Young people being literate in a digital space: what can textspeak tell us?
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Recognising the challenge facing many young South Africans in accessing affordable, appropriate reading material and content, the FunDza Literacy Trust produces texts, including novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction written for a young adult audience. The focus in this article is on the short stories which are made available via a cellular telephone-based social networking platform called Mxit. Users of the FunDza Mxit platform are able to read short stories and can also comment on what they have read on interactive discussion boards. In their comments on these discussion boards, users make extensive use of a form of written English to which I will refer as textspeak. The discussion boards create a digital space in which users can engage in literate activities that encompass both the traditional aspects of literacy (the mechanics of reading and writing), and the social aspects of literacy (the ideologies and power relations present and represented in a text). Using critical literacy as a framework, and a qualitative textual analysis approach, I analyse one short story and the user comments from the interactive discussion board on that story. My analysis of the user comments suggests three themes: 1) using textspeak, young people are engaging in literate activities; 2) this engagement demonstrates a promising level of literacy among the users; and 3) the users are engaging critically with texts and their social messaging and functions, and, therefore, are displaying a level of critical literacy. From this analysis, I conclude that there is potential in using digital platforms like the FunDza Mxit platform, and forms of language like textspeak, to encourage young people in South Africa to develop critical literacy about important issues that affect their lives, such as gender and sexuality, agency, and risk and vulnerability.