Short Messaging Services (SMS) And English Language Usage In Selected Secondary Schools

Project and Seminar Material for English Education

Short Messaging Services (SMS) And English Language Usage In Selected Secondary Schools


The advent of the technology called Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) has brought in a paradigm shift from the conventional English Language Writing, to what researchers now call SMS system of communication. This has been observed in many places as well as Nigeria. English language being an official language in Nigeria and fast becoming a global language cannot diffuse into un-intelligibility through such influences like SMS language. The importance of language generally to man is such that any virus that portends catastrophe to it attracts special attention.

Some research works have been carried out to trace the influence of the emerging trends on the users of this technology; this project is one of researchers aims at identifying the influence of SMS language on the writing performance of secondary school students, in Nsukka Urban Area of Enugu State, Nigeria. An extensive literature review has been carried out on the GSM technology, its special features especially the Short Message Services (SMS) that brought in this encoding of English language through text message, computer mediated communication, the importance and dynamics of language and other relevant aspects of the project topic. From the foregoing it is obvious that the SMS of GSM influences students ’ writing.

Chapter One


Global system for mobile communication (GSM), is a digital telephone system that digitalizes and compresses data to help improve the speed of wireless mobile when communicating… ( GSM is one of the leading digital cellular systems that use narrowband Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) which allows eight simultaneous calls on the same radio frequency ( This system of communication is far more advanced than the traditional analogue cellular technology ( Pg.11).

GSM uses a variation of time division multiple access (TDMA) and is the most widely used of the three digital wireless telephony technologies (TDMA, GSM and DMA).In 2007, more than 690 mobile networks provide GSM services across 213 countries and GSM represents 82.4% of all global mobile connections. According to GSM world, there are now more than 2 billion GSM mobile phone users worldwide. The number of mobile subscriptions the world is expected to see by the end of the ongoing year (2009) is reportedly heading for 4.6 billion as reported by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) secretary, recently (Softpedia.mht.14/10/09).

One of the objectives for the GSM-based platform was to offer advanced services and functionality from a single network, and to meet this goal, the designers made it part of the standard and based the architecture on the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) called model. ( 2002 Pg.11).

GSM services are a standard collection of applications and features available to mobile phone subscribers all over the world and are the world’s most dominant mobile phone standard. The design of the service is moderately complex because it must be able to locate a moving phone of the same service anywhere in the world. The GSM standard also provides separate facilities for transmitting digital data. This allows a mobile phone to act like any other computer on the Internet, sending and receiving data via the Internet protocol (Wikipedia, 2009). The mobile may also be connected to a desktop computer, laptop or Personal digital Assistants (PDA), for use as a network interface (just like a modem or Ethernet card) (Wikipedia, 2009).

With the ascendancy of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the world has been compressed into a global village. GSM enhanced the velocity of world communication. The gamut of services which mobile phone renders include

  • Integrated Voice Call
  • Internet Access; (separate facilities for transmitting digital data which allows a mobile phone to act like any other computer on the internet, sending and receiving data via the internet protocol)
  • Circuit Switched Data
  • General Packet Radio Service (GPRS),
  • Music Player, (Mp3)
  • Calculator
  • Calendar
  • Digital Colour Camera
  • Short Message Services (SMS)
  • MAPS

(1111) Weather Channel (12) You Tube (13) Dictionary (14) Encyclopedia (15) Light (16) Clock/alarm etc.

All these services are mostly transmitted in the English language. The internet, with the majority of its content/ learning is written in English and it is no wonder that people of this planet are using the English language as the vehicle and bridge across borders and cultures. The language has become a source of unity in communicating with a rapidly changing world (Baskerville, 14). So, at a time in history when people want to, and can, through the Internet connect with the world, English just happens to be the tool close at hand that can do the job. English language commands unparalleled international intelligibility.

Onuigbo and Eyisi (2009, v)describe it as an important centripetal force that pulls divergent chords towards a central point in spite of the diversity of the world today. Even though computer and lasers are tools for the space age, English is the language of transmission. It has become a lingua franca, a global language regularly used and understood by many nations for whom English is not their first language. Any virus that interferes with English language learning portends a catastrophe for world unity and peace in the globalization process. With two billion people now speaking English or learning to speak it, we can creditably imagine a genuine global language.

Short Message Service (SMS) language or textese is a term for the abbreviations and slang most commonly used owing to the necessary brevity of mobile phone text messaging. The objective of textese is to use the fewest number of characters needed to convey a comprehensible message, hence, punctuation, grammar, and capitalizations are largely ignored. People like John Humphrey, a Welsh journalist and television reporter, has criticized textese as “wrecking our language”. He describes emoticons and textese as “irritating” and essentially lazy behaviours, and summarised that “sloppy” habits gained while using textese will result in student’s growing ignorance of proper grammar and punctuation” (Wikipedia 14/01/09). David Crystal in his findings summarized in his popular book Txting: “the Gr8 Db8” says that despite scholarly research to the contrary, the popular notion that text messaging is damaging to linguistic development of young people and to the English language itself persists. (mhtml:file://:\smslanguage-Wikipedia,the free encyclopedia. Mht12/10/09).

Peter Baskerville in his book Global English: a Paradigm Shift ( 14/10/09) says: “change has been the one constant in the development of the human race since the beginning. But never has change been so immense as it has been in the past decade. Just think about the massive changes taking place in our environment, technology, communications and economies just to name a few… and so it is now with language, in the form of Global English. According to him, recent statement has been made by researchers, that English in the 21st century has not only become the lingua franca of international business but is becoming the lingua franca of all global communication. The eventual effect on the English of this development can only be guessed at today, but there can be little doubt that they will be as important as anything that has happened to English in the past sixteen hundred years (Philip, of Oxford/history. 1/10/09).

In Nigeria , GSM means telecom explosion. The GSM revolution began in August 2001 and changed the face of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Nigeria. Since the GSM launch, mobile telephony has rapidly become the most popular method of voice communication in Nigeria. Growth has been so rapid that Nigeria has been rightly described in various fora as “one of the fastest growing GSM markets in the world”. A growing number of population in Nigeria own a mobile phone, making it an increasingly important aspect of everyone’s lives. Likewise, GSM has revolutionized our business environment. Today, the people of Nigeria can transact their business from the comfort of their homes through the GSM facility (mhtml:file://E:\allAfrica-com. 16/10/09). Hamadoun Toure, International Communication Union (ITU) secretary general said, “ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) are vital within developing countries to ensure that ordinary people can fully participate in the knowledge economy of the 21st century (Softpedia.mht. 14/10/09). Nigeria is developing, and so. should not allow the ICT driven globalization, development, peace and unity be hampered by the said serious influence of the GSM/SMS, internet/email systems of communication. A high proficiency in the communicative ability of Nigerians in English language should rather be encouraged.

Opinion differs as to the use of SMS language. People have expressed their concern about the influence of SMS on the English language and said that the popular SMS and e-mail phonetic spelling have corrupted the English language. There have been some reports in the media of children using SMS language for essay in school: (mhtml:file://H:\sms language. 10/14/09).

Prince Charles in The Guardian of June 8, 2005 attacked teachers in a gathering, saying that plans to allow children to study text messaging as part of GCSE English studies were damaging the prospects of future generation. Others maintain that text messaging is merely one stage of our revolution and it is on the way out.

While some people decry the woe of text messaging and SMS language, others like David Crystal, a Professor of Linguistics in the University of Wales, Bangor9 said in The Guardian of February 28, 2005, that “the advent of new language styles and forms engendered by the Internet, and related communication development such as SMS messaging, should be greeted with delight”. To him, it is the greatest opportunity for the development of the English language since the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages (mhtml:file//E:\textually_org). Experts believe that the new form of communication such as mobile phone texting, email and internet messaging are helping us to stay in touch with each other (mhtml:// a paradigm shift). In China, it is believed that text messaging preserves everyone’s dignity by eliminating the human voice. It has also been observed that English has undergone four stages in the past and is in the process to the fifth.

The four stages English Language has undergone as recorded by Peter Baskerville are

  • Old English (Germanic tribe) 450 to 1100 AD
  • Middle Age English (William the Conqueror) 1100 – 1500 AD
  • Modern English (Dialect of London) 1500 – 1800 AD.
  • Late Modern English (Industrial Revolution) 1800 – 2000.
  • Post Modern English (Internet) since 2000.

Baskerville consequently observed that “those sceptable about a new English being created from the technology of the internet and text messages will only need to view the new 900 SMS acronym list from a social mobile network provider SMS Fun Dictionary to see how a new language can form from English within just a few years.

The curiosity for this project arose when I intercepted a student teacher’s text message during a gathering. This was what I saw in her mobile phone.

Hi V, hw r u. U’re gr8, ryt? GF, I wntd 2 c u FTF A3 drng d hols, bt u wr scrse.

FYI, u r enlstd 4 an award in ur dept. IMHO, u sld rsh bk 2 skul 2 clm it, IYKWIM CUL. :-*, MK V

The effort both the girl and I made to decode the message proved abortive, until I personally took this message home and used the internet to find the full meaning of some of the abbreviations.

The translation reads thus:

“Hello love, how are you? You are great, right? Girl friend, I wanted to see you face to face, any place, anytime, any where during the holidays, but you were scarce. For your information, you are enlisted for an award in your department. In my humble opinion, you should rush back to school to claim it, if you know what I mean. See you later, smiling! Mike Love”

It may be illogical to hope and to believe that language is dynamic and thus not allow the apprehensions created by the above mentioned systems become verified. From the foregoing, it is obvious that something is happening between the conventional English grammar and/or usage and the system of its usage in the GSM/SMS as an information communicating technology. The pattern with which information is passed through the GSM has changed in structure and probably in other linguistic levels of English language. The major interest in this project is therefore to find out whether GSM/SMS system of communication has influenced conventional English language to such extent that students in secondary schools forget the standard rules of the language.

Some researches have been done on the influence of GSM/SMS language, with university undergraduates. An example is that of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the British Overseers Administration (ODA) in 1990. Chiluwa (www.educ/, Oct. 2009), of the Covenant University, Nigeria also researched on the extent to which text messaging constructs Christian value belief system and sentiments in Nigeria.

In the same vein a similar investigation was carried on the socioliguistic of mobile phone SMS usage in Cameroon and Nigeria by Feuba Wanji Elvis of the Department of English, University of Yaunde. Ezekwesili (2008: 382) has also studied the impact of GSM/ICT on undergraduate writing. All these researches found adverse impacts of SMS coded language on the English language.

To the best of my knowledge, no such research has been conducted with secondary school students. No analysis has also been done on the pattern of text messaging with this group of students in Nsukka Urban.

This study therefore, aims at determining the influence of the short message service (SMS) on secondary school students on the learning of this all important language and by extension, on the teaching of the most widely spoken language of our time, English.

Statement of Problem

There is a paradigm shift from the conventional English language writing to what researchers have now call GSM/SMS, Internet/ e-mail systems of communication. The problem is identifying the influence of GSM/SMS, internet/e-mail systems of communication on the learning of the English language.

The fact that English language in Nigeria is studied in a second language situation creates enough problem, but the emergence of GSM/SMS and e-mail system of communication makes the learning of English more complex with the interference features from this new development. Many researches (as recorded above) have examined the problems of English in a second language situation at various levels of linguistic usage. There is so much literature on the phonological and syntactic problems of learners of English in a second language situation, but the emerging trends in GSM/SMS and e-mail system of communication add new dimensions to these problems. The emerging trends have provoked great interests but not much has been done in exploring the influence of the emerging trend on the structure and general development of the English language among secondary school students. And that is what this project is designed to fulfill.

Sporadic comments may exist, but this project is designed to do a detailed study with a view to providing a systematic view that will characterize the situation and the possible dangers of the communication revolution on the development of the core features of English, on the level of performance of the students at secondary school level.

Research Questions

The following research questions will guide the study:

  • Is there any influence of SMS language on the learning of English in secondary schools?
  • To what extent does SMS system of communication affect the writing of secondary school students?

The data for answering these research questions will be generated from

  • Students’ essay scripts
  • Students’ text-messages.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is

  1. To identify the influence of SMS system of communication on English language performance of secondary school students.
  2. To identify the extent to which SMS language influences the writing performance of the sampled population.
  3. To expose other users (parents/ teachers) of SMS to the danger of the influence of SMS language on young students.

Significance of Study

The identification of the influence of SMS system of communication on the learning of English language by secondary school students is significant in the following ways:

  1. It will reveal the level of impact of SMS system of communication on the students’ performance in English.
  2. It will provide teachers with enough technique to employ to meet the massive and evolving need of youths so desperate for information and learning.
  3. It will assist parents in interpreting some text-message abbreviations forged to confuse their understanding of certain contents, such as “CPC” which means “Keep Parents Clueless” and also help them check their children’s performance in English.
  4. It will help learners curtail the excesses involved in the use of GSM/SMS, Internet/e-mail.
  5. It will enable second language teachers to be alert to the challenges posed by students’ unrestrained dependence on SMS and its backwash on their writing ability.

Scope of Study

This study is an investigation of the influence of SMS system of communication among senior secondary school students in Nsukka Urban. The focus will be on the influence of SMS on the writing performance of this category of students. Consequently, the study will cover only senior secondary schools in Nsukka urban.

Chapter Five

Discussion and Conclusion

5.0 Introduction

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 sub-headings:

  • Discussions of Findings
  • Recommendations
  • Suggestions for Further Studies
  • Conclusion

5.1 Discussions of the Findings

5.1.1 Findings from Students’ Essay Writing

The data on the first four tables under research question one (Table I-IV) 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.

5.1.2 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.

5.2 Recommendations

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.

5.3 Conclusion

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.

5.4 Suggestions for Further Research

Owing to the issue raised in this investigation, the following are suggested for future researchers who may be interested in ICT and second language learners‟ composition.

  1. A comparative study of the influence of ICT on the writing habits of students from selected higher institutions around the country.
  2. Strategies of using ICTs as means of improving students‟ writing abilities.
  3. Contractive pithetoric of second language writing in the face of ICT.

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