Robin Queen and Julie Boland, both from the University of Michigan, recently conducted a study on attitudes towards spelling variation, which has now been picked up by The Guardian. What they call “typos” and “grammos” are errors everyone has come across when using the internet and computer-mediated communication. Numerous internet memes illustrate computer users’ outrage about spelling mistakes such as the one below.
While typos are errors Queen and Boland link to keyboarding issues, such as spelling <the> as <teh>, grammos constitute “traditional peever errors that are only relevant in written language”. Thus, a grammo would be the use of to instead of too, for example. Typos are often considered simple mistakes caused by carelessness and rushed typing. Grammos, on the other hand, seem to be evaluated more harshly and to affect the writer’s personality, as the writer’s abilities and knowledge are questioned. Queen and Boland sought to identify whether the participants’ demographics and personality traits can be linked to attitudes towards such mistakes. 83 English-speaking Americans participated in their study which showed no significant correlations between attitudes and social variables such as gender, age or level of education. However, Queen and Boland found that personality traits (introvert/extrovert) showed differences in how spelling errors are perceived. Introverts, according to their study, seem to be bothered more by typos than extroverts.
What is striking is not only that they found such differences in personality traits and attitudes, but their methodology needs to be highlighted. While usage attitude studies have often been criticised for providing no context, Queen and Boland managed to incorporate their stimuli into email responses to an ad for a housemate. A similar study by Queen and Boland (2015) also incorporated so-called “hypos” which are errors that result in technically ungrammatical sentences and are often caused by hypercorrection. The distinction between I and me as in It’s I/me can be considered a hypo, which is also considered a so-called usage problem. Queen and Boland’s study (2015) includes a further usage problem: could of and would of.
Since I am studying usage attitudes in England, such studies are indispensable. However, it is intriguing to see how many studies have been published in the United States and how little work has been done in the United Kingdom. If you have come across any UK studies, please share them with us by commenting below!
Queen, R. & Boland, J. (2015). I think your going to like me: Exploring the role of errors in email messages on assessments of potential housemates. Linguistic Vanguard 1 (1). pp. 283–293.