Texting styles

Recent research into texting suggests that different people use different styles. The style you use is influenced by factors such as your age, the social group you spend most of your time with, and whether you’re male or female – but also by your personal relationship with the person you’re texting and what you’re texting about.

In fact it’s not so surprising that we should all text in different ways, as we all have our own individual ways of talking and writing. Try to think of as many differences as you can between how you talk and how (for example) your parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters talk. Think about the actual words you use as well as the way you say things.

For example, would you say ‘Oh I say, that is marvellous!’ or ‘My word, it's a bit nippy out there’? And would your parents tell you that they had spent the day ‘cotching round a mate’s yard’ or ‘just jamming with my bredrens’? Maybe not …

Some people argue that the use of ‘textspeak’ is actually dying out and that new technologies (such as T9 predictive text and QWERTY keyboards) and cheap SMS deals mean that only novice texters use the abbreviated message style associated with texting in the past. Some people have even argued that textspeak is a phase that you grow out of.

Of course, all of this can be tested. Why rely on what other people think when you can find out what’s really happening by investigating it yourself?

Investigating texting styles

This resource is designed to help you set up a brief research task that allows you to collect text messages from different people and then to analyse the key differences between them. It could form the basis of a Spoken Language Study into multi-modal talk.

The main thing to work out in this mini-investigation is how to set up what we call a methodology: a set of procedures for gathering relevant information. What we want to find out here is whether different people text in different ways, so our main focus should be on getting data that allows us to see potential differences.

The approach we will use here is a fairly simple one, using your class of students. You will think of a particular message to be texted, and then ask each student to text this message to one phone. That phone will then collect all the messages from the different people and you will be able to look for differences between what the people in your class have texted.

You’ll be saying the message to your classmates rather than writing it for them, so they will have some choice over how they text the message rather than just copying what you’ve written for them.

A different approach that might work is to collect texts from people inside and outside your class. Why not see how your mum or dad text in comparison to how your classmates text? Do they use the same abbreviations? Do they use any abbreviations?

Features found in text messages

Firstly, think about the kinds of features that we often see in text messages. Have a look at the following list taken from research into text messaging from experts at Coventry University:

  • Shortenings: cutting the end off a word, losing more than one letter, e.g. bro = brother.
  • Contractions: cutting letters, usually vowels, out of the middle of a word, e.g. txt, plz, hmwrk.
  • G clippings: cutting off only the final g in a word, e.g. goin, comin, workin, swimmin
  • Other clippings: cutting off other final letters, e.g. I’v, hav, wil, com.
  • Symbols: using symbols, including emoticons, and x used symbolically, e.g. &, @, ;-), :-p, xxx
  • Initialisms: a word or group of words is represented by its initial letter, e.g. tb = text back, lol = laughing out loud, gf = girlfriend
  • Letter/number homophones: a letter or number is used to take the place of a phoneme, syllable, or word of the same sound, e.g. 4, 2, l8r, u, r, c
  • Non-conventional spellings: a word is spelled according to legitimate English phoneme–grapheme conversion rules, but not the conventional one used to spell the word, e.g. nite, cum, fone, skool
  • Accent stylisation: a word is spelled as it is pronounced in casual speech, e.g. gonna, wiv = with, av = have, wanna, elp = help, anuva = another.
  • Missing apostrophes: left out either in possessive or traditional contraction form, e.g. dads, Im, Ive, cant.

Testing for variation

Secondly, try to come up with a message that can be used to test for variation in these features. For example, can you think of a message in which you could test whether one person used plz while another used please?

Try to think of a message that includes two or three different features from the list above. For example, how about a message like ‘Text a friend to tell them that you will meet them next to the library at 8 pm’?

Remember, what you’re trying to do here is create the potential for someone to use different forms of texting, so you should be looking for ways to elicit (to draw out) responses that you can analyse.

Collecting data

Next, you might want to think about the amount of data you want to collect. If you’re doing this as part if your Spoken Language Study, 10 to 15 text messages will probably be more than enough. Here are some other factors you might want to consider:

  • If you are comparing texting across different age groups, is it a good idea to take samples of 5 messages per age group?
  • If you are comparing text message styles between males and females, should you get an equal number of each?
  • How many different messages will you ask each person to send?

These questions – and the ways you think about answers to them – will all influence what kind of data you collect and what you can do with it.

Another methodology that you might find helpful is to set yourself a hypothesis – a statement or prediction – to test. For example, your hypothesis might be one of the following:

  • Older teenagers will use fewer ‘textisms’ than younger teenagers.
  • Females will use more polite language features than males in their text messages.
  • Individuals will have their own distinct language styles when they text.

The above statements may be true or false, but you can set out to test them using your data and analysis.

Recording and analysing data

The next step is to work out what to do with your data. First of all, you will need to record it in written form to make it easier to compare the messages. You can use the attached form to record your data.

Clearly it’s going to be important to look at it and sift through it. You might not need it all – and you certainly won’t need to analyse very much of it for your Controlled Assessment – so think about any patterns that you can see. Is there a bigger picture emerging?

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