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We're In the Midst of a Literacy Revolution 431

Posted by kdawson
from the write-on dept.
Mike Sauter sends in a piece from Wired profiling research by Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford, from which she concludes that we don't need to worry about computers and the Internet causing a decline in general literacy. "[Lunsford] has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples — everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring. 'I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization,' she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it — and pushing our literacy in bold new directions."
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We're In the Midst of a Literacy Revolution

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  • Liar. (Score:5, Funny)

    by geminidomino (614729) * on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:32AM (#29230679) Journal

    she concludes that we don't need to worry about computers and the Internet causing a decline in general literacy

    lolwut? I c wut shee did thar. Were all loosing r minds, u no?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jgtg32a (1173373)
      What you wrote is just the (de)evolution of the English language
      • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ChefInnocent (667809) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:02AM (#29231087)
        In linguistics, we discussed how the older generations always think the young people are ruining the language. How language is always in a state of devolution from when the one pondering it remembers their youth. So, ever since the first speakers, language has devolved. Just for the record, your Proto-Indo-European is horrible. By the same token, your great great grand children will have no idea what you are mumbling.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by camperdave (969942)
          Yup... Ever since them young-us started building that tower at Babel, I can't understand a word those hoodlums are saying.
        • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:43AM (#29231711) Homepage

          In linguistics, we discussed how the older generations always think the young people are ruining the language. How language is always in a state of devolution from when the one pondering it remembers their youth. So, ever since the first speakers, language has devolved.

          That's great, as long as morons don't take that to mean "... and therefore your horrible grammar and spelling errors aren't actually errors, but the natural evolution of language." I've seen a lot of people who seem to think the fact that language evolves means that they are the instruments of said evolution, rather than semi-literate tards.

          To them I say: Someday, "loose" may be the correct spelling of "lose". Until that future day, you still need to learn the difference because you're wrong.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            tards?

          • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by timeOday (582209) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:34PM (#29232401)
            I agree, but on the other hand, I don't think grammar matters that much either way. The vastly more significant change brought about by the Internet is that far more people write and receive feedback on a regular basis. Feedback is crucial. As a kid, your mom will glance over your writing and tell you it's wonderful. In a college writing course the professor might bother to read a few pages of your writing throughout the semester, or more likely force a grad student to do it. On slashdot, you get feedback within minutes - and it's unvarnished feedback, too. Very quickly you learn how many ways people can misunderstand what you're saying, and how your foes intentionally misinterpret what you write. And you learn that long-winded writing tends to be ignored completely.

            So I don't think grammar is the most significant thing, and I don't think simply giving more people the chance to write and be read is the most important thing (although it is important). The big revolution is feedback.

          • Re:Liar. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by vertinox (846076) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:54PM (#29232683)

            That's great, as long as morons don't take that to mean "... and therefore your horrible grammar and spelling errors aren't actually errors, but the natural evolution of language."

            Natural evolution is mutations weather they are wanted or not.

            To them I say: Someday, "loose" may be the correct spelling of "lose". Until that future day, you still need to learn the difference because you're wrong.

            At what point do we determine that is? I mean can you specifically pick a time between the 1500 to 1700s where people stopped using "thee" and "thou"?

            Either way you can say its wrong all you'd like and people are still going to do it. Eventually it will change. That is the point the linguists are trying to put across. A million Grammar teachers are screaming out in anguish but not much anyone can do about it.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by R2.0 (532027)

              "Either way you can say its wrong all you'd like and people are still going to do it. Eventually it will change. That is the point the linguists are trying to put across. A million Grammar teachers are screaming out in anguish but not much anyone can do about it."

              You miss the GP's point - it's not that change is happening, but that come people will use the general concept of linguistic evolution to justify their individual behavior. The same thing happens with the concept of moral relativism: while it is a

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by martyros (588782)

            rather than semi-literate tards

            I think you mean un-educated people. Language is defined by its speakers, not by some book somewhere. If you sent a linguist who had never learned "English" to listen to some of these "semi-literate tards", they wouldn't be able to tell that they were breaking the rules of Standard English (American). On the contrary, they would find a complex set of grammar rules consistently followed, just like every other language on the planet. As far as I'm concerned, that makes it an

            • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Interesting)

              by frenchgates (531731) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:22PM (#29233939)
              An auto mechanic who has only a hammer is inferior to an auto mechanic with the same skill at car repair who has a full garage of tools. Words are tools for thought and if your vocabulary is stunted you are, in effect, dumber than someone with the same "IQ" but a much wider vocabulary. So be careful who you accuse of bigotry. They might accuse you of blind political correctness.
              • Re:Liar. (Score:4, Informative)

                by ColaMan (37550) on Friday August 28, 2009 @05:41PM (#29236573) Homepage Journal

                Words are tools for thought

                Precisely. Text-speak has a stunted vocabulary, simply because it was designed to be easily input and had to work around a 160 character limit. There's nothing wrong with that, there's a clear need for it in that particular context.

                The problem is that once it escapes from the mobile environment it bears a nasty resemblance to Newspeak - extremely limited sentence structure, very few adjectives or adverbs. Once you lose the ability to describe something adequately, you're screwed. You can't easily pass your idea or experience on to someone else - worse, you can't even adequately describe it to yourself. Recall that one of the goals of the government in 1984 was to shift the language in a direction that made it impossible for people to think rebellious thoughts.

                But I'm sure there won't be any problem with dealing with a bunch of frustrated people who lack the language skills to be able to share their point of view adequately. I'm sure riots and wars were started for completely different reasons.

          • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Spellvexit (1039042) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:17PM (#29233015)
            Having studied Latin a fair deal, I have a great appreciation for solid grammar, well-formed sentences, and intricate structures. I loathe the apparent devolution of language and despise the rampant misspellings, poor grammar, and horrific stream of consciousness run-ons I've witnessed on the boards and in gameplay.

            However, language really is a self-correcting form of communication. I hate the use of "ur" as a bastardized "your," but linguistically speaking, it's pretty efficient. People who spell horribly usually spell with a more consistent logic than centuries of archaisms -- why not spell "dependent" as "dependant" when we have words such as "rampant, occupant," and attendant?" Other than the baggage caused by inherited languages, why do we persist in using "right" instead of "rite?"

            In my lifetime, I've seen "donut" become the de facto spelling rather than "doughnut," and I haven't even lived that long. People can say poor spelling creates ambiguities, but our language is already rife with 'em. If a term becomes too ambiguous, the term will die in its collective usage, or split. We know from context what "your" means, otherwise we wouldn't step in to correct people when it's used in place of "you're." I think it's lazy, but from another perspective, it's could be considered an ever-changing process of optimization.

            I try to remind myself of this. Doesn't mean I have to like it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          By the same token, your great great grand children will have no idea what you are mumbling.

          That's because it'll sound pompous and faggy to them. ;-)

        • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Funny)

          by yolto (178256) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:49PM (#29232609) Homepage

          They'd better understand "Get off my lawn!" or there's going to be trouble.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PitaBred (632671)
          There, they're and their all still have separate meanings. There is a line where "stupid" comes into play, not all misuse of language is "evolutionary".
        • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by lysergic.acid (845423) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:12PM (#29232941) Homepage

          True. Also, I think that digital communication has actually increased people's acuity to grammar and writing etiquette. For whatever reason, when it comes to hand-written notes and letters, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and other things considered to be part of "netiquette" are generally ignored. Part of it, I guess, is that people are more concerned with legibility and the message itself. If it's legible, and you can understand what's being conveyed, then the note/letter has achieved its purpose. It doesn't matter if the author wrote in all caps, used a bunch of abbreviations, left out words or made other grammatical errors.

          But with digital communication, people get much more hung up on writing etiquette. Legibility is no longer an issue so the scrutiny gets placed on other things. Perhaps part of the reason is that people perceive typing to be a much easier and less laborious task than writing by hand, so there are higher expectations. If you misspell a word or leave out a comma, it's fairly effortless to go back and fix your mistake. And whereas it's harder to break the habit of writing in caps by hand, it's fairly easy to turn off Capslock on the computer. Add to that the immediacy of internet communication (chatrooms or IM versus a post-it note or letter), and it's a lot easier and more tempting to complain to the other person about your pet-peeves.

          All of this is again compounded by the casualness of digital communication. A lot less time and work (and thus thought) goes into sending out an e-mail than mailing a letter. With IM, messageboards and chatrooms, you have an even more casual social atmosphere. As such, people are more relaxed about their writing etiquette and naturally make more mistakes. Add to that the fact that there's a much lower age barrier to digital communications (13 & 14-year-olds have cellphones these days and even a 12-year-old can post to a messageboard), and you start getting a false impression that the literacy level of society is dropping when it's quite the opposite.

    • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kokuyo (549451) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:39AM (#29230769) Journal

      I think you have a point but:

      As an avid fanfiction reader I can say that I see both sides of the spectrum. Sure, a lot of it is abysmal but there are some masterpieces among them that overshadow even the originals from whence they are derived.

      I believe the truth is this: The internet doesn't influence literacy all that much. I just think it puts both ends of the spectrum in starker contrast.

      Also, I think chat logs can not serve as evidence. Just as spoken language differs greatly depending on who you are talking to, the purpose of communication has a big influence on the level you are using to bring your thoughts across. You seldom chat with your superior. You usually chat with peers. Few of us would use the same phrases, figures of speech and abbreviations in a professional document, yet most of us have at one point used such language, to a degree.

      • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:52AM (#29230963) Homepage Journal
        I've always thought the "the internet is going to destroy literacy" argument was strange at best. I mean what do you do on the internet? You read, and write, and read. Then you look at porn. But still, kids are reading a lot more now than they did back when I was young. Back then they talked on the phone for hours instead. In some ways this internet culture is a throwback to Victorian times when people wrote letters to each other constantly.
        • by Abreu (173023)

          In some ways this internet culture is a throwback to Victorian times when people wrote letters to each other constantly.

          Now we only need matter compilers and we will be ready for the Diamond Age!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I agree with you in general; however, I think it's important to note that quantity does not necessarily equal quality. The kids may be reading more during their time online, but if the bulk of that is communication with peers that doesn't utilize proper language, it may be counterproductive (or at least not beneficial to assimilating language rules). Sometimes using proper language and punctuation can even result in ridicule from peers because it's not "cool" to actually spell things out and use an apostrop

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by u38cg (607297)
            Traditional formal written English has all the hallmarks of a pidgin. We (the supposedly educated types) don't know how to make language live in written form, so we have to do all this extraneous stuff that adds no meaning to something that has the capacity to live for itself. Kids nowadays are building a creole of written language and when it's done well, it's incredibly lively, readable, intelligent stuff. Humanity as a whole has been moaning about the decline of standards since the first Sumerian put
        • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by BrokenHalo (565198) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:00PM (#29231951)
          But still, kids are reading a lot more now than they did back when I was young.

          Which is exactly the point of the article. ;-) Yes, I know this is Slashdot, and etiquette requires that we don't read the article, but this one actually isn't too far off-beam.

          But the prof's claim: "As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn't find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper." is slightly doubtful.

          It might be largely accounted for by the fact that competition for university places is much more intense than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Plus the fact that students are aware that if they have a problem with their writing, most of the more egregious offences are easily picked up by grammar or spell-checkers, which were obviously unavailable to those of us who used dip-pens and inkwells. But I suspect it might only be a matter of time before smileys or other emoticons become manifest in "serious" work.

          As she correctly says, it's a matter of knowing your audience. I wouldn't bother with emoticons when I am communicating with someone whom I know will appreciate subtle expressions, say, of wry irony, but some audiences need to be poked in the eye with a ";-)" to get the message across.
      • Re:Liar. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kell Bengal (711123) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:56AM (#29231015)
        An interesting point! Is the internet simply making writing of others which might otherwise be hidden away in a personal diary somewhere actually accessible to others for the first time?

        If nothing had ever happened to Anne Frank, probably none of us would have seen her writing, ever - she'd just be a normal girl too embarrassed to let other people see what she penned in her free time. Now through the internet, anyone with a will to write can be published.

        It may be it's always been there, but now it's more visible.

      • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:37AM (#29231617) Homepage Journal

        The internet doesn't influence literacy all that much.

        How old are you? The internet is mostly a text medium. When I was a kid (WAY before the internet), if you had a book under your arm everybody thought you were a nerd. If you had a slide rule they KNEW you were a nerd.

        But most kids in my generation didn't read unless forced to. Today, all the kids read a lot, even if all they read is the internet and text messages on their phones.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo (196126)

        It would be interesting to see statistics on how long children spend reading now that they have access to the internet, compared to 10 or 15 years ago when TV and video games were the primary in-doors entertainment.

        I think it certainly helps to see words spelt correctly and how other people write. Okay, the average twitter account is not exactly Shakespeare, but maybe it's still better than nothing...

    • i sed tl;dr nt

    • Re:Liar. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by purpledinoz (573045) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:07AM (#29231175)

      lolwut? I c wut shee did thar. Were all loosing r minds, u no?

      I really hate people who type in this manner. It saves almost no time, so what's the point in purposely making the spelling error? What does it prove? That you're some sort of Internet badass? I don't think so, it makes that person look like a complete moron. One time, I ran into a message board where the whole thread was like this, my head almost exploded.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "In bold new directions."

    I've written and enjoyed reading more porn^w adult fiction than I ever have in school.

  • by bezenek (958723) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:39AM (#29230765) Journal
    The Internet facilitates easy plagiarism. I assume papers for sale on the 'net generally have good grammar. Is it possible an increase in Internet plagiarism caused the increase in literary quality?

    We certainly know no-child-left-behind did not help the early stages of the pipeline.

    Just a thought...

    -Todd
    • by Krneki (1192201) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:41AM (#29230801)
      Or maybe the spell checking software is getting better and better. I can see more and more AI filters between our thoughts and the final expressions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      so.. wow.. you're saying that a huge percentage of papers being turned by my students are plagiarized? Maybe like over 50%?

      I guess you shouldn't answer that. I probably don't want to know the answer...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Deag (250823)

      I think you are missing the point, she was not just examining class work but "everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions."

      It is that people actually are producing a significant body of work outside of formal education that did not happen before.

    • by dintlu (1171159)

      These are productivity gains, not gains in intelligence or literacy. (or plagiarism)

      The abundance of similar material written about virtually every topic in existence provides the neophyte writer with organizational ideas and pre-organized information they wouldn't have had access to just ten years ago.

      Combine this information superiority with the compositional tools that today's college students have been using their entire lives, and the result is better papers, and more of them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      The Internet facilitates easy plagiarism. I assume papers for sale on the 'net generally have good grammar. Is it possible an increase in Internet plagiarism caused the increase in literary quality?

      We certainly know no-child-left-behind did not help the early stages of the pipeline.

      Just a thought...

      -jolly

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cerberusss (660701)

      The Internet facilitates easy plagiarism. I assume papers for sale on the 'net generally have good grammar. Is it possible an increase in Internet plagiarism caused the increase in literary quality?

      The Internet facilitates easy plagiarism. I assume papers for sale on the 'net generally have good grammar. Is it possible an increase in Internet plagiarism caused the increase in literary quality?

  • tl;dr (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:39AM (#29230775)

    tl;dr

  • I think... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:39AM (#29230777) Journal

    I think that is what has been the definition of the modern society over the past four or five decades. We are no longer in a period where "revolutions" happen every so often, divided by long periods of stability. We are now in a period where the revolution is continual.

    From material sciences to the internet revolution, we are seeing things happen on a monthly basis that have huge impacts on us. We are mostly numbed to this because we are used to seeing it. Yet go back three or four generations and look at how life was. Certainly nothing like today.

    My mind still boggles at the fact that I can talk with people half way around the world without leaving my house. That I can collaborate with people with more ease than I would have been a decade ago who lived only fifty miles away. This ability to communicate easily, I think, is the foundation for all of the other revolutions we are seeing.

    I wonder what this world will be like in fifty years. Will these revolutions help make this a much better place to live? Or will we find a way to fuck it up?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eln (21727)
      I like the "continual revolution" thing, but I think it's been going on for longer than you might think. I would argue the Industrial Revolution was the last true "revolution", and it's been virtually continuous change ever since then. We've had a fairly steady flow of life-changing technologies ever since then, and there's no particular sign of that stopping in the near future.
      • Perhaps you are right. It is hard to define when it began. From my standpoint, I see it as the period after the major countries began to really recover from World War II. At least from my not-so-educated on the subject perspective, I don't see a whole lot of advancements during the period of time between the two world wars. Granted, certain technology did as it supported the wars. It is also possible I am just ignorant on the subject.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BrokenHalo (565198)
        I would argue the Industrial Revolution was the last true "revolution", and it's been virtually continuous change ever since then.

        Actually, there are many historians who assert that the Industrial Revolution didn't exist; that the idea is a modern construction of how series of events were connected. The revolution (if one must use the term) is all one piece, and pigeonholing history into little boxes like this becomes self-defeating and meaningless.

        I was formerly unconvinced of this, but my wife (who hap
    • Re:I think... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SputnikPanic (927985) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:04AM (#29231133)

      I wonder what this world will be like in fifty years. Will these revolutions help make this a much better place to live? Or will we find a way to fuck it up?

      I sometimes think it'll be the latter. Maybe I've been watching too many dystopian movies, but technology, for all its benefits, can also change societies for the worse. Assume that 50 years from now we have the capability to put chips into people's brains. What will governments do with that sort of capability? I can easily see a proposal being introduced that would allow remote brain monitoring of sex offenders, for example. Science and technology will continue their advance and fifty years from now, I think we'll all be less likely to die from cancer, less likely to be mentally debilitated by Alzheimer's, and physically healthier overall, but I think we'll also have less freedom.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Ever heards about the concept of the Technological Singularity ? ;-)
    • Re:I think... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:55AM (#29231887) Homepage Journal

      Yet go back three or four generations and look at how life was. Certainly nothing like today

      My late uncle remarked once that his parents were brought up at a time that wasn't very much different than it was a thousand years previous -- horses or feet for transportation, no indoor plumbing or electricity, etc. His mother (my grandmother) was born the year the Wright brothers took off at Kitty Hawk, and she saw the first moon landing. She was born when telephones were extremely rare, and died in 2003, after most people had cell phones and internet access.

      Even in my own life there has been a raft of things invented and developed to the point that what was science fiction is now commonplace. Look at the old Star Trek -- self-opening doors, cell phones ("communicators"), electronic diagnostics in the sick bay, space shuttles, flat screen desktop computers, all were science fiction. I remarked about the medical tech in Sickness, pain, and death. And Star Trek [slashdot.org].

      I went back to the treatment room in ER with them, where they had her hooked to Star Trek machines kind of like the ones Dr. McCoy had, only Bones didn't have wires and tubes hooked to his patients. "Damn it, Jim," I can imagine him saying if his patients had wires and tubes in them, "I'm a doctor, not an engineer!"

      When I had my tonsils removed at age six, they used ether to knock you out. Ether is horrible; it makes you feel like you're dying. When I had a hemmoroid operation in 2002, the doctor said "ok, you're going to sleep now" and when I came to it was hard to believe I'd even been unconcious.

      My crazy friend Tom , the same age as me, said once when we were teenagers that someday you would be able to play records in your car. I said he was crazy. Well, he was, but he was right. We didn't have VCRs, let alone DVDs, or microwaves, or fuel injectors, air bags; hell, when I was a kid cars didn't even have seat belts.

      I've said before, to someone my age, we live in a science fiction world.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by apoc.famine (621563)

      I found myself wondering the same a month or two back.

      I am a bit of a fan of Scotch, and was sipping on a decent (I thought) Speyside single malt. I happened to be on a Vent server playing a game, along with a guy from Scotland. So, since I had this magical link to Scotland going, I asked him about the scotch I was drinking. He was surprised that A) I was able to find it in the US, and B) that I had chosen what he'd consider a pretty good scotch.

      So there I was, drinking and playing a video

  • College students? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jhon (241832) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:40AM (#29230783) Homepage Journal

    Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose

    Why not study the "prose" of high-school students? Particularly the "prose" of the ever increasing number of high-school drop outs?

    "Reviving [out ability to write]"? Yeah. And if I did a study that only looked at NASA engineers, I'd think we were all rocket scientists.

    • Hmm...having read NASA engineers' writing, I can safely say that education has no correlation with ability to express oneself in the written word.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I would be perfectly comfortable studying college students. What seems like a bad idea is extrapolating Stanford students out to other college students. From her evidence, I would conclude that Stanford students are in the midst of a literacy revolution, not that everyone else is. She's obviously not a Statistics professor.
  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:40AM (#29230793)

    But you don't have to take my word for it!

    "The show will cease airing on PBS on Friday, August 28, 2009 after 26 years on the air."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_Rainbow [wikipedia.org]

    duh duh DUH!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:41AM (#29230799)

    But... but... societal decline! The good ol' days! My generation and my recent ancestors' generations were the best, not like these spoiled rotten immoral kids! Everyone knows that Generation $NEWEST_BUZZWORD has been been corrupted by $NEWEST_MORAL_PANIC! This is obviously just some... some ivory tower elite INTELLECTUAL manipulating statistics (which every God-fearing American knows are less reliable than unexamined personal biases) to justify violence and sex in $NEW_MEDIA (which is much worse than the $OLD_MEDIA that I consume).

  • I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Deag (250823) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:42AM (#29230815)

    I found this interesting:

    Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroomâ"life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

    It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

    It makes a lot of sense. This idea of their being a golden age of people hand writing letters to each other is bullshit for the vast majority of the populace.

    She might not be popular with some people in actually praising a new generation. I remember watching a discussion on some TV show once where a professor stated that in his experience the current young people were much more diligent and hard working than previous generations. It didn't go down well at all with the rest of the tut-tuting panel.

    • Re:I agree (Score:4, Informative)

      by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:58AM (#29231039)

      I

      It makes a lot of sense. This idea of their being a golden age of people hand writing letters to each other is bullshit for the vast majority of the populace.

      l.

      There was such a golden age. It's just that no one is alive from that time anymore (nor has been in my lifetime). According to several historians, the armies that fought in the Civil War were the most literate armies in history up until sometime right around the year 2000, and possibly since (the show I watched discussing this was produced between 1996 and 2004--I don't remember more accurately than that).

  • Well, considering how the vast majority of people today, at all social levels, are educated to one extent or another, even compared to a mere 100 years ago, it certainly is very impressive.

    On the other hand, judging from the quality of writing I see online and work submitted by my own college students I beg to differ. But then, the more people we have going through the educational system the more likely the overall standard will decline somewhat.

  • by stagg (1606187) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:43AM (#29230829)
    One thing that is important is to remember that in nearly every generation for at least the last three hundred years there's been a tendency for a certain kind of comfortable intellectual to shake their heads and decry the downfall of civilization, the irreverence of youth and the death of literacy and wisdom. Noticing that trend does not necessarily make it incorrect, but it certainly makes it suspicious. I suspect it says more about a certain type of person than it does about our culture. With that said however, there is change going on, although unlike Dr Lunsford I think that any judgment of what is going on exactly is a bit premature: it's all guesswork right now. Her analysis isn't too bad, but it's not necessarily better than anyone else's guess. What Dr Lunsford has undertaken is very subjective, and it's almost impossible for her to get any kind of objective research or testable results. Given a century or two of distance and perspective that may become easier. (If we're still around then. ha)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:03AM (#29231109)

      I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.
      - Hesiod, 700 BC

      Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.

      - Assyrian tablet, 2800 BC

      We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect
      their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently
      inhabit taverns and have no self control.
      - Egyptian tomb, 4000 BC

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by niktemadur (793971)

        Thank you very much for this. I'm saving all three quotes as important reminders of the ever present danger of calcifying as one grows older.

        These quotes, however, do not address other situations at local levels. As a citizen of Mexico, there are many things to be concerned... no, dismayed about:

        - Kidnapping for ransom, as well as extortion, has reached a historical high and remained there for a decade, and these are just the official numbers, many of these occurrences are not reported. Most of these kid

  • Exposure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alaren (682568) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:43AM (#29230833)

    This has long been my suspicion, ever since reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. The "Web" is only now becoming video-heavy; for over a decade, using the Internet was always in large measure an act of reading, and continues to be heavily so. And the best way to improve your writing is to read, and to write.

    I do wonder, too, if there is something to be said for the availability of complex material to children. When I was in First Grade, my father took the school librarian to task for cordoning off the "big kids" section when lower grades were in the library. I was the only one in the class permitted to venture into the "big books" after that, which sort of missed my father's point, but the availability of challenging materials is the first step to mastering them.

    I give my children free (if subtly monitored) access to the Internet. My son used Starfall.com to teach himself to read at 2 1/2; he is now 4 and when he wants to calm himself down often asks if he can "do math" from a 1st grade workbook we acquired. We did have to have a chat with my daughter (age 6) about some of the search terms she was entering into YouTube (nothing obscene, but often crass as children are wont to do), but she has gravitated toward searching for cartoons on various subjects. Her spelling, typing, and comprehension of search functions is fascinating to watch.

    It looks like playtime, most of the time, but it is clearly a much more literacy-oriented playtime than, say, watching television (which my children are rarely interested in doing, though we do have television and do not generally forbid it). I will be interested to see how this study or studies like it look in another ten years--especially those that look for the existence and effects of the "digital divide."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The web might be becoming "video heavy" now, but being able to create video isn't such a specialized skill anymore like it was when television was introduced and video creation needed a score of trained engineers and huge equipment to make it work technically. (Didn't writing go through a similar stage as well?) As equipment and needed know decreases video becomes an experience where normal people become producers and not just passive spectators.

      Creating video could become a lot like writing is in schools s

      • Re:Exposure (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Brandee07 (964634) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:16PM (#29232141)

        Honestly, this is already happening.

        When I was in high school (not all that long ago), we had to write and perform skits on occasion. Now, I am watching (and occasionally being an extra in) videos my younger brother is putting together on the same subjects.

        Where my classmates and I acted out a commercial for a breakfast cereal in Spanish, my brother and his friends borrow a video camera from an unwitting parent, create props and costumes (99 cent store!), and drive around town to film at the beach or in the park or whereever. They made a commerical for a Spanish-language car dealership, complete with LLAME AHORA in huge letters across the bottom of the screen. They also filmed a music video based on the Vietnam war that made several of our relatives cry.

        They're not just learning Spanish and History and how to write a script, they're learning how to use a video camera, how to use video editing software, how to do special effects with strings and miniatures and perspective shots, and even some basic CG work.

        Unfortunately, none of them have yet learned to act.

  • by eln (21727) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:44AM (#29230841) Homepage
    I can see why the Internet would have increased literacy in the short term. After all, it's still primarily a text-based medium, and so you need some level of reading and comprehension skill to be able to participate.

    However, as the Internet moves more toward video, from youtube to video blogs to more and more stories on news sites being offered only as videos, will that jump in literacy be sustained? We're quickly moving from an Internet where large volumes of text were passed back and forth to an Internet where videos are passed around, and commentary on them is in the form of very brief twitter-length comments. So, I'm skeptical that people using the Internet in 10 years will be doing any more reading (or writing, for that matter) than people watching TV do now.
    • by AlHunt (982887)

      > I can see why the Internet would have increased literacy in the short term.

      Don't forget the study looks only at writing produces by college students. I did not RTFA yet, but I have to wonder about the rest of the world at large.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I can see why the Internet would have increased literacy in the short term. After all, it's still primarily a text-based medium, and so you need some level of reading and comprehension skill to be able to participate

      That level being "borderline illiterate" for the most part.

      LOLZ.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      However, as the Internet moves more toward video, from youtube to video blogs to more and more stories on news sites being offered only as videos, will that jump in literacy be sustained? We're quickly moving from an Internet where large volumes of text were passed back and forth to an Internet where videos are passed around, and commentary on them is in the form of very brief twitter-length comments. So, I'm skeptical that people using the Internet in 10 years will be doing any more reading (or writing, for that matter) than people watching TV do now.

      I can't imagine video will become much easier to put on the web than it is now (but don't quote me in the future!). I suspect most of our communication will remain text-based if only because it's much easier for me(and undoubtedly others) to produce an intelligent sounding text comment than it is to produce a (good) video or audio clip. For the last two cases, I'd ramble on and on and need to re-record many segments of it rather than just fixing typos and changing words for clarity. Also, many of us here ar

  • I am going to have to call BS on this one. Two things: 1. Just because all your friends speak the same level of garbage doesn't make you more "Literate." It just means everyone you know speaks like an idiot. It's great that you speak to your audiences level, now let's raise the caliber of that general level. 2. While studying editing for my Degree in Writing (Business and Technical) I had to edit a paper from an Honors level student. I couldn't even understand what point he was trying to make. So, what pa
  • by monoqlith (610041) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:50AM (#29230931)

    It's weird how communicating by reading and writing many more times over than we did during the 20th Century would have somehow made us better at it....

  • by bmcnally (1333283) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:51AM (#29230957)

    This sound familiar to the wonky research that was showcased a couple of weeks ago - that gamers are fat, depressed, and have an average age of 35. Data collection is everything. A sample of students taken only from Stanford, or Harvard, MIT, CalTech, is hardly representative of the nation as a whole. Those who get into these schools typically have SAT and ACT scores well above average - in both Math and English (viewing the demographics page at the study's homepage [stanford.edu] confirms this). In fact, if other research is to be believed, these are the types of people that are least likely to use Twitter, Facebook, etc excessively.

    A more comprehensive study would grab a frequency weighted sample that looked at a larger number of students at large public universities, as well as a significant number of students from community colleges.

    Unfortunately, when I go to the site, all of the pages under "methods" are giving me 404s.
  • by Laxitive (10360) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:53AM (#29230975) Journal

    I was happy to read this article. It reflects what has slowly become my perspective on online use of language.

    Speaking as an immigrant who originally struggled with the English language for the first few years I spent in North America, I love English. I love how some parts make no sense, and how it's infused with slang from cultural experiences gathered from far and wide. Formal english is completely different from slang english, pigdin english, or online english... but I don't see the latter examples as _inferior_, simply different... wonderfully different.

    People often confuse the notion of "writing English in a way that I can relate to" with "writing good English". This is not so. Language is most exciting when it is adulterated, compromised, and infused with the particulars of its speakers. I spent 3 years of adolescence in Louisiana, back in the 90s. While others were scoffing at the notion of ebonics, I was lapping up inner city slang: that beautiful, musical, profane prose. While others bemoan the so-called regression identified with online linguistic idioms, the 4-chanisms, and earlier the Jeff-K-isms, the flippant irreverence which with modern youth take ownership of their speech, I celebrate it.

    Who wants to read things in the same way they've always written? Not to say that great writers of the past are stale - I still relish my Twain, Irving, Rushdie, and other masters of script - but I don't see the point in taking an adversarial perspective on the evolution of language.... and have no doubt, language IS evolving online. Literature is evolving online. The presentation is changing, the context is changing, the composition is changing, the references are changing... it's fucking exciting to watch.

    -Laxitive

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hatta (162192) *

      The point of writing is to communicate. If your audience has to struggle to figure out what your slang means, you're not communicating effectively. Here's an example [slashdot.org] from just yesterday on slashdot. The guy may have had an interesting point to make, but I sure couldn't tell. Maybe you find that kind of language "exciting", I find it useless.

    • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:24PM (#29233105)

      I have mod points that I wanted to use on other posts but this one forces me to reply.

      I'm glad you enjoy English. I love it, myself. Unfortunately, I think you're a bit too generous with your praise of the beauty of dialects. Most to the point, you say:

      Language is most exciting when it is adulterated, compromised, and infused with the particulars of its speakers.

      I must disagree in the strongest terms. Language that incorporates seemingly random variations is exciting only to the extent that you enjoy solving puzzles over clear communication. On the contrary, to me language is most exciting when it communicates.

      It can do so in many ways. Beautiful poetry can be hard to read but well worth it. Ebonics might be the only way to talk to some people. 4chan-isms may work on 4chan. (Personally, the learning curve is too steep for me; 12chan was my limit for understanding such things.) But none of these is useful outside their niche.

      "Good English" does, in fact, exist. It changes and is influenced by all the things you mention but it is not rendered incomprehensible by them. It evolves slowly enough that it can be used as a common communications channel between *all* readers without regard to generation or lifestyle. When new words or ways of using the language are accepted into "Good English", they may sound a bit funny to an older generation but they don't prevent that older generation from understanding. Context should be sufficient to suss out the meaning.

      When a new form of speech is sufficiently radical that it can't be understood by everyone (perhaps with a little effort) and when the author insists on using it anyway out of some misguided belief that their way of doing things is ordained by the universe as their right, then these wonderful, poetic, profane strains of the language become, to be blunt, wrong.

      If someone speaks a strong flavor of cajun or ebonics or what-have-you, that's just fine. If they create written works where those flavors are so strong as to hinder understanding then offer up their works for the world to read, then they just don't write well.

      For people who share my hobbies that mostly involve shooting, I often cite the example of Zediker's Handloading for Competition, a technical book concerning how to make ammunition. In the forward, the writer says he has a degree in English from Ole Miss and that this gives him permission to murder the language because he actually knows better. He then proceeds to murder the language repeatedly in the book, putting into print deep-south faux-regionalisms so thick as to be occasionally incomprehensible. If the book hadn't contained so much wonderful technical insight, I would have thrown it away after reading the first chapter.

      Nobody has permission to murder the language if they want to communicate broadly. In limited circumstances, feel free to go nuts. Good things often result. But don't forget that, yes, there is such a thing as "Good English" and, most of the time, it's the preferred method of communication hereabouts. "Good English" is not merely "writing English in a way that I can relate to", it's writing English in a way we can all relate to.

      Unless you don't speak English. :-)

  • Oh Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpapet (761907) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:55AM (#29231003) Homepage

    So, her sample of *Stanford* students says we're in a writing revolution eh? Since Stanford's $36,000 a year in tuition from the bank of mom and dad it stands to reason the kids entering the institution have been matriculated to a similar degree before entering Stanford.

    Let's replicate her experiment in a State college and see what the outcome is eh?

  • by martyros (588782) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:56AM (#29231007)

    I wonder then if the amount of drivel you see is more about the fact that the internet exposes what's there, rather than bringing the level down. The fact is that 50 years ago you wouldn't read something that wasn't written by someone who had specifically developed their literacy. I'm always surprised at how much more ignorant some of my relatives sound on Facebook than they ever did in person. My relatives closer to my own age, however, are very articulate online.

    So the internet makes the world seem less literate (by exposing the lack of literacy that otherwise would never be seen), but in fact on average makes the world in fact more literate (by encouraging people to express themselves in words and thus get more practice doing so).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      On the other hand, you have to take into account the fact that because people read more and more bad prose containing grammatical errors and such, they get used to it, and tend to reproduce the errors they see.
  • OMG WTF iz he tlkin about lolz :-D i can rite good 4 realz

    OK, back to the real world...there's something a little fishy about this study. The article says that the study author surveyed academic papers, essays and class assignments for writing samples. That's a lot different from everyday communication -- you're writing in a formal style that is usually dictated to you by the assigning teacher/professor.

    I'd love to see a study on corporate e-mail communications, or even written documentation. I admit that I

  • Caught in a headline (Score:4, Informative)

    by joeflies (529536) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:00AM (#29231063)
    the headline makes an attractive statement - that the computer revolution is improving student's writing.

    The headline failed to mention that the students in the analysis were all Stanford students, and the article buried that information in the middle. At first it states that the research was done at Stanford, and then reveals that the samples were all Stanford students.

    Given that Stanford is a world class college institution, analyzing the progress of their writing is way too narrow of a sample size to say that all young people are improving their skills.

    What about people who don't make in Stanford? What about the kids who don't make it to college? Are they a part of the writing revolution too? Or are they left behind while we make tantalizing headlines about the elite students of America? The article summary would lead you to believe that this revolution is about general literacy.

  • I still remember arguing with a stubborn idiot who kept insisting operating systems are not computer applications. Guess he was one of those students, "pushing literacy in bold new directions".

  • there is a difference between literacy, period, and literacy in a specific historical vernacular

    how people talked and wrote in 1980 is not how they talked and wrote in 1940 and not how they talked and wrote in 1900, ad nauseum

    the guy who grew up expecting 1940 vernacular to be equivalent to the concept of "literacy" would lament this slangy derivative vernacular of 1980, when in fact, how people talk and write in 1980 is no better or worse than 1940. the problem is in how certain brittle and shortsighted minds define what "literacy" means

    the internet and cell phone technologies will dramatically impact how english is written and spoken, most definitely. but as long as people are communicating coherently, who fucking cares?

    at one time, such fragile minds bemoaned the loss of the latin language in scholastic curricula, that it would result in a nation of idiots and simpletons. so apparently all of you who don't know how to conjugate verbs in latin are illiterate simpletons. really? that's a valid criteria?

    so then why can't some of you see that some of the criteria some of you use to draw the line between literate and illiterate is equally random and meaningless. real literacy is about effective and coherent communucation. full stop

    perhaps, what people use to signify what "literacy" means in their minds are using signs and customs that are random and pointless, just so much useless and pointless flotsam and jetsam of the mind, more signifying of the lack of flexibility of the mind's of those crying "illiteracy" than any real illiteracy going on in the real world. random cultural detritus, linguistic mannerisms of a particular time period or geographical location have zero value in a drawing up a definition of the concept of literacy

    for example, this entire post used no capital letters. what exactly is the fucking purpose of capital letters anyway? a whole second alphabet for the sake of the redundant communication of what punctuation marks take care of already?

    so when SMS TXT speak "infects" the english language, the english language is not suffering. literacy rates are not falling. its simple inevitable linguistic evolution, and it consists of getting rid of pointless redundant cruft no one needs to communicate effectively anyways, but certain brittle minds latch onto as a fall in "literacy". fucking bullshit. develop some mental flexibility please

  • by Reziac (43301) * on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:10PM (#29232089) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    "The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade."

    Simple solution: have the entire class grade each paper, and use that "class grade" to substantially weight the final grade as given by the professor.

    Would doubtless put a quick brake on lazy or plagiaristic writing, too, since in the way of such an audience, any such flaw will be seized upon and flayed without mercy.

    The downside? Pretty soon no one would write a paper that didn't substantially conform to the current class groupthink, lest they be flayed in public. Sometimes there are reasons why your grade comes from a professor and not your peers.

  • by JustNiz (692889) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:17PM (#29232183)

    I completely disagree. It seems most people, especailly teens are insultingly bad at grammar and spelling.
    For example, the usage of "they're", "there" and "their" is more often wrong than right and are commonly used interchangeably.

  • by Kurt Granroth (9052) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:22PM (#29232233)

    There might be some validity to this study if my daughter is any indication.

    The study definitely nailed one point -- prior to the Internet, most people never wrote anything substantial outside of school. And even that was minimal and done with great reluctance. I remember one instance in particular while in High School (pre-Internet). We were tasked with writing a short story. It needed to be at least 500 words. I've never really needed an excuse to write so I whipped up a couple thousand word horror story and that was that. I was shocked, though, at the other submissions. Nearly every other classmate struggled to hit the 500 word mark and used every trick in the book to get there. Many couldn't even do that and complained about how hard it was to even commit 200 words to their story.

    That was the case throughout my High School years. Nobody would write anything unless ordered to and, even then, would do the absolute bare minimum.

    Fast forward (many years) to today. My daughter is a typical "tween". Her texts and IMs and email messages are all "UR sooooo cool!!! LOL" and the like. If you were to concentrate on just that, then you would be justified in complaining about the downfall of literacy. But you would be wrong. That's just one aspect of her writing.

    See, she also writes books. Not just "stories" and certainly not because she was ordered to in class. She finished her first book when she was 10 years old. It was 500 pages. Not 500 words... 500 PAGES long. Her subsequent stories have been similar.

    Now I'm not saying that the books are ready for public consumption but just the fact that she writes so much at her age is amazing. Part of it is that she is "gifted" in that area... but I'm convinced that part of it is just because she has been writing in other mediums for so long that it's become second nature to her.

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