Drew Cingel (Undergraduate Student)


Dr. S. Shyam Sundar


Within the past decade, cell phones have become a ubiquitous accessory, with more and more adolescents using them as the primary mode of communication. Along with it has grown the culture of text messaging, with its short, terse exchanges, abbreviations, and grammatical compromises. Gone are the days of carefully composed e-mail messages. If the bulk of an adolescent’s textual exchanges occurs in the form of short text messages, might it adversely affect his/her sense of written grammar?


RQ1: What is the relationship between the amount of text messages a child sends and receives and their scores on a grammar test?

RQ2: What is the relationship between average amount of errors made while text messaging and perceived utility of text messaging?

RQ3: Do the different styles of error common in text messages (word and structural error) have different effects  on grammar assessment scores of children?

RQ4: What is the relationship between time spent online and a child’s grammar assessment score?

Based on previous research on Uses and Gratifications Theory (Palmgreen, Wenner, & Rosengren, 1985), especially regarding perceived utility of technologies, we hypothesized the following:

H1a: Adolescents who score high on the utility of text messaging measure will report higher rates of text messaging.

H1b: Adolescents who score high on the utility of instant messaging measure will report spending more time on instant messaging.

Considering tenets of Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986) and Observational Learning:

H2: Children who receive more text messages from their peers will report higher levels of sent message error in their text messages.

H3: Children who self-report receiving a high number of errors will also report committing a large number of errors.

Finally, Salomon and Perkins (1989) proposed a model that provides an explanation for why children are able to use the grammatical compromises of techspeak in normal English writing. Called Low-Road Theory of Transfer of Learning, this led to the following hypotheses:

H4: The more time one spends instant messaging each day, the lower their scores on a grammar assessment.

H5: The more one receives or sends texts each day, the lower their scores on a grammar assessment.

H6: The more errors a child reports making in sent text messages, the lower their score on a grammar assessment.


542 children in grades 6, 7, and 8 were administered a grammar test at the beginning of the study. This test included questions regarding verb/noun agreement, use of apostrophes, use of correct tense, and use of possessives. Upon completion children were given a survey to complete at home. This survey asked children questions about their attitudes toward and usage of text messaging and instant messaging, and their use of techspeak when text messaging, in addition to demographic questions. Children were required to complete both parts, the grammar test and the take-home survey, in order to be included in the study. In all, 228 participants were included in the study.


Results indicated significant support for the main hypotheses regarding the negative relationship between text messaging, techspeak, and scores on the grammar assessment. All relationships were significant at a p-value of less than .05. A multiple regression analysis found that a child’s grade and the average amount of sent error in text messages accounts for 12.7% of all variance in grammar assessment scores. Going further, the average amount of word error in text messages (use of abbreviations, omissions of non-essential letters, and homophones) accounted for 10.7% of all variance. In addition, the average amount of error in sent text messages was found to mediate the relationship between average amount of error in received text messages and grammar assessment score.


Results of this study support the vast amounts of anecdotal evidence from teachers, parents, and administrators; techspeak is negatively related to proper use of Standard English Grammar. Children who reported using higher levels of abbreviations, non-essential letter omissions, and homophones scored significantly lower on the administered grammar assessment than children who did not use such grammatical compromises while text messaging.


For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University