Cosmas Omegoh and Olakunle Olafioye
The English Language appears to be increasingly suffering untold harm with the advent of the social media. In a bid to save time and cost while sending short messages (sms), many people have invented short codes and abbreviations which have stuck.
Now, every other person has come to adopt these usages as useful ways of communicating meaning. These usages are claiming undeserved places in the way the society now communicates.
Instances of such usages abound. Consider these: ‘bw’ for between, ‘b4’ for before, ‘bcos’ for because, ‘gud’ for good, ‘9nite,’ for night, ‘@’ for at. The list is endless.
Now, the greater harm these abbreviations are doing to the use of the English Language is that most of them are steadily finding their way into official communication. Shockingly, most people are getting confused with these unconventional styles, believing them to be right. And the trend goes on.
At the moment, the situation is getting worse among secondary school students as abbreviations keep cropping up in their essay writing, now making their teachers to complain. Many of the students guilty of this sin are said to be driven by the rave of telephony and the social media.
And now, they cannot even differentiate between new abbreviations and the official usages in the English Language. They simply mix everything up. The defaulters are now having a rough patch in their internal and external examinations, with their teacher lamenting that this development has telling effects on learning. And apparently, the society might be worse for it in no distant time.
For Deborah Njoku, a secondary school leaver, getting to know the harm this trend portends was a lesson she learned the hard way. She said she was already getting hooked until her mother who is an English Language teacher in a private secondary school in Lagos came down heavily on her. She said initially, she saw ‘no big deal’ in using some abbreviations which are common in text messages nowadays in her writings.
“I will say it had become almost part and parcel of me until my mum forced it out of my system,” she recalled.
The young Njoku’s failure to pass the English Language when she sat for the General Certificate Examination in 2017 had made her mother to pay more attention to her on the subject ahead of her SSCE the following year.
“My mum ensured I wrote at least one essay per week and would point out my mistakes. And normally she would expect me to improve on those mistakes in my next essay, which I normally did except for my use of text message abbreviations. But as much as I tried to avoid writing those abbreviations, I just couldn’t; I always discovered that one or two would still find their way into my writings. On one occasion, she gave me the beating of my life and barred me from using mobile phone until I wrote my WASSCE in 2018,” she explained.
On his own part, another secondary school leaver, Ademola Gbolahan, confessed that he was shocked to discover that his penchant for the use of coined abbreviations sometimes made him struggle to remember the correct spellings of some simple words especially while writing.
“I became worried that the spellings of words such as ‘because’, ‘forget’ and so on, were not coming easily to mind while writing. It was at that point that it dawned on me that I needed to refrain from using them,” he said.
Origin of use of abbreviations
Mr Adeyemo Ola, a principal, in a private school in Surulere, Lagos, told our correspondent that his students were also bitten by the bug. “We observed this development a long time ago among our students. Even now, we see them write like that in their essays. Sadly, some of them still repeat the same mistakes even in their final and external examinations.
“Frankly, it is a problem which has serious effect on our students’ performances. But we have managed to record at least 80 per cent pass in the English Language over the past years.”
Mr Aina Olalekan (not his real name), while tracing how this trend became part of students across the country said: “This malady has been there before now. It has its leg in the past, but became aggravated with the coming of the social media – telephone, use of sms and so on which now made matters worse.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mrs Mabel Njoku traced the origin of coined abbreviations to the advent of mobile phones. She reckoned that the need to minimise costs while sending Short Message Service (SMS) sometimes make people to resort to the use of coined abbreviations. She, however, frowned at those who use the abbreviations without cogent reasons.
“Most people don’t know when to use this type of abbreviations. It is important to know that it is unconventional, which means that it is inappropriate to use them in formal communications whether it is via SMS or normal writings,” she pointed out.
Danger in use of abbreviations
Mrs Njoku noted that while the use of coined abbreviations is gradually becoming a major feature of communication particular with text messaging, experts say the development portends a serious danger particularly to the students.
An educationist, Mrs Josephine Chukwudebe pointed out that the poor performance of secondary school students, particularly in the English Language could partially be attributed to the use of unacceptable abbreviations in students’ write ups.
“As an examiner, a student who uses such abbreviations in his or her essay risks half a mark for each of such abbreviations under Mechanical Accuracy (MA). And where the marker circles up to 20 of such abbreviations, the student automatically loses the entire 10 marks under Mechanical Accuracy, “ she said.
She, therefore, warned students to desist from using coined abbreviations, which according to her, could prove costlier than envisaged.
“Majority of students who use such abbreviations during examinations do so unwittingly. But no examiner will pardon any student for such mistakes because it will just be assumed that he or she does not know the correct spelling of the words abbreviated,” she pointed out.
Equally, Mr Olalekan lamented the misuse of abbreviations and how it have crept into students’ writing. “It is common nowadays,” he said.
“Look at the way they write ‘am’ for I am; they will not even write it with an apostrophe. That is bad because as many times as an examiner is seeing that, he keeps reducing their marks. That is mechanical accuracy.”
Also lamenting the effect of the trend, he said: “It is dangerous when you see students writing ‘bw’ for between. Things like that are out of it.
“The impact of this is that the students will continue with this grave mistake. That is why we have half-baked graduates all over the place. Look at ‘between’, for instance, it will shock you that some student who had the pitfall of not knowing to write it correctly will still not be able to do so even after graduation. So, it is a kind of backwardness on our education especially in English Language. It is a sad commentary. Any surprise then why we keep on churning out educated illiterates?
“There was a boy sent to my school to assist me teach the English Language while on national service. He is a victim of this problem. Even to copy words correctly from the dictionary he could not. Yet, he is a university graduate. That is a tragedy indeed, which will continue to have an adverse effect on our education.”
Efforts to get students improve
“We keep telling the students to improve on their writing and shun the use of abbreviations,” Mr Olalekan said.
“But even in the class essays they write, this problem still crops up; you see students writing letter ‘U’ for you. There are many of them like that.
“It is important you use contraction, but they must be correct contractions. Contractions are different from abbreviations. Take, for instance, the use of ‘can’t for cannot, wouldn’t, for would not, and couldn’t for could not. These are allowed only in informal letters, but what we do is to tell students not to bother using them in their writings, especially in their external examinations.”
Similarly, Mr Adeyemo said: “Since we noticed this a long time ago, we have been organising seminars prior to the time they will write their final exams. We do counsel them to ensure that this will not crop up in their writing; we do this so that it will not affect their performance in the English Language.”
On this note, Mrs Njoku advised students to always avoid the use of abbreviations in their writings especially during external examinations, warning that they have telling implications for their future and that of the society.