Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

“Instant Messaging and the Future of Language”: “Englishes,” Registers and the Vernacular

July 8th, 2014 · No Comments

First of all, the article in itself is a meta-commentary on the instantaneous nature of much of our communication and media today. Whether this is intended seems irrelevant but intriguing nonetheless. The medium is, indeed, the message. This is not to say that this article does not pack a great deal of punch in terms of making a statement on issues and ideas we face on a daily basis.

To begin with a bit of a digression, reading this piece reminded me of recent discussions of how English is now often referred to as Englishes in critical-theoretical circles. David E. Kirkland, in “English(es) in the Urban Context,” discusses the how English Language Arts teachers need to navigate through teaching more academic English but also acknowledges that students use other ways of speaking (ones traditionalists would often consider lesser). Kirkland essentially argues that other “Englishes” (essentially differing vernaculars) should very much be acknowledged and included in our teaching but that they be tempered with the more formalized language that students will need when applying for jobs, taking university courses, etc. This meshes quite well with what Baron is trying to say in her analysis of IM inside and outside the classroom. She argues that teachers and parents should ensure these forms are included in what, how, when, and why we teach. IM and texting do not seem all that threatening at this juncture but it can be difficult to predict where these sorts of technologies will carry us. Baron, in her research, also makes an interesting observation that not only are there are certain stratum in IM and texting but also that the research:

Suggests that IM conversations serve largely pragmatic information- sharing and social-communication functions rather than providing contexts for establishing or maintaining group identity. (Baron 30)

We have the expected language of texting (e.g. “lol”, “ttyl”, “brb,” etc.) but people are using these forms of communication deemed “above” the commonly used “textspeak” that many of us are familiar with. This idea, then, brings us into a discussion of registers. We all speak differently depending on the context we are in and with whom we are interacting. This is taken a step further in terms of how we use a very specific medium. Texting, IM, Facebook messaging, etc. can all be used at different levels and with different results. Baron also recognizes that there is trend of people using IM as a sort of “voicemail” or away message. The person, or “user,” is not physically interacting with the medium but they are still sending information to be decoded by the receiver or viewer of that message. The author also, somewhat hilariously, notes that subjects of her research were found to interact “face-to-face” though she seems to put this at par with activities like “listening to music,” “surfing the Net” (an already seemingly outmoded turn of phrase it seems), and “eating.” Regardless of what is going on while we are texting, we are using IM “Englishes” to communicate, form bonds, and to be included in social groupings – as are our students. Baron also makes an interesting point of including the idea that IM and texting are mediated and manipulated by ever-advancing predictive text and auto-correct technology which can often blur the line/transition between what we think, write, and send to others in our correspondence. This, perhaps, means adding yet another layer to the multiple registers within the realm of text, i-, e-messaging, etc.

-George Frankson

Works Cited

Baron, Noami S. “Instant messaging and the future of language.” Communications of the ACM 46.7 (2005): pp. 30-31.

Kirkland, David E. “English(Es) in Urban Contexts: Politics, Pluralism, and Possibilities.” English Education 42.3 (2010): p 293.

Tags: computer-mediated communication · Social Media

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