SMS Texting Practices and Communicative Intention

SMS Texting Practices and Communicative Intention

Susana M. Sotillo (Montclair State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch016
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This study focuses on the predicate-argument structure of frequently used lexical verbs in the text messages of members of five SMS social networks. Using a text analysis tool, lexical verbs were identified, coded for semantic category, and tagged for analysis in a corpus of 31, 288 words. Three research questions are addressed in relation to lexical verb usage, structural simplification, recovery of implied argument, and achievement of communicative intention via mobile telephony. The results reveal that (1) predicate-argument structures determined by certain lexical verbs become simplified in text messages; (2) particular ?-roles assigned to particular arguments become implicit but are easily recovered; and (3) text messaging language constitutes a variety of naturally occurring language. It is possible that such language variations in use may bring about language change over time.
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In our post-modern global culture cell phones, Smartphones, and other portable technological artifacts currently in use are regarded as extensions of our identities, group affiliations, and social networks. European, Asian, and American teenagers have used mobile or cell phones for a variety of social and functional purposes such as to achieve instantaneous communication and to express individual style, status, and group affiliation (Androutsopoulos & Schmidt, 2001; Skog, 2002). Campbell & Park (2008) cite Mäenpää’s (2000) study that the mobile or cell phone in Finland became known colloquially as ‘känny’ (also kännykkä) or “extension-of-the-hand/paw.” Likewise, Ukritwiriya (2003, 2005) points out that Thai youth make meaning by calling their mobile phones, “Mue Tue,” which has the same connotation as the Finish term ‘känny/ kännykkä’, and engage in extensive text messaging practices that have altered their lifestyles, language, social norms, and cultural identities.

As Campbell & Park (2008) argue from a social constructivist perspective to the study of social networks, the wide spread diffusion of mobile phones has ushered in a new type of personal communication society, one where the quality of interaction varies because of changes in the composition of social networks. Furthermore, as Vishwanath & Chen (2008) point out in a review of research on mobile phone adoption, social factors, intercultural norms, contextual factors, and local and large-scale communication associations have a significant influence on the types of personal communication networks that emerge based on new technologies. Even adults, who form part of different types of social networks, have adopted these new tools and mode of instantaneous communication known as SMS text messaging. For example, Florin Troaca reports in Communications News that by June 30, 2008, 95.4 billion text messages had been sent by US mobile users. This type of instantaneous communication is rapidly surpassing the traditional phone call so that by 2010, 2.3 trillion text messages will be sent to and from mobile phones. Among adults, text messaging is now common in a variety of settings: the workplace, home, school, the mall, and the campaign trail.

By collecting and studying communicative electronic exchanges researchers have begun to describe how young people manipulate the conventions of discursive practices and incorporate creative linguistic elements like letter-number homophones, typographic symbols, G-clippings, and emoticons into a vast array of social networks or what Ukritwiriya (2005) refers to as semiotic microsystems. For example, Italian children in the 12-14 age range have created a new style of language tailored for SMS usage (Betti 2008). They use abbreviations such as tvttb for ti voglio tanto tanto bene (I love you very, very much) when communicating deep affection. This creative use of linguistic forms and symbols in text messaging serves a pragmatic function. Due to the spatial constraints imposed by a maximum of 160 characters the sender must transmit meaning and intention efficiently in order to elicit a quick response from a targeted recipient (Härd af Segerstad, 2005). Research by Zarantonello (2001) confirms observations made by other investigators that text message brevity presupposes a strong component of implied information. This fact also presupposes that those texting share cultural or technical background knowledge and the use of a code for interpreting abbreviations, phonetic writing, acronyms, and combinations of these elements.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Predicate-Argument Structure: this deals with how many arguments the predicate of a lexical verb takes and their thematic roles or ?-roles.

Lexical verbs: this is one of the four lexical word classes in English. Lexical verbs act as main verbs in clauses.

Linguistic Economy: this involves the structural simplification of language in SMS text messages sent and received by members of various SMS social networks.

Mobile telephony: this term covers the use of mobile phones, radio systems, and satellite phones.

Background Information or Common Ground: the knowledge and cultural assumptions that the sender and receiver of text messages share about the situation they are texting about.

Cell phone or Mobile phone: a hand-held mobile radio telephone for use in an area divided into small sections or base stations, each with its own short-range transmitter/receiver. Most current mobile phones connect to a cellular network.

SMS: also known as Short Message Service, commonly referred to as “text messaging.” This is a service for sending and receiving short messages of up to 160 characters to mobile devices, such as cell phones, Smartphone, and PDAs.

Communicative Intention: in text messaging practices this refers to the successful sharing of implied meaning or intended message in the simplified linguistic code of the texter/sender.

Theta (?-) role: The semantic role played by a participant in an event or situation, such as Agent, Patient, or Goal.

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