Monday, July 11, 2011

Everyday Literacy: Instant Messaging


Question: What can be learned from a study of a corpus of instant messages?

Answer/Quote: “We began this article with a discussion of everyday literacies, the kinds of reading and writing practices that take place beyond the sanctioned walls of classrooms and halls of academe. Our project illustrates that a close, fine-grained look at language features provides one window into everyday literacy in its historical moment. The understanding that emerged for us was one of young people who have a true mastery of written language: the IM [instant messaging] transcripts we studied were funny, clever, innovative, sometimes moving, and almost always delightful. We believe this picture emerged partly because of our inductive approach—to the best of our abilities, we let the language of participants speak to us and speak it did. Our study has revealed that literacy—at once innovative and playful, systematic and purposeful—is alive and well on the Internet and in the lives of the young people who use it.

“H.L. Mencken (1963) viewed slang as ‘a kind of linguistic exuberance, an excess of word-making energy’ (p.702). Mencken’s description of slang (as small part of IM) in some ways captures the spirit of IM writing as a whole. In a world where digital, multimodal communication is increasingly the standard practice, these users of IM are using the somewhat limited resources of the 68 typographic symbols on the computer keyboard to communicate visually, verbally, and bodily. The ‘linguistic exuberance’ resulting from the creative adaptation of technological resources to an expansive understanding of textual features offers to say much to writing researchers and teachers interested in the evolution of written discourse.” P. 399.

Comment: No doubt, the true spirit of communication exists in instant messages. However, that spirit needs to be translated into “academic, standard English.” And that still is the English teacher’s job. I appreciate the research and I appreciate the spirit it reveals in instant messaging, but we still have to help students transform the spirit into standard English, which does not kill the spirit. RayS.

Title: “Young People’s Everyday Literacies: The Language Features of Instant Messaging.” C Haas and P Takayoshi, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (May2011), 378-404.

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