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Spelling in the 21st Century

A new study from the University of Alberta suggests that the epidemic of "chatspeak" probably does not negatively impact students' spelling abilities.

The study's lead author, psychologist Connie Varnhagen, believes that the abbreviated language of text messages and online instant messages should be considered a dialect with proprietary spelling and grammar.

"Young people can compartmentalize their language," Varnhagen said. "They have language that they use on the playground and then school language. They know how to speak in classrooms without sounding like goofballs."

Roughly 40 students, aged 12 to 17, were asked to save their instant messages for a week, and then take a standardized spelling test. The researchers discovered that the students seemed to know the "correct" spelling of abbreviated words— for example, students understood that "probably" was abbreviated as "prolly," and that "shoulda was derived from "should've."

"Kids who are good spellers [academically] are good spellers in instant messaging," she said. "And kids who are poor spellers in English class are poor spellers in instant messaging."

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