Information Age Education Blog

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7 minutes reading time (1402 words)

Hand Printing, Cursive Writing, and Fingered Speech

Cursive handwriting today is giving way to hand printing and word processing. A new type of communication is emerging called fingered speech, a term being used to describe the language/communication of texting. See http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/talking-with-your-fingers/.

Cursive Writing

I enjoyed the following paragraphs quoted from http://www.communityshoppers.com/headlines/is-cursive-history.html:

When soldiers in Napoleon’s army uncovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799, it unlocked the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Who knows, in the year 2799, there might be an archeologist who goes down in the history books as the explorer who discovered a buried Palmer Method of Handwriting textbook, unlocking the secrets of a 19th and 20th century American hieroglyph known as cursive handwriting.

The Palmer Method of penmanship instruction was developed and promoted by Austin Palmer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It soon became the most popular handwriting system in the United States.

Cursive handwriting is any style of penmanship in which the symbols of the language are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster.

But some of today’s education experts believe cursive writing is a waste of time in a digitized society where even personal signatures are now accepted electronically.

Written Language

A clay tablet that has been fired in an oven can last many thousands of years. And, before it is fired, writing errors can be corrected. The origin of this ancient cuneiform writing is described in the Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_writing):

It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was invented independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer) around 3200 BCE and Mesoamerica around 600 BCE.

Writing, editing, and communicating over time and distance have played a major role in the development of our current civilization. Over thousands of years people have worked to develop better writing instruments, better storage media, and methods for more efficient mass production and distribution of copies of written material.

The printing press was a marvelous invention—and, of course, so were pencils, photography, typewriters, and ballpoint pens. Along the way, cursive writing was developed. Quoting from http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa100197.htm - Manutius:

Articles written by hand had resembled printed letters until scholars began to change the form of writing, using capitals and small letters, writing with more of a slant and connecting letters. Gradually writing became more suitable to the speed the new writing instruments permitted. The credit of inventing Italian 'running hand' or cursive handwriting with its Roman capitals and small letters, goes to Aldus Manutius of Venice, who departed from the old set forms in 1495 A.D. By the end of the 16th century, the old Roman capitals and Greek letter forms transformed into the twenty-six alphabet letters we know today, both for upper and lower-case letters.

Now we have tools from the field of Information and Communication Technology that include smart phones, instant messaging, texting, tweeting, email, the Web, voice input and output, computer translation of natural languages, and other aids to creating, editing, storing, transmitting, and retrieving written materials. The use of cursive writing is decreasing as more and more people routinely communicate electronically.

Decline in Teaching Cursive Writing

In recent years, there has been a decline in the teaching of cursive writing in elementary school. A summary of these changes is provided in Shapiro (5/7/2013). Quoting from this source:

Really Good Stuff [a school supplies company] asked 612 kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers from 48 states whether they teach cursive in their classrooms.

The study found that 65 percent of second-grade teachers included cursive in their curriculum and 79 percent of third-grade teachers did.

About two-thirds of all the teachers in the survey reported that they planned to teach cursive in the future and described cursive writing as “important” or “very important” for students to learn. About 70 percent of the respondents said that no longer teaching cursive would have long-term negative consequences.

A Vanderbilt University study in 2007 found that 50 percent of second-grade and 90 percent of third-grade teachers gave cursive instruction, and a 2010 report by the Miami-Dade public school system concluded that cursive instruction had been diminishing across the country since the 1970s.

At the College Level

The change from cursive writing to hand printing on exams in colleges has been quite rapid. Quoting from Graves (2010):

The College Board…sampled 6,498 essays written for its SAT college entrance exam between March 2005 and January 2006. [Only] fifteen percent of the essays were written in cursive.

The loops and curls of cursive handwriting have all but vanished from college essay exam blue books.

Cursive writing is endangered and may near extinction in another generation, educators say. With the rise of word processing, texting and twittering, young people have fewer needs to write by hand. Cursive is on its way to becoming an artifact for calligraphers.

 

Fingered Speech

I thoroughly enjoyed a recent TED Talk by John McWhorter (February, 2013). Quoting from the Website:

John McWhorter studies how language has evolved—and will evolve —with social, historical, and technological developments, in addition to studying and writing about race in America.

In recent work, he’s been urging grammarians to think of email and text messages not as the scourge of the English language but as “fingered speech,” a new form between writing and talking. These digital missives, despite their “shaggy construction,” represent an exciting new form of communication in which “lol” and “hey” are particles, he suggests, and written thoughts can be shared at the speed of talking.

Students today are, in effect, learning to read and write in two different types of language—the fingered speech of their peers and the “traditional” natural languages such as written and spoken English, Spanish, Chinese, etc. There is a widening gap between communication among today’s youth and communication of youth with older generations. Students are increasingly bilingual in fingered speech and reading/writing a natural language. But they typically are not allowed to use fingered speech in their schoolwork and assessments.

Final Remarks

“The medium is the message” is an often-used quote from Marshall McLuhan. However, in terms of the issues of keyboarded writing, hand printed writing, and cursive writing, the real issue is not the medium. Instead, it is the message, i.e., effective communication. Oral communication and written communication are two different forms of communication—and fingered speech combines the two. Both are important aspects of modern communication.

Today’s technology facilitates video “face-to-face” communication that includes computerized text-to-speech and speech-to-text, and automatic language translation. Such capabilities are becoming better and better. Informal and formal education needs to focus on effective message creation and effective understanding of the messages that are created and sent. The underlying technology should not be allowed to distract us from the very important educational goal of effective creation, communication, and understanding of ideas.

What You Can Do

Think about the learning required to become proficient in using fingered speech as a routine and fast method of communication. Students learn this method of communication from each other and by trial and error. I find it amazing that students can quickly master the technology and language of texting and other forms of fingered speech without the benefit of specific instruction in school.    

Teachers and other adults face the challenge of learning to communicate effectively with this new breed of student who is fluent in the tools and toys of the Information Age. Reflect on what you are doing to “keep up” with these changes going on in the world.

References

Graves, B. (10/27/2013). Most college students print as cursive writing starts to disappear on Oregon campuses. The Oregonian. Retrieved 5/9/2013 from http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2010/10/most_college_students_print_as.html.

McWhorter, J. (February, 2013). Txtng is killing language. JK!!! TED Talks. Retrieved 5/9/2013 from http://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk.html.

Shapiro, T.R. (5/7/2013). Survey shows cursive, on the decline, is taught in many classrooms nationwide. The Washington Post. Retrieved 5/9/20133 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/survey-shows-cursive-on-the-decline-is-taught-in-many-classrooms-nationwide/2013/05/07/443eb4a8-b725-11e2-aa9e-a02b765ff0ea_story.html - license-443eb4a8-b725-11e2-aa9e-a02b765ff0ea.

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

40th anniversary of the cell phone. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/40th-anniversary-of-the-cell-phone.html.

A tablet computer and connectivity for every student. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/a-tablet-computer-and-connectivity-for-every-student.html.

Computer technology is only one of many technologies. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/computer-technology-is-only-one-of-many-technologies.html.

Empowering students. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/empowering-students.html.

Moore’s Law and improving education. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/moores-law-and-improving-education.html.

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Comments

David Moursund (website) on Friday, 31 May 2013 18:57
My cursive handwriting

My handwriting has grown more and more difficult to decipher. My printing leaves much to be desired. Thank goodness for keyboards! Now, if my keyboarding skills would just magically improve!

My handwriting has grown more and more difficult to decipher. My printing leaves much to be desired. Thank goodness for keyboards! Now, if my keyboarding skills would just magically improve!
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