Byline: Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Before Howard University student Imani Wiltshire shoots off an e-mail, she reads it over for mistakes. In a culture that uses abbreviations and ignores grammar and spelling in favor of speed, the 21-year-old stands out among her peers. She cares about her language usage, she says, because she is majoring in English and secondary education.
Text messaging and instant messaging have their own lingo of acronyms and abbreviations that hasten communication and save finger work. Though the lingo is showing up in more formal writing, such as in e-mails to college professors and employers, it remains up to debate whether the English language, both spoken and written, is deteriorating "IRL" - in real life.
"Our generation is the middle passage. We don't know which way to go," Ms. Wiltshire says. "Some of us still push for books and older systems. As we get older, we see more emphasis on computer knowledge and computer literacy."
E-mail, text messaging and electronic communications have "pretty much destroyed literacy and how students communicate," says Kitty Ellison, director of the writing program in the department of English at Howard.
"Because text messaging and e-mail don't require students to conform to standard English, this gets picked up in standard writing," Ms. Ellison says.
Ms. Ellison receives e-mail messages from students that follow the dictates of the informal method of communication instead of those of standard writing. She asks students who want to discuss a grade change, a problem with a professor or another issue to put their concerns into writing, but what she gets back often contains lowercase letters, abbreviations and unconventional language use, she says.
"It seeps into their DNA that this is the way you communicate," she says.
Add to that the fact students are reading less and what they are reading is not preferred by English teachers, such as magazines instead of classic literature, Ms. Ellison says.
"We have a problem in this country with folks, adults as well as students, not really understanding or knowing how to read," she says. "It requires focus. ... and you have to have the time to
sit down and read"
Michael Olmert, a lecturer in the English department at the University of Maryland in College Park, agrees that the decline in reading is the cause of the language deteriorating, though he also points out that the language always is deteriorating and evolving as a matter of course.
"People are not reading, not because they're stupid. [There are] too many choices," says Mr. Olmert, who holds a doctorate in medieval studies and English literature. He writes television documentaries for the Discovery Channel on history and nature. "It's much easier to watch TV than read a book."
The decline in reading began with the age of television in the early 20th century, Mr. Olmert says. Most Americans spend 10 to 15 hours a week watching television, time that used to be spent reading or staring out the window, he says. …