Spelling Practices in Text Messaging

Spelling Practices in Text Messaging

Akinmade Timothy Akande (Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria) and Olayiwola Timothy Akinwale (Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch022
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The sociolinguistic functions that text messaging plays in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. This chapter not only highlights the functions of text messages in Nigeria but also examines the strategies used by students of Obafemi Awolowo University in the composition of text messages. One hundred and thirty-four text messages, either sent or received, by volunteer participants whose ages range between sixteen and twenty-four years, were analyzed. The chapter showed that, although some words are spelt the same way by different texters, there is need to standardize the spelling conventions in SMS so as to make it more systematic and less chaotic. Findings revealed that among the strategies such as clipping, abbreviation, initialization, phonetic spelling is the most commonly used by Nigerian students.
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Since the introduction of the Global System for Mobile Communications in the year 2001 in Nigeria, there has been a monumental increase in the ownership of mobile phones in Nigeria. The pioneering provider is the MTN. After the MTN, other providers have since appeared on the Nigeria’s telecommunication market, and they include CELTEL, GLO and the latest being ETISALAT. Many more providers are in the process of being licensed. The use of mobile phones is so essential in Nigeria that it is instrumental to the bridging of the communication gap between people in the rural areas and their families, friends and relatives in the urban areas. Unless it is extremely unavoidable, instead of having to go to cities or to villages in order to discuss important issues with family members or friends, the common practice now is to discuss via the mobile phone. Thus, as a matter of necessity, every family in Nigeria tends to have at least a mobile phone while in some families, each member has one. This is not to talk about individuals who have an average of two mobile phones each. One of the opportunities which the use of mobile phones offers to most users, especially the relatively young and educated users, is the use of text messaging, which is the focus of this paper. BBC notes that “in September 2007, nearly 5 billion text messages (or SMS, Short Message Service) were sent in Britain, about 4, 000 per second” (Plester, Wood & Joshi, 2009, p. 145) while O’Leary (2006) statistics also reveal that in 2004, 500 billion messages were sent throughout the world. This means that text messaging has become an important tool through which people can communicate both nationally and internationally.

From different parts of the globe, many scholars have studied the form and use of text messages using different approaches. Some scholars have examined the social and psychological effects of SMS (Agbu, 2004; Reid & Reid, 2004), some have also investigated its forms and functions (Taiwo, 2008) while others have looked at it from the sociolinguistic perspective (Thurlow, 2003). There are yet other scholars who treat SMS messages as dialect, register and discourse (Awonusi, 2004; Chiluwa, 2008(a); Sutherland, 2002), some have treated it from the semiotic approach (Shoki & Oni, 2008) while some have examined the pedagogical implications of the use of text messages for the teaching and learning of English in non-native environments (Taiwo, 2004).

In text messaging, texters do employ different techniques not only to achieve brevity but also to enhance clarity while communicating. The mirror through which these techniques become transparent in texting is the spelling convention used and by spelling convention in the context of this paper is meant not only the letters and abbreviations used but also the symbols, emoticons and special fonts which Crystal (2008, p. 37) refers to as logograms. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to examine the spelling practices in text-messaging by some Nigerian undergraduates with a view to assessing the strategies they usually use. The major objective of this work is to examine the strategies used by Nigerian undergraduates in short messaging service (SMS).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Standardization: Standardization helps to make for conformity to some generally agreed methods and norms of application or usage. It serves a regulatory function, thereby reducing variation in language use.

Sociolinguistic function: By sociolinguistic function is meant the role played by a particular form of language within a speech community. In this study, we use the term to mean the formal/informal interactions and roles carried out through the use of text messages.

SMS: This acronym stands for Short Messaging Service. It exists on GSM and enables GSM users to send short written messages to other mobile users. The characters used are not usually more than 160 and the implication of this limitation is that SMS users often resort to the use of shortening devices such as abbreviation, clipping, phonetic spelling and so on.

Phonetic spelling: Phonetic spelling is simply the act of writing a word down as it is pronounced. In phonetic spelling, a figure or a symbol may be used to represent a whole word or a part of it. This technique functions generally as a time and space-saving device.

Homophones: In the context of this study, homophone is synonymous with phonetic spelling. It also refers to writing down a word as it is pronounced. For instance, when therefore is written as dia4, we have an instance of homophone.

ESL Settings (English as a Second Language): This refers to places or countries where English is being used officially as a second language. Members of these settings are predominantly non-native speakers of English. The countries where English is used as a second language are usually former colonies of the United Kingdom.

GSM: The acronym GSM is a digital technology which stands for Global System for Mobile Communication. It is a wireless means of interaction through voice calls used for national and international communication.

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