Study: Tweeters Illiterate, Shaping Language

All Twitter reports a study by Bandwatch and Mycleveragency showing:

1. Twitter users are the most illiterate (as in, they misspell more words) than other social-network users (and, I would add, most English speakers in general), and

2. Their misspellings, acronyms, and jargon are becoming mainstream, changing the way we all communicate (at least online).

The critique is that Twitter users aren’t illiterate, but that the platform’s 140-character limit forces users to be more creative with the language. I can see that point, but the big question is, who cares? So what if everyone starts communicating in text-speak? Language is a fluid, evolving thing. This is just its next evolution, right?

I care because it worries me deeply. My concern isn’t that the language is changing. It’s how it’s changing: cutting away huge chunks of our ability to communicate leaves us poorer. How much depth, pathos, and subtlety can really be expressed in the acronym-dependent language of text messages and Twitter? How much critical thinking is needed to express, or understand, these short-burst messages?

It’s already apparent how the internet has changed the way people read and think: people who spend more time reading on the internet find it harder to maintain focus on longer works and skim more than read. And that’s just from reading web pages – veritable tomes compared to text messages and tweets. Yet, according to a Neurology editorial (behind a paywall), reading and writing are the very activities that slow the onset of dementia. (GalleyCat has more about it here.)

I hate to be a doomsayer. Unfortunately, if these young texters and tweeters don’t eventually come to appreciate the joys of real, long-form reading, we may lose it forever.


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