Wackiest Pittsburgh college courses: Carlow University has a class that’s all about texting

“Texting: Language Or Laziness?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

photo by David Holzemer/Carlow University
David Holzemer / Carlow University
MJ Slaby

Texting — it’s how we share updates with friends, make plans and then change those plans when we’re running late.

But could texting be considered a whole new language? That’s the question students in one Carlow University course are trying to figure out.

While not all of us are back in class, September gives us back-to-school vibes, so The Incline went looking for Pittsburgh’s wackiest college classes for this new series. They’re the ones that make you ask: “There’s really a college class on that?” and “Why wasn’t that around when I was in school?”

While we don’t have a time machine to send you back to freshman year, we’ll check in with the instructors of these wacky classes, so you can still learn.

Bonus: No homework or exams this time, but you will get extra credit if you sign up here to have the stories sent straight to your inbox or send us class ideas.

First up is “Texting: Language Or Laziness?” — yes, a class all about texting — at Carlow. It’s taught by Roberta Foizey, an assistant professor of English, who said the class is one of the most “fun experiences” she’s had in the classroom, so much so that she said neighboring classrooms probably are annoyed by the laughter.

The Incline chatted with Foizey about how texting is the topic of a class, and here’s what we learned:

A new language, or no?

The course is an English class, but it also falls under the umbrella of “critical exploration” courses that focus on critical thinking. So while it’s largely for first-year students, there are some upperclassmen, too.

Here’s the idea: What’s “the impact that texting is having on students and how they think?” asked Foizey, adding that texting, unlike a letter or an essay, requires thinking, writing and processing all in a few seconds.

So she asks her students to define texting: “Is it language? Is it speaking or is it writing? Or is it both?”

It can be argued that texting is ruining language or that it’s a brand new way of writing, and it’s up to the students to draw their own conclusions, she said. The whole idea falls into Foizey’s research interests of how people deal with a new language culture and how language can break down generationally and by dialect.

In the class, she asks students to read closely and ask questions both about texting and about articles about texting. Then, they have to communicate what they learned and know.

“Texting is a fun subject to bring it together,” Foizey said.

Changing course

Foizey first taught the class in fall 2015, and brought it back with two sections of the course this fall. A lot has changed for round no. 2, she said.

One example: Emojis were emoticons in 2015.

The language is changing, and it’s the students who are partly responsible for changing it, Foizey said, adding that whoever is using texting are the people who decide what’s standard and what’s not.

“It’s evolving as quickly as other spoken languages have evolved,” she said.

Texting in all caps means yelling, but Foizey said her students taught her that it also means the person texting is really excited.

“There are standards being established,” she said, “What I reinforce constantly is language is a living thing. … I could say today that all caps is excited and yelling and by next year, screaming is something else, and all caps is something else, too.”

The student and the master

In one of the first classes, Foizey asks her students: What do you know about texting, especially emojis, that you think I don’t know?

Their answers?

“I’m learning so learning so much it’s scary,” Foizey said with a laugh.

She said students taught her that the skin tone of emojis can change and where sarcasm fits into emojis, like that ? can be sarcastic laughing. (Context is key, she said.) Students realize that they are already masters of the subject, and that gives them confidence to jump in and do more in-depth analysis to reinforce what they know and learn what they don’t.

“Not only were the the students talking about a subject matter, I was on the outside thinking ‘How do I get in?'” she said.

Your assignment

Ok, so we said at the beginning of the post that there’s no homework, but if you’re fascinated by the idea of texting as language (or not), here are some reading materials that Foizey recommended: