By Melissa J. Enns
In our last class, we talked about some effects of globalization on language. In the course of the discussion, a question was raised as to how expressive one actually can be when using mobile keyboards with predictive text. Based on my experience, I would argue that despite the limitations imposed by predictive text and autocorrect, “text speak” is a phenomenon in which (in particular) young people enact identities through creative use of acronyms and techniques to achieve the effects of suprasegmentals such as intonation and stress (see O’Grady and Archibald (2009) below). For copyright and privacy purposes, the following examples are my adaptations of the types of text samples I have seen, not word-for-word quotations.
First, let us consider acronyms. I typically find them uncapitalized, so that I first stumble over the odd “word” and then have to go to UrbanDictionary.com to find out what kids are saying now. Omg, there are bajillions of! As the previous sentence demonstrates, using acronyms can imply strong intonational qualities that are less readily available through conventional text. Acronyms can also identify the speaker (yes, I am using the term “speaker” even though technically the speaker is typing) as belonging to a particular group and displaying particular attitudes. Use of the right acronyms for the audience sends a message about the speaker’s texting “street cred” and can even make her sound sick af (“very cool”). Currently, the acronym af (“as f***”) seems to be highly productive among young adults, likely displaying a degree of social resistance in its casual use of a verbal swear as a noun in a comparative construction. I would love to further analyse the sociolinguistic implications of acronyms, but for the moment, space does not permit.
That brings us to suprasegmentals. There are soooo many ways that they can be expressed in texting. One way that I see with enormous frequency is the repetition of letters, often in the dominant vowel of the stressed syllable, as in the previous sentence. These serve to elongate the syllable or word, thereby giving it similar intonational emphasis to that which it would receive in spoken communication. Some other examples include:
Heyyyyyyyyy yoooooooou! (“Hey you!”)
Uggghhhhh, I have waaaaay too much homework. (“[Groan] I have way too much homework.”)
Dooooon’t let me do that againnnnnn. (“Don’t let me do that again.”)
OOOMMMGGGGGGGG! You did it!!! (“OMG! You did it!”)
As I understand it, the more times a letter is repeated, the stronger the intended emphasis. These repetitions, along with selective use of all capitals (as in Awww, not HIM!), serve to add a wealth of intonational features with the intended purpose of conveying subtle meanings that would otherwise be lost in texting. Another really fun application of these techniques is conveying sarcasm (as in Yes, I totally looooooove construction). Despite the existence of predictive text and autocorrect, I see frequent and productive use of both acronyms (including many that would not yet be in predictive text dictionaries) and letter repetition and capitals to achieve certain social effects that would normally be aided by suprasegmentals.
In closing, I would love to further examine identity enactment in texting, and I would love to hear your thoughts. What kinds of sociolinguistic functions do you see enacted through texting? How should we describe and study the texting phenomenon? Most importantly, do you think we can make productive use of it in the classroom, and if so, how?
O’Grady, W. & Archibald, J. (2009). Contemporary Linguistic Analysis. 6th ed. Toronto: Pearson Longman. (Suprasegmentals defined and discussed on pp. 40-45).
(2014). “i loooooove you.” Retrieved from https://memecrunch.com/meme/4PAEI/i-loooooove