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What Devices Do People Use to Maintain Brevity When Messaging

By Iamboss25 Oct 14, 2012 1130 Words
Text language has evolved rapidly over recent years with trillions of text messages sent each year. Until recently, text messages were relatively expensive to send and so users have developed various techniques to reduce the number of characters per text to ensure they are paying as little as possible. This report will investigate the effects of these devices with text messages as well as trying establish whether there is a link between the way people text and they way they speak. Finally, I will also explore some of the public attitudes to texting. The first thing I established when investigating text messages was that the brevity techniques varied depending on the purpose of the message and the relationship between sender and recipient. It also became clear that different age groups and genders text differently. Text 1 is a thank you sent by a mother to an adult child. In text message terms, it is relatively formal with both a salutation “Hiya darling” and a sign off “lots of love. M & D.” The only abbreviations come in the sign off “M & D” – which stands for mum and dad. The fact the M comes first suggest the mum is the sender. The use of the & symbol is widely used in various forms of written communication and requires no specialist knowledge to unpick its meaning. When compared to Text 3 it’s easy to see how the age of the sender can make a big difference to the brevity techniques we can expect to find. My research shows that the single x as a sign off suggests the text is more likely from a female sender and it is clear she is asking her mother permission to visit a friend which suggests she is school age. The use of letter substitution and phonetic spelling in “2nite” is typical of this type of message and implies a level of informality as well as the assumption that Mum will be easily able to decode the message. The impact of brevity techniques becomes clear in Text 4: “watcha up 2?” “hd dbl English” and “Lol” all suggest a good working knowledge of common phonetic spellings, letter substitution, vowel omission and acronyms. However, the effect of both the informal salutation and the signoff actually add length to the message. They are obviously not used just to maintain brevity but to adhere to a code of etiquette. The opening question is a request for the message to be replied to and an invitation to text back. The use of “lol” is ambiguous here – it could mean the sender is ‘laughing out loud” at the thought of the night out or that the sender is sending ‘lots of love’ to the recipient, an interpretation which is confirmed by the “Xxx”. Perhaps the device which communicates most is the emoticon. The sender uses the sad face symbol to show their feelings about the lesson they’ve had – this is a very efficient way of communicating something quite complex and does the same job as facial expression would in a face to face conversation and tone of voice would in a telephone call. It also suggests a degree of collusion between sender and recipient – maybe they have similar feelings about the lesson, maybe the sender is trying to curry favour or ‘look cool’. The use of emoticons, while clearly maintaining brevity in the context of a text message, highlights one of the major problems with texting as a form of communication: it is easy to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. It is interesting therefore to see how much effort is put into making sure that these problems are avoided. This might suggest that more care and attention is put into a text message than other forms of communicating. The fact that face to face and telephone conversations can be ‘read’ or interpreted by the other party’s response mean that we don’t have to think as much about how to say what we want to say. However, texts 7 and 8 could suggest the opposite. Both suggest male senders and recipients with ‘oi, where are you?’ clearly open to misinterpretation – in a verbalised conversation this would definitely seem rude. It relies on a shared understanding that this is a jocular request for very simple information and the sender has wasted no effort on politeness. Again this echoes the types of conversation males are likely to have with each other: factual and straightforward. Text 8 could be seen as an almost deliberate attempt to subvert the expectations of text language – the over use of letter substitution in ‘m8’ and ‘2 nite’ as well as the use of ‘bevvies’ (which is actually longer than the more easily understood ‘drinks’ ) suggest that the sender is affecting an ‘accent’ similar to the way people often will in conversation when they want to appear comic. Whilst my investigations clearly show that a few text abbreviations like ‘lol’ and ‘cba’ (can’t be arsed) have made it into verbal communication, most of the brevity techniques used in texts or instant messaging only apply in these forms of communication and have little direct impact on the way we speak. If anything, they are much more informed by how we speak. Text messages are often an attempt to capture in writing the patterns of speech. This is clearly seen in Texts 5 and 6. The highly informal “Hey” is used as a greeting and phrases like “Dude I’m pretty invincible” as well as “haha” to signify laughter all attempt to imitate verbal communication – you can almost hear the sender’s voice. The same is true of “sooooooo lovely” and the multiple use of exclamation marks to signify excitement. These observations seem to suggest that many public concerns about texting are unfounded. The view expressed by John Humphrys in the Daily Mail that “SMS vandals … are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours” misses the point that text ‘language’ is merely an attempt to imitate existing speech. Humphrys warns of the danger of “our written language [ending up] as a series of ridiculous emoticons and ever-changing abbreviations”. This views shows a lack of understanding of what text messages are actually for; ridiculing emoticons is equivalent to suggesting that facial expressions should not play a part in communication. To conclude, texting should be seen as a new and exciting form of speech and not as a bastardised form of writing. To criticise text language for making us bad spellers or as ruining the language is to misunderstand it completely. Some of the techniques that have evolved with text messaging have added to and enriched our spoken language. We should not feel any more threatened by this than we do by any other uses of slang words and expressions.

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