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Texting and Vocabulary: Like, the end of the world. - The LAMP

Texting and Vocabulary: Like, the end of the world.

By January 12, 2010 News No Comments

OMG! Teens only use 800 different words a day, and it’s all social media’s fault.

Yeah, but, like, whatever.

This is according to a study done at Lancaster University in England, which has Jean Gross, the country’s first Communication Champion for Children, up in arms about the lack of vocabulary and the potential impact it can have on future employment for inarticulate teens. While I agree that having a wide range of vocabulary is important to being an effective communicator, the suggestion that diminished vocabulary is due to social media greatly oversimplifies the ways in which language use changes over time for any individual. Professor David Crystal, also quoted in the article, is right when he says (and I paraphrase) that the issue is not a lack of vocabulary, but the fact that most adults disapprove of or misunderstand the purpose of slang. Which they probably also used when they were teens.

To me, this sounds like the result of a generational gap, whereby the older group trivializes the culture of the younger group, and sees this cultural shift as some sort of apocalypse. Never mind the fact that shifts like this have been happening for ages.  Parents have been singing “What’s the Matter with Kids Today?” since Bye Bye Birdie showed up on Broadway in 1960, when my own mother was a teenager and listening to rock and roll. Further back, my grandmother’s mother probably took issue with her style in the 1930s.

Mounting a campaign for improved vocabulary, as Ms. Gross plans to do, is not necessarily a bad thing, but let it not be motivated solely, or even primarily, by one study which says that kids like to use slang. Don’t blame technology, either–you know the saying that guns don’t kill people, people kill people? Well, it’s not social media that makes teens inarticulate. It’s the teen using social media who is inarticulate, and the reasons for that could constitute an entirely different post.