19 Apr 2013

Text Language Critical Views, David Crystal, Richard Ling, Sean O'Cadhain, English Language Controlled Assessment Spoken Language

2b or not 2b? Despite doom-laden prophecies, texting has not been the disaster for language many feared, argues linguistics professor David Crystal. (abridged) (c) 2008 The Guardian and David Crystal

… Although many texters enjoy breaking language rules, they also know they need to be understood. There is no point in paying to send a message if it breaks so many rules that it doesn’t make sense. When messages are longer, containing more information, the amount of standard orthography [spelling and grammar] increases. As older and more conservative language users have begun to text, an even more standardised style has appeared. Some texters refuse to depart at all from traditional orthography. And standard spelling and punctuation is the norm when institutions send out information messages, as in this university text to students: "Weather Alert! No classes today due to snow storm", or in the texts which radio listeners are invited to send in to programmes. These institutional messages now form the majority of texts in cyberspace - and several organisations forbid the use of abbreviations, knowing that many readers will not understand them.
Research has made it clear that the early media hysteria, about how text messaging was ‘damaging English’, was misplaced. In one American study, less than 20% of the text messages looked at showed abbreviated forms of any kind - about three per message. And in a Norwegian study, the proportion was even lower, with just 6% using abbreviations. In my own text collection, the figure is about 10%.
There are several distinctive features of the way texts are written that combine to give the impression of ‘bad English’, but none of them is, in fact, new. Many of them were being used in chatroom interactions before the arrival of mobile phones. Some can be found in pre-computer informal writing, dating back a hundred years or more.
The most noticeable feature is the use of single letters, numerals, and symbols to represent words or parts of words, as with b "be" and 2 "to". Adults who condemn a "c u" in a young person's texting have forgotten that they once did the same thing themselves (though not on a mobile phone).
Similarly, the use of initial letters for whole words (n for "no", gf for "girlfriend", cmb "call me back") is not at all new. People have been initialising common phrases for ages. IOU is known from 1618. There is no difference, apart from the medium of communication, between a modern kid's "lol" ("laughing out loud") and an earlier generation's "Swalk" ("sealed with a loving kiss").
In texts we find such forms as msg ("message") and xlnt ("excellent"). Almst any wrd cn be abbrvted in ths wy - though there is no consistency between texters. But this isn't new either. Eric Partridge published his Dictionary of Abbreviations in 1942. It contained dozens of SMS-looking examples, such as agn "again", mth "month", and gd "good" - 50 years before texting was born.
English has had abbreviated words ever since it began to be written down. Words such as exam, vet, fridge, cox and bus are so familiar that they have effectively become new words. When some of these abbreviated forms first came into use, they also attracted criticism. In 1711, for example, Joseph Addison complained about the way words were being "miserably curtailed" - he mentioned pos (itive) and incog (nito). And Jonathan Swift thought that abbreviating words was a "barbarous custom".
What novelty there is in texting lies chiefly in the way it takes further some of the processes used in the past. Some text forms almost look like puzzles as they blend so many forms - sequences of shortened and full words (hldmecls "hold me close"), logograms and shortened words (2bctnd "to be continued"), logograms and nonstandard spellings (cu2nite) and so on. There are no less than four processes combined in iowan2bwu "I only want to be with you" - full word + an initialism + a shortened word + two logograms + an initialism + a logogram. 
There are also individual differences in texting, as in any other linguistic domain. In 2002, Stuart Campbell was found guilty of the murder of his 15-year-old niece after his text message alibi was shown to be a forgery. He had claimed that certain texts sent by the girl showed he was innocent. But a detailed comparison of the vocabulary and other stylistic features of his own text messages and those of his niece showed that he had written the messages himself. 
Texters use non-standard spellings - and they know they are non-standard. But they are by no means the first to use such forms as cos "because", wot "what", or gissa "give us a". Several of these are so much part of English literary tradition that they have been given entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. "Cos" is there from 1828 and "wot" from 1829. Many can be found in literary dialect representations, such as by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Walter Scott, DH Lawrence, or Alan Bleasdale ("Gissa job!").
Abbreviations were used as a natural, intuitive response to the problem of numerical keypads. Texters simply transferred (and then embellished) what they had encountered in other settings. We have all left notes in which we have replaced an ‘and’ with &, a three by a 3, and so on. Anglo-Saxon scribes of a thousand years ago used abbreviations of this kind.
But the need to save time and energy is by no means the whole story of texting. When we look at some texts, they are linguistically quite complex. The drive to be playful and creative is there when we text.

The following two extracts (abridged) are taken from Wikipedia (eek!)
Text language and group identity
According to Sean Ó Cadhain, abbreviations and acronyms build a sense of group identity as users must be familiar with the language of their group to be able to be a part of it. Slang, elision and other features build a group identity and exclude outsiders. Text language is thus thought to be the "secret code of the youth" by some. Often, shortened forms are used not for brevity but to establish bonding and group identity.
Male/Female text language
According to Norwegian researcher Richard Ling, there are differences in the text language of men and women. Ling analysed large numbers of messages and found that the vocabulary, word order, and specific text forms [e.g. elisions, emoticons] chosen by men and by women showed women are more "adroit” [skilful], “literary" texters. Richard Ling found:

  • Women's messages tend to be "longer"
  • Women used more "complex structure" and grammar
  • Men's messages tend to comprise "one-sentence", "one-clause" or "one-thought" constructions (the last is most noticeable among male users within the ages 16 to 19)
  • More expected greetings and sign-offs were observed in women's messages
  • Women had messages with emotional and practical content. Men mostly used SMS language for practical content only.
  • Women and the younger users (across gender) tend to use more shortened forms and emoticons than men
  • While women observed conventional rules more than men, the difference is marginal. This involves the use of correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization etc
Source, Wikipedia article ‘SMS Language’

Pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to the meaning of a conversation. This includes:
  • Age of participants (whether same or different); also male/female* (see left)
  • relative status (this affects ratio of ‘politeness’, formality, marks of respect to playfulness, informality, dialect/slang)
  • time/place of conversation (e.g. daughter texts mother from upstairs in same house, students text each other from two different parts of the school, texters are trying to work out where the other is so they can meet up, etc)
  • number of particpants (private vs group messaging)

The pragmatics of a text exchange is linked to the amount or mixture of:

1 Formality > Informality
2 Information exchange > Social/ bonding/emotional 
3 Shared assumptions / prior knowledge (e.g. if participants are peers, or family, there will be shared knowledge, dialect/code words) >
If participants share a workplace, hobby or are part of a group *(see left), there may be shared jargon.

How to write about pragmatics in an essay:
1.The pragmatics (or context) of the mother/daughter exchange creates a mixed tone. There is difference in age/status, but also closeness in the relationship. Therefore we see a mixture of formal styles, and informal, social bonding features, such as [QUOTE and analyse].

2.As both participants are female, we see more greetings, emoticons and sign-offs, such as [QUOTE and analyse]. This is in line with the observations of Richard Ling, that women are more ‘adroit, ‘literary’ texters.

3. The pragmatics of the same age boy/girl text exchange means there is a high proportion of informal features. The acronyms, logograms and initialisms such as [QUOTE and analyse] elicit a sense of group identity, in line with the research of Sean O Cadhain. Note that the girl uses a higher proportion of emotional features such as [QUOTE and analyse] whereas the boy uses a higher proportion of ‘one thought’ utterances with practical, rather than emotional content. [QUOTE and analyse]