The young child: preparing today’s children for tomorrow’s world

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Textese and its potential negative impact on secondary school learners’ language use have globally received substantial bad press in recent years, with articles by Prigg (2012), Cooke (2012), Thomas (2012), Campbell (2008), Barker (2007), Uthus (2007) and Bolowana (2005) all claiming that textese has a detrimental effect on English, and in particular on secondary school learners’ ability to use Standard English. In this chapter, I first consider whether textese and its potential impact on English are viewed differently by people from different generations, followed by a discussion of whether textese is more akin to writing or to talking. The most substantial part of this chapter, however, is devoted to a critical overview of how textese is portrayed in the media, the approaches employed by and findings of other empirical studies both globally and specifically in the South African context, and the validity of the research instruments employed in these studies. The findings and possible limitations of such studies and instruments will accordingly be identified to inform my research and instrument design in Chapter 3.

 Protean perspectives

The distinction between when the use of textisms is appropriate or inappropriate is not as clear for younger people as for older people (Schaller 2007, p.2). In this regard, Crystal (2006c, p.408) is of the view that:
We seem to be at a transitional point between two worlds. The ‘old world’ is one where a tiny number of rules, selected and defined by prescriptive grammarians, totally conditioned our sense of acceptable ‘standard’ usage, so that all other usages were considered to be inferior or corrupt, and excluded from serious consideration. The ‘new world’ is one where non-standard regional usage is achieving a new presence and respectability within society … It is not a question, in this new climate, of non-standard replacing standard. Rather, the two dimensions of language use are being brought into a new relationship, in which the essential role of the standard language (as a means of guaranteeing intelligibility and continuity among educated people) is seen to complement the essential role of the non-standard language (as a means of giving expression to local identities).
Prensky (2001a, p.1) provides a plausible explanation for the different attitudes between the ‘younger’ and ‘older’ generations towards textisms and their ability to use formal and informal language appropriately given the context. Prensky (ibid.) posits that the technology explosion mentioned earlier is viewed differently by people from different age groups. He uses an analogy to argue that people comprising the younger generation, that is people who entered secondary school from the year 2000 onwards, are ‘digital natives’ as they grew up being constantly exposed to mobile phones, e-mail, the Internet and computer games, while people from the older generation are ‘digital immigrants’ as they were not born into the digital world (2001a, pp.1-2). The generation gap concomitantly develops when children identify more strongly with peer groups than with their parents, which commonly happens in adolescence (Aitchison 2003, p.738).
Specifically with regard to language change between generations, it is noted that children’s Standard English vocabulary escalates in their teenage years and often at this age starts to diverge from the language of their parents (Aitchison 2003, p.739). For the most part, however, language changes because society changes (Crystal 2005, p.459), thus leading to variation between the different generations. These differences between generations’ language use represent language change (Hale 2007, p.34).
This view is shared by Ringe and Eska (2013, p.56), who maintain that due to imperfect language acquisition, children bring changes in the form of errors into the language community, some of which are copied by peers. However, individuals who are already adults will not copy those errors or participate in those changes. A child’s mother may therefore be oblivious to the latest round of changes, thus viewing them as errors rather than changes (ibid.). It is in this manner that changes in different generations’ language usage may be accounted for, as well as their varying perspectives on what constitutes ‘appropriate’ language use. Given the different ‘inputs’ that played a role in the language acquisition of the digital native generation when compared to the inputs to the language acquisition of the digital immigrants, most notably the ready availability of cellular, electronic and Internet technology, it is to be expected that the language used by the two generations will vary. While not suggesting that the answer to the research problem can simply be reduced to the generation gap, the debate concerning textese as possible contributor to the informalisation of English certainly seems to be one in which personal frames of reference play an integral part. Accordingly, for Bolter (1991, p.37):
Each culture and each age has its own economy of writing. There is a dynamic relationship between the materials and the techniques of writing and a less obvious but no less important relationship between materials and techniques on the one hand and the genres and usage of writing on the other.
I am therefore of the view that digital natives’ exposure to the more informal language contexts offered by texting might, over time, result in the more formal aspects of formal written Standard English becoming more informal. This informalisation was also alluded to by Wessels (2011, pers. comm., 11 October), who indicated that university students were increasingly likely to confuse the different registers required by different contexts and would use words such as ‘kids’ and ‘dad’ in formal academic writing rather than the conventionally acceptable ‘children’ and ‘father’. Supporting this view is a 2005 study by the University of Cambridge, which found that British secondary school learners were ten times more likely to use textisms in written exams in 2005 than in 1980 (Schaller 2007, p.2). In fact, the registers of English associated with certain situations are now also being used in other situations, as evidenced by billboards and other written advertisements including textisms, with informal English crossing over into professional relationships (Goodman 1996, p.145). Professional encounters are also increasingly likely to contain informal forms of English, thus becoming more ‘conversationalised’ (Fairclough 1994, p.147). It should be noted, however, that the issue is not formal language use encroaching on informal language use, but specifically informal language infringing upon formal contexts. Moreover, although language change largely occurs when casual styles of speech become accepted in more formal settings, and not the other way around, it does not necessarily imply that language is becoming increasingly informal (Aitchison 2003, p.739).


 Is textese writing or talking? Understanding how textese functions

Through his now-famous sentence ‘you cn rd ths txt wtht vwls’ (even though there are two vowels in the sentence), Pinker (1994, p.162) demonstrates that language has redundancy built into it. This view is shared by Crystal (2008a, p.26), who explains that consonants carry more information than vowels – a practice previously unfamiliar to English, but perfectly normal in languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.
Crystal (2008a, p.27) uses the following two sentences to show that words without vowels can more easily be understood than words without consonants:
ths sntnc hsnt gt ny vwls. i eee a o a ooa (= this sentence hasn’t got any consonants)
Textese therefore opportunistically exploits this redundancy inherent in English to shorten the writing process, affirming that while texting may be a new technology, its linguistic processes are centuries old (ibid.). The concern, however, remains that the more informal aspects associated with textese might over time infringe upon the more formal contexts of language use (Rankin 2010, p.58, Spatafora 2008, p.34, Massey et al. 2005, p.435). Keeping in mind that textese is viewed as a more informal dialect of formal written Standard English, Jacobs (2008, p.207) found that it is possible to code-switch if textese users manage to keep the conventions of the two worlds of textese and conventional English separate. Eschewing this view, however, is Hansen (2011, p.7), who believes that code-switching is a myth and represents a double standard which the brain can only cope with for so long before mixing registers. Nevertheless, Jacobs’s (2008. p.208) findings support those of Lenhart et al. (2008, p.2), namely that adolescents do not view online and textese communications as writing, but rather as a way of talking. This finding is corroborated by a study conducted by the UK Department of Education (2012, p.5), which found that even though teenagers engage in technology-based writing, they do not think of it as ‘writing’. These findings are also confirmed by a study by Houser (2012, p.81), who found that university students write the way they talk. In turn, this view is shared by Crystal (2005, p.138), who considers writing as a medium where there is time to reflect, to re-think and to use language as a way of shaping thought. Learners therefore need to allow sufficient time for drafting, revising and editing in order to obtain the most desirable form of written expression. Moreover, Crystal (2005, p.147) asserts that as the medium of literature, writing is a source of standards and linguistic excellence, and it provides language with permanence and authority. Crystal (2005, p.148) adds that as a medium of communication, writing and speaking should not be compared by viewing the one as intrinsically ‘better’ than the other. However, if secondary school learners do not view the ‘writing’ of textese as actually writing, they will not apply the normal writing refinement process of revising and editing their ‘written’ textese.

Abbreviations and acronyms 
Key concepts 
Certificate of ethical clearance .
Certificate of language editing 
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Background
1.3 Purpose of the study
1.4 The problem of this study
1.5 Concept clarification
1.6 Research design and methodology .
1.7 Outline of chapters
1.8 Conclusion
2.1 Introduction .
2.2 The young child: preparing today’s children for tomorrow’s world .
2.3 Early childhood development: a global priority .
2.4. Understanding early childhood education in the South African context
2.5 Early childhood development laws and policies relating to play
2.6 Play and learning.
2.7 The benefits of play-based learning
2.8 Learning and the 21st century skills
2.9 A South African list of 21st century skills
2.10 Toy libraries
2.11 Conclusion .
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Rationale for using a conceptual framework
3.3 A diagrammatical representation of the conceptual framework
3.4 Theories underpinning the study
3.5 Play-based early learning sessions and pedagogy .
3.6 Quality standards for toy libraries .
3.7 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Research methodology
4.3 Worldview
4.4 My role as a researcher
4.5 Research design: Case study research
4.6 Participants and research sites
4.7 The phases of data production
4.8 Data production tools
4.9 Data organisation
4.10 Data analysis process
4.11 Trustworthiness as a quality measure
4.12 Ethical considerations
4.13 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction .
5.2 Data production process: a reflection
5.3 The participants: a reflection
5.5 Research findings
5.6 Conclusion
6.1 Introduction .
6.2 Summary of literature and empirical research findings
6.3 A short overview of the empirical research findings of this study
6.4 Conclusions
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Reflections on each chapter
7.3 Conclusions
7.4 Limitations
7.5 Recommendations
7.6 Concluding remarks

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