Study Finds Texting Impacts Ability to Interpret Words

by on January 2nd, 2011
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Because the phenomenon of texting is still so new social psychologists are still groping with such questions as how does it affect people and is it good or bad? Joan Lee in working on her master’s thesis in linguistics at the University of Calgary has gained some insight into the subject by studying the reading habits of several hundred volunteers she enlisted at the University. As a result, as she writes in her paper published ProQuest, she has found that people who text a lot, tend to push back against adding new words to their vocabularies, leaving them with less ability to communicate when not texting.

Lee conducted the tests all by herself over the course of several months. Each test consisted of first asking the subject about his or her reading habits. Once that part was concluded, the volunteer was presented with a serious of words on flash cards, some of which were common, some less common, and some that weren’t even real words. As each word was displayed, the subject was asked to either accept or reject the word shown as being a real English language word.

After tabulating the results and comparing them with how the volunteers responded to the questions regarding reading habits, Lee says that a very clear pattern began to emerge. Those that reported being hard core texters, rejected far more of the words on the flash cards than did those that reported less texting, or didn’t text at all. This Lee says, shows that texting causes people to become less accepting of new words, which is of course key in expanding vocabulary.

She notes also that contrary to texting expanding unconstrained communications, as many seem to believe, texting appears to actually do the opposite. Those that text expect to receive messages with words that fall within a very limited vocabulary range and when they don’t texters grow anxious or annoyed, thus exerting peer pressure on those they communicate to do the same.

She also writes that while a person’s vocabulary does actually seem to expand upon first using texting as a means of communication, due to so many of the words used in that context being unique to texting, vocabulary size levels off quickly as users come to know every word that is deemed permissible.

Lee acknowledges that because of the limited scope of her study, it’s still not clear how much of an impact texting has on long term vocabulary growth, but implies that because most people build their vocabularies when young, there isn’t likely to be much growth later on.

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