Is she mad at me?: tone and conversation in text messaging

Katherine Lucey
2016 Lingua Frankly  
<div class="page" title="Page 1"><div class="layoutArea"><div class="column"><p><span>The average American college student text messages constantly throughout the day. According to a Boston area Verizon retailer, it is not uncommon for young adults (an age range he did not define) to send 8,000 text messages a month. Texting has become an increasingly more important form of communication in our culture, and our country's colleges are the hotbeds of linguistic activity and change within this
more » ... nge within this particular medium. Its emergence and popularity have not gone unnoticed in the sociolinguistic community, where text messaging and online conversation have become rich new areas of linguistic data yet unexplored. Most famous in this discussion is British linguist David Crystal, whose recent research, culminating in his 2008 book </span><span>Txting: The Gr8 Deb8</span><span>, has incited discussion and suggested fascinating conclusions about the sophistication of this means of communication and its influence on the English language. </span></p><p><span>Crystal writes a great deal about the acronyms and abbreviations within the grammar of the Short Messaging Service (SMS), but in this paper I focused on the relationship of tone and punctuation, a topic that emerged out of a conversation with a fellow student. She was struggling to compose a message to a recent acquaintance (and potential romantic interest), and could not decide on the proper end punctuation for the attitude she wanted to project. The message content, something mundane about her hometown in Maryland, wasn't the problem; it was deciding the appropriate way to finish the message off, to apply a tone. We ran through the list of options and discussed all of their implications, trying to identify which one would best convey her overall attitude: interested and engaged, but definitely light and casual. After trying a few different combinations of </span><span>haha's </span><span>and exclamation points we landed on something satisfactory and she sent it off. </span></p><p><span>Reflecting on it later, I realized that we had just achieved a pretty complex linguistic act. With limited resources we managed to make sure her recipient knew how she </span><span>felt; </span><span>her message served as a vehicle for an emotional transfer. Text messages that are pure content are all business, just an instant communication of needs to another person who could be in any place and engaged in any activity. Without explicit markers of tone, such a message is bold and possibly disconcerting, and not at all analogous to face-to-face conversation, in which politeness is paramount. American college students therefore employ punctuation and add certain particles in order to avoid ambiguity of tone and preserve standards of politeness in text messaging. </span></p></div></div></div>
doi:10.6017/lf.v1i1.9457 fatcat:23gymrrjgvaunfnwoqtvsgtmdm