Texting is paving the way for literacy learning in Senegal, and it could be the impetus for a written language in Wolof, which until now has been an oral African language. Kristin Vold Lexander (2011) conducted a study that examined the ways that Short Messaging Service (SMS) texts were used by ordinary citizens in Senegal. She notes that, “estimates show that among Senegal’s 12-13 million citizens, there are 1 million internet users, while the number of mobile phone subscribers is 7.8 million” (Lexander, 2011, p. 2). Unlike French, the colonial language of Senegal that is used in professional and academic settings, Wolof is recognized as the peoples’ language. Senegalese SMS text users are helping Wolof and other African languages move to a higher status in their society, which can elevate the linguistic access of the majority of citizens who do not speak French. Lexander (2011) notes that, “mastering several languages appears to be an important resource in SMS-writing: through texting, African languages and multilingualism are promoted” (p. 15).
English Literacy Learning
Lexander’s (2011) conclusions are worth noting by teachers who instruct English literacy learners. In English speaking countries, text messaging has frequently been blamed for the deterioration of good writing. Most writing professors have become used to encountering text message acronyms such as BFF (best female friend) or single letter designations for words in student papers: u versus you, for example.
However, it is important to acknowledge that texting acronyms are an emerging lexicon that fosters transnational communications. Texting acronyms are not a corruption of our formal languages, but the start of new languages that evolve with the needs of the user. In fact, instead of French, English, Arabic or Chinese, text messaging and the linguistic style of social media is laying the foundation for a global language within the lifetime of the next generation. Text message senders who are bilingual contribute to the development of pidgin texts that straddle two or more languages. Therefore, let’s give texting abbreviations respect as we focus English language arts students on expanding their knowledge of professional and academic writing. Texting acronyms are a transnational lingua franca.
I use texting acronyms to introduce the concept of audience with my writing students. This is a way to help them see that their texting innovations are within the bounds of normal literacy development. First, I ask for a list of frequently-used acronyms. This activity is fun and humorous as we consider the ways people have found to abbreviate common words and phrases. Then I ask:
- What kind of message do we send to potential employers when we use these acronyms?
- What kind of response do we expect from friends, coworkers, professors?
- Are these communications similar to the code words we use with our closest friends and families?
- Which vocabulary words are professionals in your workplace expecting to read?
The point? We frequently learn and use need-based vocabularies. Medical professionals writing to their colleagues use a different career-based vocabulary than architectural employees. Bankers use financial terms to communicate important messages about customer accounts. Friends and family use familiar terms and inside jokes to communicate and reinforce bonds. We are always learning new aspects of language. Texting is no different than other codes we rely on to accomplish our daily goals. We are motivated to improve our literacy based on individual needs, and educators in all languages could use SMS dictionaries as examples of need-based literacy learning. Let’s recognize the dignity of the simple text message. LOL.
Lexander, K. (2011). Texting and african language literacy. New Media and Society, 1. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://nms.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/12/ 1461444810393905.full.pdf