Vocabularies Shrinking: Are Smartphones, Tablets, Other Internet Devices Making It Harder To Learn New Words? [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on July 23, 2013 4:01 PM EDT

vocabularies shrinking
Our vocabularies are shrinking, according to a study from the UK, because of our dependence on digital communication. (Photo: Flickr/Intel Free Press)

Our vocabularies are shrinking, say researchers in the UK, because of our dependence on digital communication. According to experts, children and adults increasingly absorb information through tablets, computers and smartphones at the expense of oral tradition, and they're not using language in a way that allows them to remember words as well. Our vocabularies are shrinking because we're simply not talking to each other as much.

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"[Internet devices] are visual rather than auditory, so it is likely that [children] will end up with a lower average number of words than previous generations," Marco Catani, a senior lecturer at King's College in London, told The Daily Mail.

According to Catani, oral tradition is eroding because children and adults are spending more and more time glued to computer, tablet and smartphone screens. He conducted a study using 27 volunteers and asked them to remember made-up words. According to his research, hearing and verbally imitating the speech was integral to understanding new words.

We're developing what some experts call an "electronic vocabulary."

"Most words dissipate within seconds while only a few, like errant splashes of water, drip into the memories of America's students," Mel Fabrikant wrote in May for The Paramus Post. "But the words arrive damaged or warped. The endings are truncated, syllables are lost, letters are changed, and meanings are mutated." From The Paramus Post:

Electronic vocabularies dominating the minds of our country's student population contain fewer words and many incorrect ones. This inferior language skill affects both the writing and reading abilities of its victims. An underdeveloped vocabulary makes it difficult for a person to clearly communicate a verbal or written message and, more importantly, makes it impossible for kids to understand complex text, which is another way of saying that they can't read.

According to a BBC News Magazine report from 2009, the average adult knows about 35,000 to 50,000 words. And while a person's education does not necessarily decide how many words he knows, exposure to reading does have a major impact on a person's vocabulary. Furthermore, listening, repetition and conversation are critical to language development and expanding one's vocabulary. 

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