagers risk familial censure and ridicule of friends if they use slang. But IM allows them to deploy a ''robust mix'' of colloquial and formal language.

They based their conclusions on an analysis of more than a million words of IM communications and a quarter of a million spoken words produced by 72 people aged between 15 and 20.

The researchers have argued that far from ruining teenagers' ability to communicate, IM lets teenagers show off what they can do with language.

''IM is interactive discourse among friends that is conducive to informal language,'' said Derek Denis, co-author of the study, ''but at the same time, it is a written interface which tends to be more formal than speech''.

They found that although IM shared some of the patterns used in speech, its vocabulary and grammar tended to be relatively conservative.

For example, when speaking, teenagers are more likely to use the phrase ''He was like, 'What's up?''' than ''He said, 'What's up?''' - but the opposite is true when they are instant messaging. This supports the idea that IM represents a hybrid form of communication.

Nor do teens use abbreviations as much as the stereotype suggests: LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my god) and TTYL (talk to you later) made up just 2.4 percent of the vocabulary of IM conversations - an ''infinitesimally small'' proportion, say the researchers.

And rumours of the demise of the word ''you'' would appear to have been greatly exaggerated: it was preferred to ''u'' a whopping nine times out of 10.

In fact, the study suggests that the use of such short forms is confined mostly to the youngest users of IM.

The findings of the study have been published in the spring issue of the journal American Speech.