The threat is real

Experts explain what the effects of depending entirely on spell-checkers

  • Ali ShehadehImage Credit: Supplied
  • Diogo AlmeidaImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: The autocorrect feature can have both positive and negative effects on language. But, is our over dependence on the same making us forget how to spell properly?

Ali Shehadeh, chair of the Department of Linguistics at UAE University, explains that the feature can act as a facilitator as it “expedites one’s typing speed”, but when used extensively, one’s spelling abilities “start to fossilise”.

He said: “In some severe cases, autocorrect might lead to learning or acquiring the wrong grammatical structure or spelling and this might have a real negative impact on one’s language ability.”

With one-third of people in the UK unable to spell simple words like ‘definitely’, as stated in a UK-based study, Shehadeh is worried about the implications of such a rise in spelling errors on literature. “This is a bad indication. This will impact not just literature per se, but also other genres of writing like journalism and business correspondence,” he said.

The UK study also showed that nine in ten young adults use spell check on a daily basis. What does this mean for the written language?

Diogo Almeida, Assistant Professor of Psychology who studies the neuroscience of language, explains that people adopting autocorrect as part of their daily lives may mean that people are less likely to “memorise the precise standardised spelling of certain words”, thus affecting their ability to spell correctly.

He said: “Another possible consequence of the widespread adoption of spell-checkers by the new generations is that being good at spelling may eventually cease to be considered an important thing, since automatic spell-checkers could take care of any deviances from the standard forms. If that happens, then being good at spelling would cease to serve as a principle for being educated, which is really the only function it serves nowadays.”

He compares this to having good handwriting, which at one point was considered to be “an important aspect of a person’s education”. But, with the advent of typing instruments, computers and now smartphones, typing became the primary form of text production. “Having a good handwriting ceased to communicate the same information that it used to. Maybe being good at spelling will go the same route and become an obsolete skill because of the adoption of a new technology,” Almeida said.

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