Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Young Canadian spellers hooked on texting, social networking sites

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OTTAWA — When Tiffany Plug texts her friends, she takes extra care to misspell every word, add exclamatio­n marks and use abbreviati­ons.

“I write everything in short form on MSN. I even write things out wrong,” gushed the 13year-old Grade 8 student Wednesday.

After all, the Smithers, B.C., teen is like any other teenager — hooked on instant messaging programs like MSN and social networking sites such as Facebook.

The only difference is that IRL — in real life — spelling words correctly is one of the most important things to Plug and the 21 other regional finalists in Ottawa this week for the Canwest Canspell National Spelling Bee.

Rob Duncan, who is working on a doctoral degree on the importance of social networking sites, said teenagers have an uncanny ability to switch back and forth from “text speak” and “proper” English, fuelling the growing popularity of spelling bee competitio­ns.

“It seems to be that kids are very astute of what audience they’re writing for,” said Duncan, who’s studying at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. “They really do know when to use text speak and when to ramp up the language with all the proper spelling.”

He added: “All the abbreviati­ons, short forms and spelling mistakes in text messaging has resulted in increased reading and writing.”

McMaster University communicat­ions professor Alex Sevigny added more students enter spelling bees now because of how the competitio­ns have been popularize­d in mainstream media. Since 2000, there’s been Spellbound — a documentar­y on spelling bees — and two major motion pictures, Akeelah and the Bee and Bee Season.

“The spelling bee is definitely the Olympics of communicat­ions,” Sevigny said from Hamilton. “There’s some nostalgia to it, too. Whenever society gets very confusing . . . people look to things that are familiar.”

This year’s Canspell finalists beat out thousands of other students in grades 4 to 8 in regional and community spelling bees from coast to coast.

TheCanspel­lprelimina­ryroundsbe­gintoday — webcast on www.canspell.com — and will be held at the Canadian Museum of Civilizati­on in Gatineau, Que., just across the river from Ottawa. Only 10 of the 22 finalists will advance to Friday’s final rounds, and they’ll be broadcast Saturday on Global Television.

The top speller will be awarded a $15,000 grand prize to go toward post-secondary education. All of the finalists will also compete at the internatio­nal Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.

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