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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.2 Texting is killing language

In this fascinating talk, John McWhorter, a linguist and political commentator, argues that texting is not such a negative phenomenon. He views it as ‘miraculous’ – not just energetic, but a highly creative activity. He suggests that there’s much more to texting, linguistically and culturally, than there might seem. In relation to learning, the video demonstrates that children learn through ‘creating’ and ‘inventing’ new ways of communicating and exchanging ideas.

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Do you think McWhorter feels that texting has a positive or negative influence on children’s language? As he says, there are cognitive benefits; now we can write the way we talk, and texting should be seen more like ‘casual speech’ than actual writing.

A further worry from the pessimists is that text messaging and using different kinds of technology might not be helpful to children’s learning but in fact act simply as a distraction.

Activity 1

Having listened to the opinions of John McWhorter, consider in what ways you feel that digital technology is shaping children’s learning through communication. Think about the following questions.

  • Are there any advantages for children learning to use text abbreviations as a way of communicating with friends? Are they really as ‘miraculous’ as John McWhorter suggests?
  • Is there a risk that knowing and using text abbreviations may have a detrimental effect on children’s traditional written language skills?

Make some notes about your views.