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Since the dawning of rapid communication technology in the early eighties, in an age where 84 percent of all teens are sending an average of 1,800 web-based communications per person within a single month's period, the virulent debate over the impending side effects of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) for formal language and English linguistics has been in heated contention. In her May 2003 New York Times article "The Message? Your Children Sure Get It," columnist Susan Warner notes, "Instant messaging has become an unofficial dialect, and devising misspelled versions of words lacking as many vowels as possible has become a literary form" (Warner 2003). More than this however, studies are showing and grade school teachers are agreeing that CMC, while having a major effect on the technicalities of English grammar with its repeated appearance in essays, poses a greater threat to how students compose their thoughts and, consequently, how those thoughts are translated and manifested onto the blank page.
CMC, in particular, is restricted by its own various and loose manufacturing mediums and "research on variation across spoken and written modes of language has shown that the characteristics of language are often closely related to the means of production" (Ko 1996). Text messaging, for example, is bound by its own internal word limits, or granularity, which promote abbreviations, coding, acronyms, and emoticons in order to effectively and efficiently display content, meaning, and emotion. These textspeak modalities are the direct cause of a surging fear in academe that, "Today's teenagers are becoming 'Generation Grunt', a section of society that has effectively lost the ability to talk or express itself" (qtd. in Thurlow). As of yet, no rules currently exist in regards to the regulation of CMC, no universal standards exist to which communication can be compared and, consequently, computer communication has begun seeping into mainstream communication to where grade school students jumble all modes of communication into one entity, mixing and matching assorted techniques and compromising formal with informal language usage, unaware of the multitudinous distinctions.
The issue runs deeper though, because as studies conducted at the University of Alabama have suggested, "The notion that students are having a problem with the use of formal versus informal language is not new; it is one that has been around before email came along with students not knowing to use 'I' in a paper or third person point of view." The greater issue is thus concerned with contemporary students' depth and richness of communication and logical reasoning. With text message, instant message, facebook, and twitter mediums, the focus is now on condensed expediency. For the sake of quick messages, students have abandoned details and descriptive components, colorful adjectives and expressive adverbs, basically, students have abandoned the essential elements conducive to high-quality writing. In the 2002 Baron study, the premier examination of "text and netspeak," Baron postulated that the language trend was moving more and more toward something "casual and speech-like." She clarifies- the English sentence averaged 40 words in the 19th century; by the 1980s, it had been cut in half to around 20.
Many argue in favor of CMC, however, commenting on the fluidity of language and its ever-evolving nucleus and on how language cannot, by its very nature for neither boon nor bane, but help to adapt. It is not CMC that is the culprit, these proponents argue, but students' perspectives of and knowledge surrounding the good judgment and use of CMC and their consequent instruction. David Crystal, recognized as the world's leading linguist, observes in "Txtng: the Gr8 Db8" that forms similar to CMC have been expansively utilized by the populace since before the ancient Egyptians and that these forms, in fact, refute conventional quarrels, because those proficient in CMC are shown to have enhanced vocabulary and significantly higher spelling and reading comprehension scores. This is not to say anything of overall thought and literary composition though.
While these sparse studies are still up for debate, there is resounding support that such overall thought and literary composition is, without a doubt, cheapened by unmediated CMC, a "thin and unimaginative [dialect]â€¦linguistically it's all pig's ear. Texting is penmanship for illiterates" (qtd. in Thurlow). It is because CMC can be so infuriatingly plain, almost like a fill-in-the-blank for one's emotions with overused acronyms like LOL (laugh-out-loud or lots of love) or CWOT (complete waste of time) that linguists are concerned. Almost everything then becomes a CWOT, because it is the new, trendy textspeak of the day, or week, or month and there abounds a certain amount of social peer pressure to ensure and enforce the word's over and misuse. Also, "You can fill your role of returning calls and keeping in touch with people without any pressure to be creative or witty" (qtd. in Thurlow). Despite the palpable social consequences involved, this form of lethargic literacy substitutes as the norm, becoming habit, and limiting fullest expression through deterioration of the very tools necessary to compose such expression.
Today's youth is ill-equipped, not through any lack of desire as evidenced by their need to express themselves through CMC and its various norms and trends, but through a lack of formal and informal learning, through authorities who would rather condemn than instruct, who would rather correct than educate, and through media outlets who, instead of seeing the rise of CMC as a potential schematic for the evolution of language and expression, prefer to recognize it as "the slow death of the English language" (Kadaba). Doing so only succeeds in ostracizing today's youth, because regardless of how much opposition is cast across its path; CMC has become a mainstay in contemporary society.
To begin, "we need to be aware that each type of CMC has its own usage conditions and therefore, each needs to be analyzed in its own right" (Baron), we need to be aware that, no matter the type of CMC, with proper instruction, students can learn to express themselves in full accordance with the medium. Proper instruction, of course, entails the examination of particular modes within CMC, their conventions, flexible literacy within these conventions, and application to a larger perspective. Students are, in effect, code-switching, or transitioning between various modes of communication in relation to the context. Encouraging students then, to embrace emoticons and acronyms in their text messages is perfectly acceptable and, by some studies, even beneficial, as long as students understand the difference between the mediums and between the formal and the informal. Failing to recognize the need for such instruction however, is the current cause of literary deterioration and composition complacency. Taking a proactive approach to CMC and code-switching education therefore, will lead to greater creative manifestations upon the blank page from today's emerging youth.