Implication of Social Media Language on Standard English Usage of Secondary School Students in Lagos
Objective of the study
The general objective of this study is to determine the implication of social media language on Standard English usage among students (a study of three secondary schools in Ikeja Local Government Area)
The specific objectives of this study are:
- assess students understanding regarding social media language
- identify the implication of social media language on Standard English usage among students among secondary school students
- determine the extent to which social media language influences the writing performance of the sampled population.
- expose other users (parents/ teachers) of social media language to the menace on secondary school students.
This study was guided by two theories for purposes of convenience and complementing each other; the cultivation theory and the social cognitive learning theory. The two theories have been explained in their order in line with the use of text messaging and how it influences standard composition writing among Students
The Cultivation Theory
This study was anchored on the cultivation theory by (Gerbner, 1980). The cultivation theory is a scientific theory and is based around the idea that media and media gadgets for communication such as televisions and cell phones have the ability to frame the way media users view the realities of society. It explains that mass communication holds grounds in media effect studies. The central claim of that theory is that persistent long term exposure to media content has small but measurable effects on the perpetual worlds of audience members and the more a person is exposed to a message provided by the media, the more likely that person is to believe the message is real (Chandler,1995). In the like manner, the more pupils are exposed to use of text messages on phone, the more they think it is acceptable in any fora and the more their academic writings are influenced by SMS. Here, the SMS language influence was measured in proportion to the usage by the pupils in their academic writing. It is plausible that the more pupils are exposed to SMS language usage, the more it may affect their writing skills in academic work.
Candler (1995) has explained that the cultivation theory is an attitudinal theory and not a deterministic behaviourist theory. The main concern behind the cultivation theory is the direct effect of social media viewing and usage on audience members. Gerbner (1968:29) argues that “Social media exposure for many hours like television viewing and text messaging has long term effects which are small but gradual indirect but cumulative and significant.” Thus, any frequent exposure to any social media gadget like a cell phone and texting by SMS creates a mental model in the user’s mind which makes one to be easily influenced by looking at it as normal in any given academic work whether formal or informal.
Second Theory: The Social Cognitive Theory
This study also applied the social Cognitive learning theory. This theory was first introduced by Albert Bandura, to connect the behavioural and cognitive learning theories by taking into account how imitable behaviours are affected by cognitive constructs, such as attention, retention, and motivation. It explains that individuals such as learners learn behaviours from one another through observation, imitation, and modelling. Munsaka (2011:24) explains that “the mode of learning in the social cognitive learning theory is through observation, and modelling the observed behaviour.” This kind of learning which involves observation has also been termed vicarious learning.
This theory suits this study as its theoretical framework because the learning and use of Short Message language in formal writing among learners arises from observation, imitation, and modelling fellow learners. It is during the use of Short Messages on phone that its influence on writing is realised. Uniquely, the social cognitive learning theory explains how behaviours are learned in the context of reciprocal determinism, or the interaction between observed behaviours, cognitive factors, and external environments. This theory has been a widely referenced model of media effects, especially in relation to children and the youths. Thus, it applies to socializing effects of media such as SMS exchange and the adoption of various models of action such as writing styles and habits, clothing, appearance style, eating and drinking, modes of interaction and personal consumptions Graham (1989). The habit of informal and inappropriate texting in through short messages also applies as media effects which eventually trickle down to influencing formal writing among learners.
According to Bandura (1986) the theory only applies to behaviour that is directly represented in symbolic form and on the active engagement on the part of the learners as well as the individuals’ self-reflective ability. Applying the theory to this present study, the social learning theory incorporates the gradual process of students’ learning of the abridged form of interactive chats. Learners consistently expose themselves to social networks like face book and whats up and receive texts through their mobile phones, to the application of the learnt SMS languages abruptly to an extent that such shortenings, become integrated into the students conventional writings such as compositions and then with time this actually becomes a part of their formal written communication.
After a careful review of research methods available for use in this type of research, the descriptive research design was chosen. The features of descriptive method of research fit/suit the sampling technique, the setting and population, the research instrument and data analysis of this study.
Descriptive research method is self-explanatory. The terminologies synonymous with this type of research are describe, write on, depict. Osuala (2007.197) defines descriptive research as that research which specifies the nature of a given phenomenon. The aim of descriptive research is to verify formulated hypothesis that refers to the present situation in order to elucidate it. In this project, we posit that social media language of global system of mobile communication (GSM) influences the writing performance of secondary school students. The goal of this research is to find out whether the method of writing text messages of the SMS influences the writing performance of the target group.
Area of Study
Nsukka Local Government Urban Area of Lagos State has been chosen for this study. A selected number of secondary schools in Ikeja shall make up the group of students whose text messages and essays will provide data for this study.
There is always an influx of students into secondary schools in Ikeja probably because this area situates the most renowned university in the country: University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Moreover, the high quality of secondary school teachers in this area attracts young adolescent boys and girls who wish to tap knowledge from teachers who have their first, masters,‟ and doctorate degrees because of their proximity to the university. Even though the use of GSM is prohibited in schools, it is obvious that most students in this area have mobile phones and so send and receive text messages.
The choice of students from this area will fully expose the influence of GSM, SMS on the students‟ essays.
The number of students to be used for this study shall be drawn from senior secondary school classes five and six (SS2 and SS3) students. These are the students that mostly use GSM and who know the technique of abbreviation and coding of text messages. The problem, if detected, shall help students not to imbibe the wrong standards of English brought about by the coding of SMS and not carry them into to the University. In the University, it may be difficult to correct these problems because the students would have got used to the coding and abbreviations.
COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS OF DATA
Research Question One: Is there any influence of text message system of writing on the essay writing of secondary school students?
The Data for Research Question One indicates that sampled school students‟ essay writing is influenced greatly by the students‟ text message system of writing. The influence is grouped under unusual abbreviations, grammatical errors, spelling and punctuation errors as shown in the tables below:
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
In this chapter, the data presented in chapter four are discussed. The interpretation of the data would help to know the extent of the influence of text messages on the writing performance of students of secondary schools in the study area. The discussion shall be done under the following subheadings:
- Discussions of Findings
- Suggestions for Further Studies
Discussions of the Findings
Findings from Students’ Essay Writing
The data on the first four tables under research question one (Table IIV) show the findings on the students essay writing. The tables indicate that the essays are rippled with indiscriminate abbreviations of words, grammatical errors, punctuation infelicities and spelling errors. Due to the presence of these unusual or uncoventianl abbreviations in the students‟ writing, meaning is difficult to arrive at as most of them cannot be easily interpreted. Meaning is often a matter of contextual deduction or inference. Some of the unusual abbreviations are indications of the students‟ mother tongue interference in the target language. This is because the students do spell such words following the phonotactics of their mother tongue (Igbo). It is clearly evident that students‟ unusual abbreviations and spelling systems in tables V and VIII (that is, their text message system) influence their essay writing greatly. Looking at table I and IV on one hand and table V and VIII on the other hand, we can see lots of similarities in the unusual abbreviations and spelling systems in both forms of writing-text message and essay writing. For instance, we see such abbreviations as 2gada, congratulate, in2, 4, 4goten, mtn in tables I and V while we see such spelling forms like luk, tine, wen, hav, oda, wz, hat etc in tables IV and VIII. It is observed that the students are always in a hurry to compose their text message, hence, they invent some abbreviations and spelling forms to facilitate this. This singular practice of cutting corners is replicate in the sampled essay writing. This is because those abbreviations and spelling forms in text messages are used in their formal continuous writing like the essay. There is a transfer of this negative influence of text message system on the students‟ general writing habit. Even when the students are expected to write a take-home essay assignment, they fail to look up the correct spellings of words in the dictionary. They would rather use their “handy” abbreviations and spelling forms instead of taking the pains of the “tedious search” in the dictionary. The quantity of these abbreviations and spelling errors is such that calls for concern. In the sampled essays, virtually every sentence contains an average of two spelling or abbreviation errors.
In Table II of chapter four, we see stunning cases of grammatical errors that include errors of concord, tense, errors, omission of verbs, prepositions and other grammatical classes, the use of unEnglish words, errors of homophones and others. Example include „students are insultive, we has to, due to the strong head of the students, …for those leaving in the dormitory, we now found it difficult to learning”. The effect of these grammatical errors in the writing of the students are obvious: the writings become unintelligible, incomprehensible and sometimes meaningless. Where meaning is possible, it takes one who has patience to observe.
Again, in Table III of chapter four, we see a range of punctuation errors in the students‟ essay writing. There is either the omission of commas, full stops, apostrophe, question marks or the redundant addition of such marks where they are not needed. This is synonymous with students style in the text message. It was noted too that the use of pidgin expressions in the essay writings of the students is necessitated by the students‟ use of such in their text message. The students write text messages almost on a daily basis. They hardly write essays. When they do, as in examination and assignments, they are influenced by their usual habits in text message composition. This trend undermines effective writing as the conventions of writing are minimally observed.
Findings from Students’ Text Messages
Data on tables V-VIII in chapter four above represent the researcher‟s discovery from the students‟ text message. As in the essays, there are unusual abbreviations, grammatical, punctuation as well as spelling errors in the data. The unusual abbreviations have covert meanings, which are very difficult to interpret. They are mostly codes which are known to people that are initiates into the linguistic secrets. Table VI is a list of some of the unusual abbreviations with their suspected meanings. The suspected meanings were made possible from the researcher‟s examination of the contexts of their usage. That is, the contexts serve as lead way to their interpretations. Some of the unusual abbreviations are formed from a tactical combination of figures and letters of the English alphabet. Examples include 4get, Sm1, 1tin, 1day, 4u, 4n, 2get, 2give, celebr8, in2, dia4, 2dei, h8 and so on. Others are done in the form of drawings. Example are @,, * * *, and so on. The above pictures represent at, love/heart, house and Christmas tree respectively. These drawings in text message service is called emoticon. Only those conversant with text messages can deduce the meanings of the drawings. Other unusual abbreviations are pure English alphabets. Examples include nyc, aw, 2, hrt, ans, n, hpy, mt, em, probs, big, etc. These abbreviations cannot be said to be spelling errors at all.
The text messages of the students are indeed overflowing with unconventional abbreviation. The various initials may have different unique abbreviation for specific concept. It is most worrisome that students have failed to distinguish formal and informal usage of words and abbreviation, hence, abbreviations of all sorts are used without regard to formality or otherwise. The invention of these unusual abbreviations by the students should not be seen as a mark of style but as short cuts to their spelling inefficiencies. Related to unusual abbreviations is the case of spelling errors in the student‟s text message. In table VIII of Chapter four, a good number of the students‟ spelling errors were made available. Some of the spelling errors may be intentional but they constitute problems to reading and comprehension. Students feel that spelling errors can be over looked hence, they do not make efforts to spell words correctly. This trend is not only dangerous but also alarming and has devastating tendencies. It is an indication of consumers‟ abuse of information communication technology tools. Most of the students that abbreviate and spell words arbitrarily do not know that they are wrong. They do not bother to look up the correct spelling of these words in the dictionary. As this trend gets fossilized in their linguistic habit, it becomes a dangerous replicating linguistics virus that has the tendency of rendering the students‟ writing proficiency useless. The first mark of excellence in writing communication is proper spelling, hence the dictionary provides information on the spelling of words before other grammatical and semantic informations are provided. Abbreviation cannot be said to be a case of cutting the cost of sending messages. This is because in some instances, the „abbreviated‟ becomes either longer than the correct spelling of the word being replaced („4from‟ for „from‟) or equal to it as in „mi‟ for „me‟. This leaves one in doubt of the actual reason for these unnecessary confusing abbreviations and short spellings.
In Table VI, we see a list of some grammatical errors found in the students‟ text messages too. These grammatical errors range from concordial deviations of all sorts to flagrant use of pidgin such as “How you dey?, I dey beach junction, my guy, u no say na we we”, and the likes. These grammatical flaws do not show a mark of seriousness on the part of the students‟ desired determination for improvement in the language. The carryover effect of these grammatical errors is seen in the overall performance of these students in external examinations like NECO and WAEC examination. There is always a massive failure in the subject owing to reasons discussed. Equally, the students do not observe the rules of punctuation. Without proper punctuation of any written piece, reading and comprehension is sure to be difficult. Observed punctuation errors as we have in Table VII include omission of commas, full stops, question marks, wrong application of apostrophe and so on. The beauty of the students‟ text message is battered as a result of their numerous punctuation errors.
As a result of the above revelations from the students‟ raw data, the following have been recommended based on the inferences made from the data:
Teachers of English as second language in the study environment and elsewhere should brace up to the challenges posed by students‟ overdependence on ICT tools and their eventual poor attitude towards reading and writing. By implication, English language teachers in second language contexts should device some practical ways of reducing students‟ dependence on short-cut -technologies and re-focusing their commitment on the traditional basics of learning the second language, they should be made to realize that the grammar books and dictionaries of the target language should form their primary reference point in moments of confusion. There is no short cut to learning a second language. Learners should be advised to imitate the native speakers of such a language so as to increase their overall proficiency in the target language. By inventing their own spelling systems, the learners are causing more harm and confusion in their quest to learning the target language. The students should be made to know that no material in the internet is uploaded with spelling short-cuts.
By constant practice, one gets to be perfect in a given set of habits. It is observed that these students write text messages more than they do the essay writing. That is the more reason why the errors discovered in chapter four have almost been fossilized among them. It is, therefore, recommended that students be given regular essay writing and comprehension reading tasks. This will enable them discover the right spelling patterns, the rules of grammar, correct system of punctuation and generally help them to drop the long-acquired bad habits of writing. The more the students read, the better they would write and vice versa. This underscores the need for wider readership because the students would imitate the good styles and forms of professional writers.
Students should be advised to desist from inventing all manner of short-cut- abbreviations. They should try to learn what is permitted in the target language. Once a linguistic item is learnt, it becomes permanent so long as the learner makes repeated use of such learnt item. Again, the teaching of English grammar is of prime importance to students‟ level of performance. The knowledge of the rules of a language is an important input to learner‟s performance. It is only when adequate emphasis is placed on the teaching of grammar that both writing and other skills of the target language would be properly learnt by the students.
The discussions above have clearly validated the assumption that students‟ essay writing is presently influenced by the pattern/style of writing in their text message. The influence is negative and leads to an overall breakdown of the communication process. When words are spelt anyhow, there cannot be decorum in the students‟ writing pattern. There is both conscious and unconscious transfer of the text message pattern of writing into the students‟ essay writing. The students are getting helpless in handling these influence as text messaging is dominating traditional essay writings.
As a result of the above empirical evidence, both the students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders must pull efforts together to curb this negative writing habit among our students. This is to ensure that both the present and the future generation of writers get the best out of written communication.
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