How does the language you use in text messages differ from your email style, and from your prose in more formal contexts? This is something to which I’ve been paying more attention since reading David Crystal’s book Txtng: The gr8 db8, which examines text language and refutes complaints that it’s an indication of illiteracy, laziness, or the fall of humanity.
I use abbreviations in text messages, lots of them time-related (hrs, eve, Tues, wkend or w/e), but I avoid many common ones (u, @) and don’t normally use number–letter mixtures (l8r, 2day, sum1). This aversion is aesthetic, though I don’t mind reading such terms in other people’s messages. Some abbreviations (e.g., FWIW) give me pause unless I’m sure the recipient is familiar with them; others (e.g., thx) I tend to use only if space restrictions demand.
A grammatical feature of most people’s text messages, in my experience, is that many sentences are elliptical. Instead of ‘I’m off for a cycle’, I would say ‘Off for a cycle’, ‘Off on bike’, or ‘Off cycling’. This style is common to many informal contexts, but in texting it may even be the norm. And when I do include I-forms, they’re typically lowercase: i’m, i’ll, i’d.
Though I don’t object to LOL and company, I prefer to type out my laughs as ha ha, hee hee, ho ho, heh, mwa ha ha haaaa, and so on. I don’t use ROFL either, but I was very interested to hear about the new meanings it has taken on. Something similar, though less radical, has happened with OMG: Kerry Maxwell shows how ‘its meaning and areas of use have . . . begun to extend beyond its initial function’.
In Ireland, a similar expression of surprise – Jesus Mary and Joseph – has led to the jocular acronym JMJ. These tweets illustrate its use in the wild. When I go to type JMJ in my phone, I’m offered LOL: such textonyms, which occur through predictive typing, are another curious development from the technology. Sharon has written about how we’ve learned to ‘auto-translate’ them. People sometimes even use the alternatives – nonsensical in another context – as a texting in-joke.
New modes and styles of expression are an important part of language change and growth – they have ‘spawned all sorts of clever, funny and inventive new uses of language’, as Michael put it. Texting, like slang, is an ‘active frontier’, and the innovation and flux it illustrates is a sign of linguistic health. So long as communication is effective, and young people learn (or are taught) when texting style is inappropriate, there is no call for alarm. Despite occasional panic, texting is not ruining language – it’s just another way for social creatures to be social.
What is your texting language like? I’d love to hear about the differences in your style. And if you text in another language, what customs and abbreviations do you use?Email this Post