Death of the writer?

Catherine Macguire – News Reporter 24 January 2013

2 ryt r nt 2ryt? That is the question – at least for some students. Professor David Abulafia of Gonville and Caius has claimed that students’ grasp on basic essay skills are “going down the plug hole”, pointing the finger at social networking sites such as Twitter who favour a condensed version of one’s inner musings as opposed to a grammatically correct rendering.

The brevity of Twitter is its unique selling point. Users must compress their musings of whatever depth or quality into a mere 140 characters, leading to personal pronouns, punctuation and unnecessary syllables and letters being ruthlessly culled in the name of linguistic economy. Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Professor Abulafia added that the “meta-language” of Twitter “gets people accustomed to writing tiny fragments of colloquial speech without mastering the art of creating big,connected pieces of prose in which one can be expansive about one’s ideas.”

He is not alone. Last year in a report for Cambridge Assessment, 48 academics from higher education facilities across the country commented that the skill of essay-writing was one in which many new undergraduates were lacking. Coincidentally, the same study also pointed out that the ICT skills of these new students were commendable.

However, others beg to differ. A 2012 survey carried out by researchers from Coventry University found that there was no evidence of any significant relationships between poor grammar in text messages and their understanding of written or spoken grammar. Lead author Claire Wood added that ” here is no reason to assume that just because children play with the representation of written language when they are texting that this will somehow damage or undermine their appreciation of standard grammar over time.” Furthermore, in a study published just last year by Oxford University, its findings were startling: young people who do not make use of the internet are at an educational disadvantage than their peers.

Abulafia was quick to point out that other factors can contribute to the situation, citing poor teaching and lack of emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar at primary and secondary level education as a possible cause, and – in a comment likely to please those in favour of compulsory foreign languages – , he admitted that learning a foreign language, living or dead ” provides one with a real appreciation of how sentences are constructed, what the arts of speech are.”

Catherine Macguire – News Reporter