Are teenagers changing the English language because they are texting or using shorthand or slang? No, says a new study. “Very commonly, people think that teenagers are ruining the essence of English language because of their way of texting,” said Mary Kohn, assistant professor of English at Kansas State University in the US.
In fact, teenagers may not be causing language change the way that we typically think, Kohn noted.
Kohn found there was not a consistent language path that a person took from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Language change is more individualistic and varies for each person, she said.
“Perhaps our stereotypes about how teenagers speak are often based on subgroups of teenagers that stand out to us as most distinct. We notice the kids who make bold fashion statements, so we also might notice the kids who are making dramatic linguistic changes,” Kohn explained.
Kohn used the Frank Porter Graham project, which is a database that followed 67 children from infancy to their early 20s.
The database includes audio and interview recordings from nearly every year of the children’s lives and also has recordings of family members, friends and teachers — all valuable information for understanding how language changes as individuals grow up.
“The teenager subgroup did not stand out as a group from the rest of the subgroups, meaning there was nothing special about being a teenager,” Kohn said.
“Just because you are a teenager does not mean you will change your language,” she pointed out.