“ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc”

On: October 5, 2009
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About Radmila Radojevic
I am a communications professional from Montreal, Canada. Much of my experience is in the cultural sector and community-driven initiatives. I worked and volunteered for various community and art groups in Montreal (CKUT, university and community radio station, Studio XX, a feminist digital arts organization, Maid in Cyberspace, an annual arts festival organized by Studio XX, Eyesteelfilm, a social documentary film company etc.) Currently doing my MA at UvA. My main interests are in data visualization and locative media.


According to the recent statistic from ITU (International Telecommunication Union), in conjunction with UN, more than half of the globe population is subscribed to mobile telephony systems. And this number competes with that of the Internet subscribers. While mobiles have been prevailingly used in every day communication among young people (College and University students), the statistics has shown increasing number of adults joining the trend. Among its most loyal demographics, teens, mobiles have diverse applications ranging from commercial to participatory (yet to be explored), the most common is – person-to-person communication with emphasis on text messaging. MIM (mobile instant messaging) is apparently the most popular electronically based text communication form, along with Tweeter. Teens use it at any place (at home, in school, in public places), and at ‘any time’ – around 20% of teens in developed countries said that they send and receive SMS even after midnight and during the school week.

Text messages have limited length of 160 characters which constraints the user to ‘compress’ her sentences /thoughts by practicing non – conventional spelling, abbreviations and use of aphorisms, epigrams, quotes or similar forms of expression. Moreover, though this communication channel is asynchronious (like email) which allows the user control over response time and in turn chance to reflect, because of its mobility and affordability it is often used more in form of a dialogue /conversation. Text-messaging is an “email on the move” (Rössler & Höflich, 2002) reflecting oral communication much like in online chats (where participants take turn during the conversation). Texters commonly ‘enrich’ their language with creative punctuation and onomatopoeic symbols to mimic face-to-face conversation (compensating for non-verbal cues). All of these have inspired emergence of a hybrid kind of SMS language, a combination of oral and written communication.

There is on-going controversy regarding an extent to which this hybrid language has been changing our conventional language(s). One teacher from Britain gave an assignment to his students to write about their summer and one of his students wrote: “my smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it”s a gr8 plc.” (The translation : Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It”s a great place” (“Girl writes”, 2003). Some other reports such as in ‘Email-“Inspired” Changes in Non-Native Legal Discourse’ by Isabel Berman, express concerns about alarming decline in the quality of written assignments of young students and professor’s helplessness to control the phenomenon: “9 out of 13 professors and senior lecturers stated that they accept informal email messages from students that contain SMS shorthand. They also claimed, however, that they frequently see similar elements of Sms text-messaging shorthand in seminar papers and examinations.” However, some see texting, along with emailing and chatting, as creative practices of language which not only don’t negatively affect student’s written language abilities but actually enrich them. According to this article published in University of Toronto press, teens regularly using SMS “ show an extremely lucid command of the language”. http://www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/060731-2474.asp. I recall debate around (“Inventive spelling” which had been suggested years ago by some teachers who believed it would have helped children to acquire spelling skills faster, yet has never been universally recognized)

David Crystal is one of the authors who believes in creative potential of instant text-based electronic communication. He has been studying this ‘crossover of written slang to speech’ and wrote a book “Language and the Internet” in which he has proposed a new field of studies – Internet linguistics. On the Internet all I could find were initiatives such as NetLIngo: List of Internet Acronyms and text Message Jargons http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php. List of SMS and other abbreviations. Occasional research paper abstract. There are books exploring the subject, I liked. “Literacy and Technology” and Email – SMS – MSS. And there is of course Jargon File, a glossary of hacker slang compiled by Raphael Finkel. The last revision was in 2003. In Wikipedia I found a link to one from 1991 (here).
David Crystal believes that SMS type of communication actually enhances our writing abilities. He argues that the popularity of written text communication actually might positively affect illiteracy issue.

What kind of language is really SMS text? According to Chandler, a text is: “an assemblage of signs (such as words, images, sounds and/or gestures) constructed (and interpreted) with reference to the conventions associated with a genre and in a particular medium of communication. “ What ‘genre’ is SMS? SMS message is almost always text-based (though this is not a technical constraint). It shows certain stylistic features stemming from a combination of technical constraints and communication customary uses (“it is an interaction…somewhere between ‘intimacy and social distance’ (Thurlow). SMS doesn’t have any standardization except principles of shortening, abbreviation, ‘crunching’. Which results in omitting capitalization and (when possible) vowels etc. Internet slang, shorthand, chat/net speak really originates from techniques of saving a key stroke /space.

In his essay “Generation txt: Sociolingusitics of Young People text messaging” Thurlow identified (based on typology offered by Shortis (2001) the following linguistic features of SMS: (1) shortenings (i.e. missing end letters), contractions (i.e. missing middle letters) and G-clippings and other clippings (i.e. dropping final letter), (2) acronyms and initialisms, (3) letter/number homophones, (4) ‘misspellings’ and typos, (5) non-conventional spellings, and (6) accent stylizations.

Most of these directly derive from the Internet subcultures and their language practices (chat rooms and hacker’s sites;). Unconventional use of typography, spelling and orthography stretches to subcultures outside the Internet, to fanzines, typography, graffiti, popular music, movies and comics etc. (and these even further back in history) They are ways of establishing social identity outside of mainstream, by unconventional /playful use of the language. Teens, for instance, in this way “differentiate themselves from adults” and enforce bonding.

Internet slang / jargon originated in hacker’s culture. It came out of a technical subculture of MIT and Stanford Labs. (Read about origin of net shorthand published in Computer World: FWIW – The Origins of Net Shorthand
Eventually, this jargon has developed its own dialects such as LolCat, Leet, ‘Flaming’.

Hacker’s subculture in order to differentiate themselves from non-hackers employed set of linguistic practices /norms: “Hackers use numbers in place of letters such as ‘1’ for ‘i’ or ‘l’ (though replacing ‘i’ is not the proper usage), ‘3’ for ‘E,’ ‘4’ for ‘a’, and ‘7’ for ‘t.’ Also it is important to use random caPitAlizaTioN, abbreviation, slang, emphasize words by putting ‘k-‘ before them (“k-rad”), and finish a statement with a series of characters for emphasis” (http://www.campusactivism.org). Hackers created their own quite cryptic ‘lingo’, resulting in an exclusive, elite grouping.

The Internet subculture extended its (linguistic) influence outside of cyberspace. For instance, slashed zero Ø used for one of Scandinavian vowels in the name of Hawkwind (one of the early British rock bands) inspired 1980 rock band Underground Ø. This, however, really originates from use of many slashed zeros by computer systems at the time.

Anther customary linguistic practice of SMS (emails and chats, as well) is non-standard orthography and spelling as expressive means to evoke informality and immediacy of a spoken word. Use of aphorisms, fragments of speech and words, epigrams and punctuation has been more widely used in, for instance, Graffiti art. Research on linguistic aspects of Graffiti art in Germany has revealed variety of styles: sound words (like RHAAAA; HöHö), exclamations, sequences from music, like RUN DMC; catchwords, aphorisms (like Brot für die Welt, Seife für die Kellies! / Bread for the world, soap for the Kelly family!); dialogues (Nadine grüßt alle Hyde-Parker! Danke. Hiermit grüße ich zurück) and tag names taking after ‘hackers’ names (2bias = Tobias, alles4fame etc).
Use of aphorisms, epigrams, or quotes in SMS are ‘fragments’ of life. As in William Burrough’s notion that “all writing is in fact cut ups”, SMS are cut-ups of lives of individuals.

In conclusion, SMS and texting language stem from other Internet subcultures and share certain linguistic aspects in common. It is a hybrid language as it has aspects of both written and oral communication. David Crystal believes that the crossover from written slang to speech is “a brand new variety of language evolving, invented really by young people, within five years”. Other commentators disagree, saying that these new words, since abbreviations for longer, existing long phrases don’t “enrich” anything; they just shorten it. Some people thing that use of predictive text in smart phones that predict words you use mostly might cut down on use of abbreviations. There is no doubt that text based electronic communication has been affecting our spoken and written language, expanding its ‘stylistic’ range and linguistic practices. People are free to play with the language on the Internet more than in some other media setting, which might foster more creative uses.

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