This inquiry employs a purposefully designed proofreading protocol to obtain empirical data on the ability of the target population (i.e. South African secondary school learners aged 13 to 17 – grades 8 to 11 – with English first-language proficiency from the upper-middle class socio-economic sphere in the urban Pretoria region) to identify textisms in formal written Standard English. The proofreading protocol is supplemented by a teacher survey to obtain attitudinal data on teachers’ views on textese and their learners’ written work, and the data obtained from the two research instruments are compared.
It is argued that the target audience of secondary school learners, as part of the ‘digital native’ generation, might have reached the ‘point of saturation’ and will therefore struggle to identify textisms in a formal writing context because they are so used to seeing them in informal writing contexts. Register theory is accordingly used to argue that due to the target population’s frequent exposure to and use of textese, they might not have a precise grasp of register and will therefore struggle to identify textisms in formal written Standard English.
The results indicate that the 288 secondary school learners who participated in this study do, in fact, have a precise grasp of register and will not struggle to identify textisms in formal written Standard English. The results further suggest that textese does not currently pose a threat to Standard English in South Africa as it merely reveals English’s remarkable ability to adapt to its users’ ever-changing demands and needs.