Communication Deterioration: Teenagers
Are Only Using 800 Different Words A Day
A generation of teenagers who communicate via the Internet and by
text messages are risking unemployment because their daily vocabulary
consists of just 800 words, the Government's new children's communication
czar has warned.
Although, according to recent surveys, they know an average of 40,000
words, they tend to favour a "teenspeak" used in text
messages, on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and
in internet chat rooms like MSN.
One poll, commissioned by Tesco, revealed that while children
had the vocabulary to be articulate, the top 20 words they used
- including the Vicky Pollard lexicon of yeah, no
and but - accounted for about a third of all the words
According to Jean Gross, England's first Communication Champion
for Children who started in the post this month, the lack of range
will impact negatively on their chances of getting a job.
Miss Gross is planning to launch a nationwide campaign next year
to ensure children use their full language potential and are not
impeded in the classroom and later, the workplace, because they
It will target children in primary and secondary schools and
she intends to ask QI presenter, author and prolific Twitterer
Stephen Fry to back it.
Teenagers are spending more time communicating through
electronic media and text messaging, which is short and brief,"
she told The Sunday Times. "We need to help todays
teenagers understand the difference between their textspeak and
the formal language they need to succeed in life 800 words
will not get you a job.
She plans to send children with video cameras into workplaces
so they can see the range of words used by professionals and share
what they have learned with classmates, and wants parents to limit
the amount of children under two watch to half an hour a day,
replacing it with conversation.
Her concern was raised, she said, by research conducted by Tony
McEnery, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University sponsored
by Tesco, who examined 10m words of transcribed speech and 100,000
words from teenagers blogs.
As well as establishing that teens use their top 20 words in
a third of their speech, he discovered words likely to be entirely
alien to adults, including chenzed, which means tired
or drunk, spong, which means silly, and lol,
the shorthand version of laugh out loud.
Both Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose and Tesco's Sir
Terry Leahy have recently lamented the lack of school-leavers
with the right skills for the workplace.
John Bald, a language teaching consultant and former Ofsted schools
inspector, said the poor use of language was a deliberate, anti-establishment
There is undoubtedly a culture among teenagers of deliberately
stripping away excess verbiage in language," he said.
When kids are in social situations, the instinct is to
simplify. Its part of a wider anti-school culture that exists
among some children which parents and schools need to address.
But David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor
University in Wales, told The Sunday Times that experts simply
did not understand the complexities of teen language and had judged
it by their own standards.
The real issue here is that people object to kids having
a good vocabulary for hip-hop and not for politics," he said.
"They have an articulate vocabulary for the kind of things
they want to talk about. Few academics get anywhere near measuring
January 11, 2010