Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people's text-messaging

Crispin Thurlow

Department of Communication,
University of Washington, Box 353740,
Seattle, WA 98195, USA

with Alex Brown
[note 1]

Abstract: The so called 'net generation' is popularly assumed to be naturally media literate and to be necessarily reinventing conventional linguistic and communicative practices. With this in mind, this essay centres around discursive analyses of qualitative data arising from an investigation of 159 older teenagers' use of mobile telephone text-messaging - or SMS (i.e. short-messaging services). In particular, against a backdrop of media commentaries, we examine the linguistic forms and communicative functions in a corpus of 544 participants' actual text-messages. While young people are surely using their mobile phones as a novel, creative means of enhancing and supporting intimate relationships and existing social networks, popular discourses about the linguistic exclusivity and impenetrability of this particular technologically-mediated discourse appear greatly exaggerated. Serving the sociolinguistic 'maxims' of (a) brevity and speed, (b) paralinguistic restitution and (c) phonological approximation, young people's messages are both linguistically unremarkable and communicatively adept.

Keywords: text-messaging, SMS, adolescents, sociolinguistics, computer-mediated discourse, new communication technologies

Multimedia: All tables, figures and images are presented in PDF format

1. Introduction and background

1.1. Text-messaging: 'Everyone is jmping on the bndwgn'[note 2]

Mobile phone ownership is universal, and people use them constantly. If you don't have a mobile, you're effectively a non-person. (
Nearly a billion text messages whizz around the UK every month. Whenever and however you like to send you text messages, it's a completely individual way to express yourself. (Orange Magazine, Spring 2001)

Figures and claims like these abound regarding the popularity, ubiquity and necessity of mobile phones in general and text-messages in particular (Teather, 2001). It seems that these technologies for communication have become an essential feature of both popular and commercial rhetoric about new media cultures and especially of so called 'global communications'. Which is not to say that this technology is properly global; worldwide patterns of mobile phone usership necessarily follow the socioeconomic contours of which distinguish the 'media rich' and 'media poor' more generally (Carvin, 2000). Nonetheless, from a more academic perspective, Katz & Aakhus (2002) cite figures estimating that the worldwide usership of mobile phones is approaching a billion. (This compares with an estimated 600 million people online <>). Although not true for the USA, where the internet has tended to be the communication technology of preference, penetration rates in countries in Western Europe (e.g. Scandinavia, UK, Germany & France) and East Asia (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan) are believed to be as high as 70-80%. [note 3] For many commentators - lay and academic alike - mobile telephony has heralded important new cultures of communication (see, for example, Rheingold, 2002).

According to cultural critic Umberto Eco (2002), we live in an age where the diminutive, the brief and the simple are highly prized in communication; if this is the case, then there's little doubt that text-messaging embodies this zeitgeist. Like many earlier communication technologies, however, the mobile phone has come to evoke and/or embody a range of projected fears and hopes (cf. Turkle, 1995). In fact, the history of the development of communication technologies is one marked by periods of excessive hype and hysteria about the kinds of cultural, social and psychological impacts each new technology is likely to have. Having said which, few people - professional or lay - could have predicted the extraordinary rise in popularity of the mobile phone in many countries and its sister technology SMS 'short messaging service'. (Also known as text-messaging or texting, for more explanation see Bernatchez's What is SMS Text Messages?) Initially intended for purely commercial purposes (Bellis, 2002), text-messaging is in fact yet another example of how the human need for social intercourse - a kind of 'communication imperative' - bends and ultimately co-opts technology to suit its own ends, regardless of any commercial (e.g. the telephone) or military (e.g. the internet) ambition for the technology. In fact, figures published by the Mobile Data Association show that 1.7 billion text-messages were exchanged in Britain in May 2003 - a cumulative annual total of some 8 billion messages.

1.2. Generation text: 'Young and free but tied to the mobile.'

Typical of media representations about the role of mobile phones in the lives of young people, Bryden-Brown's (2001) characterization in the The Australian newspaper (heading above) presents yet another image of the media-savvy, technologically-enslaved young person [note 4]. Of course, it is not unusual for young people to be caught up in adults' anxious projections about the future (Griffin, 1993); in the case of mobile phones, however, there is a 'double-whammy' of adult mythology, with the coming together of popular discourses about young people and about new technologies. Nonetheless, it is partly in response to prejudicial characterisations of young people that scholars are starting to challenge the misleading hype inherent in popular notions like 'cyberkids' and the 'net generation' (see Thurlow & McKay, 2003). In fact, as Facer & Furlong (2001) note, there are many children and young people in supposedly technologically privileged countries like Britain who still face a kind of 'information inequality' - not only as a result of poor access at home and school, but also because of individual resistance to, and the perceived irrelevance of, some new technologies. It is precisely for this reason that homogenizing assumptions about the role of technology in the lives of young people and young adults need constantly to be challenged.

While adult exaggerations about the significance of technology in the lives of young people may be questionable, the fact remains that, in many countries, the mobile phone is an altogether far more popular, pervasive communication technology than in others (Katz & Aakhus, 2002a). What is more, although by no means any longer the sole province of young people ( Cyberatlas, 2001a ), in a country like Britain, it is understood that half of all 7-16-year-olds have a mobile phone of their own ( NOP, 2001a ) and marginally more girls (52%) than boys (44%). In fact, the same NOP survey also shows that as many as 77% of 14-16-year-olds have mobile phones. Ling (2002) also reports more recent figures from Norway, another mobile-saturated country, which specifically identify young adults/older teenagers as the heaviest users. Unquestionably, a core feature of almost all young people's mobile phone use is the text-message, with most sending upwards of three text-messages a day.

1.3. Technologically-mediated discourse: 'Hell is other people talking webspeak on mobile phones.'

Central to the hype and hysteria of popular, media representations about new communication technologies are concerns about the way that conventional linguistic and communicative practices are affected. A fairly typical example of this is the comment quoted in the heading above made by John Humphreys (2000), a British radio journalist notorious for his 'verbal hygienist' (Cameron, 1995) concerns about, amongst other things, the putative 'death' of the apostrophe in English.

Much popular and public discourse nowadays attends to the perceived communicative paucity of young people ( Thurlow, 2001a ) and both 'teen-talk' and 'netlingo' (or 'webspeak') are often blamed for supposedly negative impacts on standard or 'traditional' ways of communicating. The same is especially true of young people's use of mobile phones and text-messaging, where, as in the journalist's comment quoted below, they are often understood to be - or rather accused of - reinventing and/or damaging the (English) language.[note 5].

As a dialect, text ('textese'?) is thin and unimaginative. It is bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk. The dialect has a few hieroglyphs (codes comprehensible only to initiates) and a range of face symbols. … Linguistically it's all pig's ear. … Texting is penmanship for illiterates. (Sutherland, 2002).

In this sense, therefore, added to popular discourses about young people and new technologies are the usual folklinguistic concerns (see Niedzielski and Preston, 1999; Cameron, 1995) about threats to standard varieties and conventional communication practices more generally - that young people and new technologies might be to blame merely compounds matters. And it is not only lay people and journalists who are responsible for this kind of exaggerated and often prejudicial rhetoric.

[Text-]messages often bear more resemblance to code than to standard language. A text filled with code language expressions is not necessarily accessible to an outsider. The unique writing style provides opportunities for creativity. (Kasesniemi & Rautiainen, 2002: 183 - emphasis ours).
Netspeak is a development of millennial significance. A new medium of linguistic communication does not arrive very often, in the history of the race. (Crystal, 2001:238-9)

As has been the case with language on the internet where, for example, the language used by young instant messagers is described as a 'new hieroglyphics' (Pew Internet and American Life Project 2000), lay and academic discussions about the language of text-messaging are invariably caught up in an exaggerated sense of its impenetrability and exclusivity - hence references to 'code', 'unique' and inaccessibility in the Kasesniemi & Rautiainen quote above. In his popular book on language and the internet, Crystal (2001) dismisses SMS as simply giving young people something to do - a point of view which seems not only patronising but also underestimates the intricate and integral role text-messaging plays in their social lives. What is more, for all his millennial rhetoric about 'netspeak', new linguistic practices seldom spring from nowhere, neatly quashing pre-existing forms and conventions. Just as technologies do not replace each other, nor is it really possible to imagine communicative practices breaking completely, or that dramatically, with long-standing patterns of interaction and language use.

With reference to other communication technologies - most notably the internet and web - scholars of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have for some time been challenging the assumption that technologically-mediated modes of communication are necessarily impoverished and antisocial (Walther & Parks, 2002; Spears et al., 2001) . Not least because so much CMC is text-based, more specific interest has also been with emerging linguistic forms and practices - or computer-mediated discourse (CMD) (Herring, 2001; Herring, 1996; Baron, 1998; Werry, 1996; Collott & Belmore, 1996). Not only as a technology for communication but also as a text-based format like instant messaging and online chat, the study of SMS is easily brought within the remit of CMC. As Grinter & Eldridge (2001:219) put it, mobile phones are, in effect, 'mini-terminals for text-based communication'.

One of the principle arguments of both CMC and CMD is that generalizations about communicative and linguistic practice are inherently problematic, conflating as they do important differences in the affordances and constraints of different technologies such as email, online chat, instant messaging, newsgroups and bulletin boards, webpages and 'virtual worlds'. Specifically, as Herring (2001) also notes, language will necessarily be affected by technological (or medium) variables such as synchronicity (e.g. where instant messaging is synchronous, email is asynchronous), granularity (i.e. how long or short text may be) and multimodality (e.g. whether or not graphics, audio and video are included), as well as other non-linguistic variables such as participants' relationships, expectations and levels of motivation. To begin with, however, SMS may be broadly defined as asynchronous, text-based, technologically mediated discourse. 

1.4. The current study

Apart from being unambitious, talking about text is yet another way of focusing on young people. …grown-ups often seek to legitimate their own conversation by orienting it around youth … putting their own spin on the youthful activity of text messaging - but what of the activity itself? (Calcutt, 2001)

Distinguishing between 'expert framing' and 'folk framing' respectively, Katz & Aakhus (2002) comment on how little academic input there has been to balance everyday, popular discourses about mobile phones. Indeed, with the exception of their own edited volume and one by Brown et al. (2001), academic interest in text-messaging is only recent and fairly scattered. [note 6] While the Information Society Research Centre at the University of Tampere in Finland (e.g. Kasesniemi & Rautiainen, 2002) has been researching the mobile communication culture of children and young people since 1997, this is seldom the case elsewhere. What is more, for all the hype and hysteria about text-messaging and young people's use of text-messaging in particular, we know of very little published research which has specifically examined the (English) linguistic/discursive practices of text-messaging in the way that, say, Baron (1998) has done with email messages or Werry (1996) has done with online chat. [note 7] Nor is there an extensive mobile phone survey to compare with the Pew Project's (Pew Internet and American Life Project 2000) report on the use of the internet and instant messaging (IM) among young American people - the CMC technology which competes most directly with text-messaging for the attention of young people in the USA. This lack of attention to discursive aspects of technologically-mediated communication is consistent with the struggle of the scholars like Herring (Herring, 1996; Herring, 2001) to prioritise discourse in CMC.

It was because of this noticeable hiatus, and in the face of popular discourses like those sketched above, that we were keen to undertake the following 'snapshot' survey; for us, this was a means of tracking the use of ever new communication technologies by young people, and also a way of rendering more empirical populist claims about the language of text-messaging. With both Baron (1998) and the Pew Report (Pew Internet and American Life Project 2000) as inspiration, our investigation was framed by two straight-forward research questions relating to the linguistic forms and communicative functions of young people's text-messaging: (a) what are young people using text-messaging for? and (b) to what extent are they experimenting with conventional language in their text-messages? It is answers to questions such as these which help to improve the sociolinguistic or discursive mapping of new communication technologies more generally (cf. Thurlow, 2001b).

2. Data generation

As a convenience sample, a first-year Language and Communication class at Cardiff University (Wales, UK) was asked towards the end of one lecture to retrieve from their phones five messages that they had either sent or received in the previous week and to transcribe them as accurately as possible (i.e. 'exactly as they appeared on the display screen'). This was done at the end of a questionnaire study conducted by Brown (2002) which also examined patterns of SMS use among the students (e.g. reasons for using it, people they sent messages to, and whether or not they used 'predictive text') and other practical considerations such as the amount of money spent on text-messaging, the person who pays the bills, and the network used. (For similar surveys see also Grinter & Eldridge's (2001) small case-study and the more extensive work of Kasesniemi & Rautiainen (ibid.).)

Participants were assured of the confidentiality and anonymity of their responses; this was especially important given the personal nature of the messages. Of the students available, 135 (approximately 70%) of them responded to our request for their messages. The mean age of participants was 19; three-quarters of them were female (n = 120, 75%) and a quarter male (n = 39, 25%). As was typical of the university's intake more generally (with 28% of the students actually from Wales itself), almost all the participants were British (98%). Although Cardiff University attracts a largely White, generally middle-class population of students, there is no apparent reason why the sample used here might not also be fairly representative of young, university-age adults in Britain as a whole. Having said which, even though anecdotal evidence suggests that many other young people their age are equally heavy users of mobile phones and text-messaging, we do not assume that the sample is more widely representative in terms of educational background and socio-economic status.

A total of 544 separate messages were recorded by participants which were transcribed as accurately as possible into a single electronic document. For the most part, we followed straightforward Content Analytic procedures (see Krippendorf, 1980) in organising and interpreting participants' text-messages; this is an approach well-suited to the descriptive analysis of open-ended or qualitative textual data such as ours (Bauer, 2000). For example, in pin-pointing their primary functional orientation, the text-messages were coded in terms of 'referential units' (Krippendorf, 1980:62) - the main, relatively discrete idea expressed in each message. As part of this systematic process of inferential organization, we then clustered all these referential units into broader ideational categories. At no point were the categories necessarily either mutually exclusive or exhaustive; however, we have sought to follow the guidelines of explicitness and 'best fit' (Pidgeon & Henwood, 1997:261) by providing recognisable descriptions of, and examples for, the different categories. Partly given the size of our corpus, we have not felt it necessary to undertake elaborate statistical analyses other than to calculate broad descriptive tendencies in terms of our central interests: (a) message length (i.e. number of words/characters used); (b) main typographical and linguistic content such as emoticons (e.g. :-)), abbreviations and letter homophones (e.g. Gr8 'great', RU 'are you'); and (c) primary functional orientation.

3. Main interpretations and preliminary discussion

3.1. Message length

The length of individual messages was calculated using the standard Microsoft Word 'word count' function. This was a somewhat crude calculation since it was unable to distinguish lexical items conjoined by a punctuation mark (e.g. i'll be there later today.what time are u coming?); however, in its favour, it did include individual-character lexemes such as the 'u' in the same example. On this basis, the average length of text-messages was approximately 14 'words'. Compared with the average length of turns in online chat (i.e. six words - Werry, 1996), the messages of participants were certainly longer which was to be expected from the kind of asynchronous communication afforded by SMS. However, given the standard restriction imposed on the length of text-messages (i.e. usually about 160 characters, including spaces), it was also interesting to note that the average length of participants' text-messages was only 65 characters (Md = 55, Mo = 13, 23, 39), although with quite a lot of variation (SD = 45). While much is made about the technologically imposed need for brevity in SMS, our participants' messages seldom used the space available . As such, the length (and abbreviated linguistic forms) of messages would therefore seem instead to be a function of the needs for speed, ease of typing and, perhaps, other symbolic concerns. Indeed, as others have noted elsewhere (for Finland: Kasesniemi & Rautiainen, 2002; for Germany: Rössler & Höflich, 2002), young people appear increasingly to be employing SMS for more dialogic exchanges - especially when the costs are lower as is the case in Finland. In this sense, therefore, the language of SMS starts to look much more like the 'interactive written discourse' of a conventional CMC niche like IRC (Werry, 1996:48). We return to this point later.

With obvious implications for linguistic practice, it is worth noting here that some mobile phones enable 'predictive text'. Users need only press once on the keypad number corresponding to the letter and, as long as the desired word is already stored, the phone should recognize and complete the word automatically. When asked by Brown (2002), however, only about half (55%) of our participants reported using this facility - mainly because it was thought to be quicker and easier. On the other hand, reasons given by those 37% who said they didn't use predictive text included, in order of priority, that it was too difficult to use, they did not actually have the facility to start with, it was annoying, it did not choose the right words, it was slower to use and did not facilitate the need for abbreviations.

3.2. 'New' linguistic forms

Following the kind of typology offered by Shortis (2001), in Table 1 (PDF version for download) is listed every different example found in participants' transcribed messages of what might reasonably be regarded as non-standard orthographic and/or typographic forms. For the purposes of descriptive overview rather than quantification, these are shown organised into the following broad categories: (1) shortenings (i.e. missing end letters), contractions (i.e. missing middle letters) and G-clippings and other clippings (i.e. dropping final letter), (2) acronyms and initialisms, (3) letter/number homophones, (4) 'misspellings' and typos, (5) non-conventional spellings, and (6) accent stylizations. [note 8]

Heavily abbreviated language is of course also a generic feature of interactive CMC niches like IRC's online chat and ICQ's instant messaging and we were not surprised to see that 82% of participants had already reported using abbreviations in their text-messages, especially the women (F = 89%; M = 57%) (see Brown, 2002). However, in looking at their actual text-messages, only 1401 examples of abbreviations were found - about three per message - which meant that abbreviations in fact accounted for less than 20% (18.75%) of the overall message content. As we discuss shortly, this initial finding immediately appears to run counter to popular ideas about the unintelligible, highly abbreviated 'code' of young people's text-messaging.

In the same vein, only 509 typographic (as opposed to alphabetic) symbols were found throughout the entire corpus - almost all of which were simply kisses and exclamation marks usually in multiple sets (e.g. xxxxxx and !!!!!). There were also only 39 instances of emoticons (e.g. :-) ) (See Table 2 - PDF file).


There were also relatively few (n = 73) examples of language play using letter-number homophones (e.g. Gr8 'great', RU 'are you'), which, in popular representations at least, have become the most definitive feature of text-messaging (see, for example, Image 1 - PDF download). Like many of the paralinguistic and prosodic cues found in IRC by Werry (1996), a much more frequent type of language play in the test-messages was found in the form of accent stylizations or phonological approximations such as the 'regiolectal' (Androutsopoulos, 2000:521) spelling novern for 'northern' and those in [M1] above. In addition there was a range of onomatopoeic, exclamatory spellings (e.g. haha!, arrrgh!,WOOHOO!,t'ra, Tee Hee, Oi oi savaloy!, yeah, yep, yay!, rahh, ahhh, mchwa!, eh?, and woh!) and a couple of other typographical-cum-linguistic devices for adding prosodic impact (e.g. quick quick, wakey wakey, wotcha, and yawn…). Unless used in marked isolation, it was not possible to determine if the use of capitalization such as in [M1] was used deliberately for prosodic effect or if, as we suspected here, it was the sender's personal style preference to send all their messages in capital letters anyway.

Finally, as a passing reposte to journalist John Humphreys (see above), there were in fact 192 apostrophes used across the 544 messages (e.g. we're, she's, can't, I'm, it's). Accounting for about one in every three messages (or 35% of them), their occurrence seems surprising given the technological imperative for speed and ease of 'typing'. Without anything to compare it with, we do not wish to make any serious claim for this figure, except perhaps to say that, as far as the supposedly solecisitic participants in the current study were concerned, it does not appear that the apostrophe is quite dead!

3.3. Communication orientations and themes

Language is always multifunctional and always dependent on context for its meaning. As such, it was not always possible to be certain of the meaning of some participants' messages and even less so the communicative intent with which they were sent. In looking to code their text-messages, however, we identified what we regarded as the primary functional orientation of each message; on this basis, individual messages were assigned to nine broad categories, including an additional category for chain messages. The multifunctionality of the messages was also retained to some extent by coding them in terms of more than one category where relevant (n = 121 messages, 22%). These functional categories are not strictly exclusive of each other and present a largely descriptive overview.

In order to render this process of categorization as explicit as possible, brief descriptions of each category are given here together with two or three example messages. Throughout the paper, original messages are indicated in a different font and colour, and, for ease of reference, are numbered consecutively. All messages have been anonymized.

Informational-Practical Orientation

Messages in this category dealt primarily with the exchange of practical details or straightforward requests for information.

M2: Where's sardinia?Answer me quick hun! xx
M3: Put money in ur account

Informational-Relational Orientation

Messages in this category dealt primarily with more solidary information exchanges or requests for personal favours.

M4: I Passed
M5: I'm not feeling v well can you get the lecture notes for me please

Practical Arrangement Orientation

While perhaps implicitly recreational, messages in this category dealt primarily with plans to meet or the coordination of shopping and other household expeditions.

M6: Where shall i meet you tonite?what time?See u soon love me x
M7: Wanna come to tesco?

Social Arrangement Orientation

Also about plans for meeting up, messages in this category were explicitly about recreational planning such as going out together for the evening, going to the cinema and other social arrangements.

M9: Hello.Me and laura want2go2jive2moro.Does u want us 2 buy tickets

Salutory Orientation

Messages in this category were non-specific, usually very brief and often flippant; many of them were little more than simple, friendly greetings.

M10: Yo man whats de goss
M11: morning,how are you today? xxjtxx

Friendship Maintenance Orientation

Messages in this category dealt primarily with 'friendship work' such as apologies, words of support and thanks.

M12: Happy Birthday, i hope you are having a good one,see you in a few days.Love Duncan x x x x
M13: Don't worry bout exam!Just had hair cut & look like a ginger medussa!Arrgh!

Romantic Orientation

Usually more so than the Friendship Maintenance category, messages in this category dealt primarily with romantic expressions of love, intimacy and affection.

M14: R u bak already khevwine?!i am not comin 4 anuva 2 wks,but khevwine, u r the sexiest thing since sliced bread!c & sexia then sliced bread!oh my luv.I miss u so!x
M15: Each time ur name appears on my phone i smile like this :)

Sexual Orientation

Messages in this category had explicit sexual overtones.

M16: Read ur email-thought waz gonna burst so horny xxxxxx
M17: Your wish is my command!I promise to be a better hostage next time.Sweet dreams

Chain Messages

Typically, chain messages are comparatively longer epigrams, jokes or word-plays which are passed on from messager to messager.

M18: I believe friends are like quiet angels who lift our feet when our wings forget how to fly!send to 4 friends and sont send back and see what happens in 4 days
M19: sex is good,sex is fine,doggy style or 69,screwin 4 free or getting paid,everyone loves getting laid,so spread ur legs,lay on ur back,lick ur lips & text me back!

In Figure 1 (PDF version for download), all the messages in our corpus are shown distributed in terms of these primary functional orientations. Even though, theoretically speaking, it is impossible to separate 'doing sociability' from information exchange (Jaworski, 2000:113) for analytical convenience it can be revealing to compare the relative weighting of 'relational' and 'informational' dimensions of communication in participant responses (cf. Thurlow, 2001a). With the 'transactional' or 'interactional' orientation of text-messages tending to be either foregrounded or backgrounded, it is possible to locate each of the functional categories along a continuum according to the relative degree of relational intimacy conveyed by each as in Figure 2 (PDF version for download).

On this basis, and relying on the Informational-Relational category as a notional midway point, initial content analyses of participants' 544 messages thereby reveals how at least two thirds of their messages were explicitly relational in their orientation, ranging from making social arrangements, friendly salutations, friendship maintenance, to romantic, flirtatious and openly sexual exchanges. In fact, recognising the possibility that chain messages too have a relational orientation (see below) and that many of the messages dubbed 'practical arrangements' may well represent a more implicit social arrangement, the amount of explicitly transactional or 'informational' messaging was relatively small - as little as 15% of all the message codings. As a way of 'unpacking' a little further the decidedly social-relational orientation of participants' texting, we would like briefly to pick out for discussion some of our initial impressions of the general tone and content of their messages. This is done largely as a means of contextualizing the discussion about SMS language which follows.

3.3.1 Friendship work

Within the general category of friendship maintenance, were found a range of messages of apology, thanks and support (e.g. M12 and M13 above). However, we also identified a number of instances where text-messages were being used by friends to stay in touch while apart and also as means of resolving (e.g. M20) - and, possibly, instigating (e.g. M21) - conflict:

M20: u stupid girl,why ru upset & worried?i'm not in a mood or stressed so u shouldn't be + def don't b scared of me-i'm a softy!cu in a bit x
M21: Olly's brought up the house again!Wanker!He's said he reckons you + him'll "come to blows" by the end of the year.He'll fucking die!

It is these types of messages which most clearly indicate the way in which participants appeared to rely on text-messaging to facilitate relational maintenance and social intercourse, and to complement their face-to-face interactions. It is not only through the symbolic (or metacommunicative) exchange of messages that they sustain their relationships, but young people also use textingstrategically to manage a wide range of friendship concerns and issues.

3.3.2 Humour

Another strong impression formed throughout our reading of the messages was of an overriding jocularity or teasing tone. Although humour is generally very difficult to discern by third parties - not least given that it is intensely context-dependent - there were nonetheless numerous instances where the messager's intent was very clearly humorous.

M22: Simon said you didn't come home last nite.U dirty stop out
M23: You are a drunken fool with a bad memory

Specifically in conjunction with those messages categorised as 'salutory', we believe that humour helps to fulfil the generally phatic (cf. Malinowski, 1923) function of text-messaging by which an almost steady flow of banter is used in order to maintain an atmosphere of intimacy and perpetual social contact. In this sense, text-messaging is small-talk par excellence - none of which is to say that it is either peripheral or unimportant (see Coupland, 2000).

3.3.3 Chain messages as gifts

Beyond their notable sexual content, the chain messages might also be regarded as a form of 'gifting' (Ling & Yttri, 2002:159), whereby messagers - especially so amongst younger teenagers - forward these stock sentiments and saucy jokes not only to communicate some desired aspect of identity, but also as means of social bonding through (potentially) shared humour and taboo breaking. As such, although apparently transactional in content, chain messages are clearly more relational in function. Although there were only a handful altogether in the current data-set, what sexual jokes were found were almost always reported by male participants which would not be atypical of the often (hetero-)sexualized nature of young men's conversational discourse (Edley & Wetherell, 1997; Cameron, 1997).

3.3.4 Sex and flirting

Allowing also for the sexual tone of many of the chain messages, a striking number of the messages oriented around romantic and, occasionally, sexual themes - either as subject matter (M24 below) or interactional goal (M17 above).


It is in this way, that SMS is seen to afford an interesting mix of intimacy and distance not unlike various other CMC niches such as IRC, IM and, to an extent, email. The technical rapidity and ephemerality of text-messaging seems to bring with it a relative anonymity even though, unlike the CMC of much online chat, the sender and receiver are invariably revealed to each other through caller/number display. Nevertheless, it is this kind of 'recognised anonymity' which might explain the relative licentiousness or flame-potential of some of the messages reported by participants (see O'Sullivan & Flanagin, 2003 , for a discussion these issues in internet CMC). The face-saving potential of this type of anonymity, was also borne out by Brown's (2002) finding that as many as 52% of the participants reported having sent a text-message to say something they wouldn't ordinarily have said face-to-face.

3.3.5 Hyper-coordination

Within the general message category 'Practical Arrangement' was an important sub-grouping of messages which exemplifies precisely the kind of interpersonal co-ordination discussed by Ling & Yttri (2002) and which they refer to as 'hyper-coordination'. What is meant by this is the type of mundane, micro-level coordination involved in redirecting trips already started (e.g. 'I need to pick up some milk; can we meet at the store instead?'), letting people know that you're going to be late (e.g. 'I'm held up in traffic but will be there in ten minutes hopefully') or confirming exact timing and location (e.g. 'I'm walking up the high street right now - are you still waiting in front of the post office?'). From the current data-set, examples included:

M25: C u in 5 min x
M27: Where r u?We r by the bar at the back on the left.

It is this finely-tuned arrangement-making which demonstrates one of the clearest instances of mobile telephony's shaping a new, distinctive style of social interaction; Ling & Yttri (2002:144) propose that this type of mundane, micro-level organising allows for both the 'structuring and rationalization of interaction'. Certainly, it would seem from our corpus that a high premium is placed by young people on such continual accessibility and connectivity - or what Katz & Aakhus (2002) characterise as 'perpetual contact' - and that, once again, this is done primarily in the service of social intercourse.

3.3.6 Co-presence and subversion

Related to this sense of perpetual contact, and as another example of how text-messagers capitalize on technological affordances (more on this point below), some participants' messages revealed a level of contact which was so continual to the extent of being actually co-present:

M28: Who the girls your with is it one of your adoring fans?
M29: Have you had a shower today as i'm sure I can smell u from here!(Teehee)

In both these instances, where sender and receiver are apparently within viewing distance of each other, users are able to interact covertly, enabling an immediate, and potentially very intimate, form of communication. The subversive potential in this kind of secret messaging is seen even more clearly in M30, another co-present text-message, where sender and receiver appear to be sitting in the same lecture but are able to contravene interactional norms undetected. [note 9]

M30: How r u sweetie?Why am I doing this subject?It's just so boring!cu soon xxx

It is this 'culture of concealed use' (Ling & Yttri, 2002:164) which again makes apparent how and why text-messaging has come to be stitched so seamlessly into the social fabric of young people's lives; by no means necessarily replacing face-to-face interaction, mobile phones and SMS enhance communication in ways which allow for multiple (or even parallel) communication events, offering an attractive combination of mobility, discretion, intimacy and, indeed, fun - illicit or otherwise.

4. Further discussion

txtin iz messin,
mi headn'me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
&she's african
Hetty Hughes [note 10]

As we suggested at the start, much is often said too readily about the uniformity of so called 'youth culture', from the tempestuous nature of young people's relationships, to their dependence on anti-normative practices, and their zealous take-up of new technologies. As Griffin (1993:25) describes it, '"youth" is/are continually being represented as different, Other, strange, exotic and transitory - by and for adults.'; nowhere is this more true than the heightened images in the press and broadcast media regarding young people's use of new technologies generally and mobile phones in particular. Certainly, new communication technologies can empower young people and many do indeed explore and develop imaginative ways of making the technology work best for them (see Thurlow & McKay, 2003). Furthermore, as is clear from the current investigation, mobile phones and text-messaging are undoubtedly very popular among older teenagers. Notwithstanding this, what we have been concerned to do is to address some of the ubiquitous generalizations about young people's use of text-messaging, and, specifically, to examine the reality behind popular notions of their somehow reinventing language in the way that Hetty Hughes' well-publicized poem implies.

4.1. The communication imperative: Intimacy and social intercourse

In situating text-messaging in the broader context of computer-mediated (or at least technologically-mediated) communication, much the same need arises for establishing the interplay between what the technology itself allows (or affords) and what the communicator herself/himself brings to the technology. Most obviously, in the case of text-messaging, the equipment is small and, eponymously, mobile; it therefore affords users an unobtrusive and relatively inexpensive mode of communicating. At the same time, text-messaging is also technically restricted to allowing only a certain number of characters per message, and, like text-based CMC, is 'QWERTY-driven' (Hale, 1996) - a point we address in the section which follows. Whether or not an aspect of the technology (or 'medium variable' - Herring, 2001:614) is a constraint or an opportunity, however, invariably depends on the user. For example, unlike the landline telephone and instant messaging, the asynchronicity of text-messaging affords greater control over when and how messagers respond to incoming messages. Ling & Yttri (2002:159) make the point that this allows users time for reflection before having to respond which in turn allows greater face-management. Importantly, however, the degree of synchronicity is more in the hands of its users (unlike email, IRC and the telephone) so that the time between receipt and reply may also be varied. Indeed, as is revealed in the data set for this paper, and as Kasesniemi & Rautiainen (2002) have noted in their long-term research, young people's text-messaging is becoming increasingly dialogic and, as such, resembles online chat in its conversational structure (i.e. turn-taking and message length).

It is in this way that users infuse an ostensibly asynchronous technology with a certain synchronicity in the way they actually use it; as is so often the case, the technology is thereby co-opted and exploited to serve the underlying imperatives of intimacy and social intercourse. Other seemingly minor affordances of text-messaging also reveal substantial interpersonal benefits: for example, being able to turn the sound off allows for more discrete, parallel exchanges; the forward function (like email) facilitates the gifting' of chain messages; and, in addition to the face-saving potential of asynchronicity, caller/number display which enables users to screen incoming calls. [note 11]

Still a useful theoretical framework, Uses & Gratifications Theory ( McQuail et al., 1972 ) proposes that audience-related variables invariably reveal the nature of a technology better than the technology itself - which is to say, it is the needs people seek to gratify which explain how they will actually use a technology. For example, more recent research (e.g. Dimmick et al., 2000) has shown how the principal gratifications of the telephone to be sociability (i.e. social bonding), instrumentality (i.e. social coordination) and reassurance (i.e. security and understanding). Rafaeli (in Rössler & Höflich, 2002) also comments on the 'Ludenic' or entertainment qualities technologies - a capacity clearly taken up by the messagers in our corpus.

Ling & Yttri (2002:151) suggest that certain of the affordances are especially attractive to children and teenagers - most notably: (a) being constantly accessible to, and in touch with, friends, and (b) being outside the purview of, and beyond the immediate reach of, parents and other authority figures. Although the second of these appears to play a smaller role with the young adults in the current study, there can be little doubt that accessibility and friendship contact continue to be immensely important. For the young people in our investigation, it seems that text-messaging can be characterized in terms of at least four gratifications, each of which may be compared with another CMC technology like email: high transportability (more so than email), reasonable affordability (more so than email), good adaptability (e.g. also voice-phone) (perhaps equivalent to email in the light of its increasing multimodality) and general suitability (e.g. it is quiet, discrete). Ultimately, however, the over-riding gratification which each in turn appears to serve is the need for intimacy and social intercourse.

That relationship-building and social intercourse are both central to, and facilitated by, technologies for communication should be in no doubt (cf. Parks & Floyd, 1996; Walther, 1996), even though popular opinion still feeds on the once-popular scholarly idea that computer-mediated communication is necessarily asocial and/or antisocial (see Walther & Parks, 2002, for a discussion of these arguments). Certainly, opinion about the advantages of mobile phones often centres on practical or instrumental benefits such as convenience and security, followed by accessibility and control (see Leung & Wei, 2000). [note 12] Nonetheless, perhaps even more so than the telephone (cf. Hutchby, 2001:80), the mobile phone and text-messaging are 'technologies of sociability'. As participants' messages show, much of what is being transmitted to and fro is at the level of phatic communion and/or the kind of micro-level social coordination described by Ling & Yttri (2002). That this is so, was evident not only in the functional or communicative orientation of participants' messages but was also revealed in the linguistic and orthographic content of their messages.

4.2. The language of SMS: Re-inventing the (English) language?

In her paper on the language of email, Baron (1998) sought to grapple with the idea that email might herald a new linguistic genre; her conclusion was ultimately that email language rather represented a creolizing blend of written and spoken discourse. Like email, and indeed most CMD, text-messages have much the same hybrid quality about them - both in terms of the speech-writing blend but also in terms of old and new linguistic varieties. [note 13] Although, as such, we are partly persuaded by Rössler & Höflich's (2002) notion of text-messaging as 'email on the move', this sort of metaphoric label belies the complex nature of discourse as being always contingent, dynamic and hybrid. [note 14] In its transience and ephemerality, for example, text-messaging is as much like instant messaging as it is like email - and, indeed, speech. In keeping with Herring's (2001) proposals, therefore, we are more inclined to view the language of SMS in its own terms; whatever formal similarities it may bear with other types of CMD, the linguistic and communicative practices of text-messages emerge from a particular combination of technological affordances, contextual variables and interpersonal priorities.

4.2.1. The sociolinguistic maxims of SMS

From what we have seen in participants' text-messages, and not unlike much CMD, the language of SMS appears to be underpinned by three key sociolinguistic 'maxims' (cf. Grice, 1975), all serving the principle of sociality which drives the messaging:

(1) brevity and speed;
(2) paralinguistic restitution; and,
(3) phonological approximation.

As the first and indeed foremost of these, the dual maxim of brevity and speed is manifested most commonly in (a) the abbreviation of lexical items (including letter-number homophones) and (b) the minimal use of capitalization and standard, grammatical punctuation (e.g. commas and spaces between words). Importantly, and as we have already suggested, the need for both brevity and speed appears to be motivated less by technological constraints, but rather by discursive demands such as ease of turn-taking and fluidity of social interaction. Likewise, in terms of the second and third maxims, where paralinguistic restitution understandably seeks to redress the apparent loss of such socio-emotional or prosodic features as stress and intonation, phonological approximation adds to paralinguistic restitution and engenders the kind of playful, informal register appropriate to the relational orientation of text-messaging. On occasions, the second and third maxims appear to override the brevity-speed maxim, but in most cases all principles are served simultaneously and equally. So, for the sake of paralinguistic restitution, capitalization (e.g. FUCK) and multiple punctuation (what???!!!) may be more desirable; on the other hand, lexical items such as ello, goin, and bin serve both the need for abbreviation and phonological approximation. Nevertheless, some graphical punctuation seems more persistent, most notably the use of question marks (?) and full-stops (.). With reduction of 'typographic contrastivity' (Crystal, 2001:87), however, the use of capitalization and punctuation becomes more semantically marked and, in this way, grammatical marks are co-opted for other less grammatical effects (e.g. wow!!!! or No wait…). Another example of paralinguistic restitution in graphical form is the famous emoticon - a direct borrowing from netlingo and a feature which appears to be similarly unpopular and, therefore, relatively infrequent - in spite of its exaggerated depiction in the media.

4.2.2. Non-standardness in SMS

Beyond the most obvious impact on linguistic forms of the sociolinguistic maxims, what has been most noticeable about the non-standard items (or 'new' linguistic forms) in the current corpus is how so few of them were especially new or especially incomprehensible (see Table 1 - pdf download). There were, in fact, few examples of items which were not semantically recoverable, even in isolation of their original, discursive context; much of what participants recorded would not be out of place on a scribbled note left on the fridge door, the dining-room table or next to the telephone - where precisely the same brevity-speed imperative would apply. [note 15] In this sense, therefore, claims (both academic and lay) for the impenetrability and exclusivity of SMS language are clearly exaggerated and belie the subtlety and contextuality of discourse. Like the fridge-door note-maker, SMS users surely recognise the obvious need also for a certain intelligibility - in Gricean terms, for example, quantity and manner (Grice, 1975). One of the best examples of this, in terms of abbreviation, is the use of consonant clusters (e.g. THX), recognising that consonants in English usually have more semantic detail/value than vowels. Besides, many of the non-conventional spellings found in participants' messages (also in Table 1) have a currency which is more widespread and pre-dates SMS; examples of this include the use of z as in girlz, the k in skool, as well as those which also entail phonological approximation such as Americanized (or even AAVE) forms like gonna, bin, coz and any g-clippings like jumpin, havin, etc.

In point of fact, the orthographic (or typographic) conventions and the sociolinguistic maxims which underpin the language of text-messaging evidenced in this corpus are interesting but, in some respects, largely unremarkable. The notion of standardness in written language is itself a convention and always an abstraction from spoken language (see Cameron, 1995); in this sense, therefore, like the fridge-door note and the phonetic transcriptions of expert linguists, many of the typographic practices of text-messaging offer more 'correct', more 'authentic' representations of speech.

The use of non-standard orthography is a powerful expressive resource. … [which] can graphically capture some the immediacy, the 'authenticity' and 'flavor' of the spoken word in all its diversity. … [and] has the potential to challenge linguistic hierarchies… (Jaffe, 2000:498)

In their text-messages, young people 'write it as if saying it' to establish a more informal register which in turn helps to do the kind of small-talk and solidary bonding they desire. The language they use is therefore not only intelligible but also appropriate to the overall communicative function. What is more, in a message like M31, it is apparent that they also approach SMS language with a metalinguistic awareness and a robust sense of play:

M31: hey babe.T.Drunk.Hate all luv.Have all men.Fuck r u?We're ou utery Hate every1

It is a similar metapragmatic awareness which may also account for messagers' use of such apparently clichéd forms as letter-number homophones and emoticons in the sense that they may be used with ironic effect and/or self-consciously to enact or perform 'text-messaging'. In other words, in a Hallidayan sense (Halliday, 1969/1997), the act of texting has both an interpersonal and textual function as people send messages not only for the kinds of communicative functions outlined above (e.g. relational bonding and social coordination) but also to be seen to be texting inasmuch as texting and mobile phones also carry cultural capital in and of themselves (cf. Kasesniemi & Rautiainen, 2002; Ling & Yttri, 2002). Put more simply, mobile telephones are also fashion accessories and ludic resources in their own right. Irrespective of message content, the very act of texting has cachet and communicates something about the sender; part of buying into the cachet of texting is drawing on discursive-cum-identity resources such as ringtones, keypad covers, and popularized linguistic markers like initialisms, clippings and letter-number homophones.

4.2.3. Personal style in SMS

All of which also raises the question of personal style and register; for example, compare the following messages:

M32: AS IF,wot ugly unsespectin minga has got u?only jokn fatsy,I new ud laf,dats i sent it-erd ur doin levis proj,did u 12 borrow mine?
M33: Moo!we live at 32 Sudbry Rd which is next to the Dough café past the Firkin - if you want,I could meet you at the Firkin though.xx Bazz
M34: Hi mate,how are you today?I'm watching Eden on channel 4,and I know the girl called Cliona.This is really weird.Going to the gym later on.Have a nice day

Probably the most reasonable explanation for the noticeably different orthograhy in messages M32 and M33 would be the difference in their communicative functions (relational and informational respectively) which prompted an understandable shift in register. However, the difference between two relational messages such as Messages 32 and 34 is less clear and might just as easily index a difference in the personal style of the messagers. In much the same way, assumptions about other discursive patterning in text-messaging (e.g. length, use of capitalization, emoticons and so on) need to be made with caution; for example, in addition to situational and conversational factors, personal preference may just as easily account for the differences in length is M35 and M36, where one exchange runs across two messages (see also our comments about length):

M35: What?
M36: Safe Hi babe!Angie + Lucy had words last nite-stood there arguing 4 ages,loads of people outside cobarna.Bit obvious they……werent gonna fight tho cos they were there 4 so long!I was a bit pissed (woh!) Good nite tho!Spk 2u lata xxBeckyxx

In fact, a colleague (and more experienced text-messager) informs us that it is not uncommon for recipients to recognise the 'visual signature' (cf. Jaffe, 2000:509) of incoming messagers based on cues such as abbreviations and emoticons or and message length, in addition presumably to common discursive style markers like topic and lexicon. [note 16] It is surely a mistake to assume that text-messaging and/or young people are any less sensitive to contextual concerns for register and style, or that there is little variation in the appearance of messages; discursive factors such as interactional function and not technological features are just as likely to account for the relative use of 'new' linguistic forms.

4.2.4 Non-English messaging

The assumption is so often that the language of new technologies for communication is English ( Thurlow, 2001b; Yates, 1996 ), although there is little doubt that the global impact of English and the emergent discourse practices of new technologies are heavily interdependent. For example, Kasesniemi & Rautiainen (2002) note how English is a regular feature of the text-messages of the Finnish children and teenagers they have been studying over the past five years. In the case of this study, however, the use of languages other than English was found only six times - not surprisingly for a predominantly monolingual, English-speaking campus.

M37: Bore da moz.Sri am dihuno ti!Wyt t you dod i darlith medieval Europe am 2?Ost ya, t isie cwrdd tu fas law building am 1:50?Nia xxx [Welsh]
M38: Ello cariad.Caru ti lds [Welsh]
M39: Bist du ok? [German]

Nonetheless, what is interesting here is to see how persistent English is even in these few examples: in the case of M37, M38 and M39 (translations in note 17), the English names of lectures, words like ok, lds 'loads' and ello 'hello'. Importantly, these choices are typical also of the colloquial, hybridized 'Wenglish' spoken (and indeed written) by many young people in Wales. Although an isolated instance in this corpus, isie 'eisiau' (Eng. 'want') in M37, is also a Welsh version of precisely the kind of phonological approximations discussed above.

4.2.5 The generic features of SMS

While the kinds of orthographic (or, technically speaking, typographic) choices which young people make in their messages are sociolinguistically and communicatively intelligible, this is not to say that text-messages are without character or interest. Removed from its physical context, M31 is somehow clearly a text-message. How is this? Does this not imply a specific 'text-message' genre? All genres and all language are necessarily and always hybrid (see Chandler, 1997, for an overview of genre theory); nonetheless, text-messages are communicative events characterized not only in terms of their linguistic form but also their conversational or interactional function. Although some appear more informational or content-focused, the vast majority of which are clearly relational - so much so, that this solidary function becomes an almost genre-defining rule. Admittedly bearing some resemblance to a single IM (instant messaging) or IRC (internet relay chat) exchange, we suggest that what does give text-messages a distinctive (not unique) generic feel is the combination of:

(a) their comparatively short length);
(b) the relative concentration of non-standard typographic markers; and
(c) their regularly 'small-talk' content and solidary orientation.

Key qualifications here are 'combination', 'comparatively', 'concentration' and 'regularly'; none of these three features is individually sufficient to characterise text-messaging.

Once again, none of this is intended to suggest that text-messages are functionally unimportant and peripheral, or that they are uniform and strictly formulaic in form. Interactionally speaking, all 'small-talk' is 'big-talk' (Coupland, 2000). As Androutsopoulos (2000) has demonstrated in the case of 'fanzines', non-standard orthography is a powerful but also playful means for young people to affirm their social identities by deviating from conventional forms; in doing so, they differentiate themselves (from adults) and align themselves with each other. To which we would add the opportunity also to personalize and informalize their messages. Text-messages are therefore simultaneously remarkable and unremarkable in their relative unconventionality.

4.4. Conclusion: Putting things into perspective

Although something of a cliché, it is necessary to acknowledge the speed with which these communication technologies are changing and how academic research in this area slides towards obsolescence before it even gets going. Just as Baron (1998:164) warned of email's being a 'technology in transition', the same is certainly true of mobile telephony and SMS. Not least given its commercial potential, the applications of SMS are being extended all the time - most notably in terms of the still largely untapped potential of internet-mobile phone interfaces (i.e. so called WAP 'wireless application protocol' technology). Along with such practical considerations as diminishing consumer charges and increasing commercial advertising, messagers are also increasingly being encouraged into SMS-chat and SMS-dating as well as a host of information services (e.g. news, sports and music) - see, for example, <>. In this way, the fields of CMC and SMS are themselves beginning to blur. What's more, just as the text-based nature CMC is changing in the face of ever increasing internet bandwidth, so too is text-messaging poised to become ever more multimodal. Other technical innovations likely to impact of the discourse of text-messaging are more sophisticated predictive text systems and keypad innovations.

It is presumably for reasons such as these that, with particular reference to personal communication technology (PCT), Katz & Aakhus's (2002) have called for more data-driven research and comment. As researchers from the Information Society Research Center attest, however, it is not always easy to access data like text-messages which are almost always private and personal, and sometimes very intimate and often 'illicit' (Kasesniemi & Rautiainen, 2002:174). [note 18] In spite of its largely decontextualized linguistic data, the current study offers an empirically-based contribution to growing interest in mobile communication as well as a more critical perspective on the role of new technologies in the lives of young people. In fact, what is evident from the current study is just how blurred the boundary between computer-mediated communication and face-to-face communication really is; for participants, there certainly seems to be little sense in which their text-messaging necessarily replaces face-to-face communication but rather their text-messaging has come to be 'folded into the warp and woof of life' (Katz & Aakhus, 2002:12). What is more, just as new linguistic practices are often adaptive and additive rather than necessarily substractive, young text-messagers manipulate conventional discursive practices with linguistic creativity and communicative competence in their pursuit of intimacy and social intercourse.


Table 1


Note 1 As part of her undergraduate dissertation in the Centre for Language & Communication Research at Cardiff University, Alex Brown collected the data for this paper along with data for her dissertation (see Brown, 2002). Alex spent a lot of time transcribing the text-messages used here and was also responsible for undertaking some initial coding of the text-messages. We presented the other findings of Alex's dissertation at ICLASP8 (Hong Kong, July 2002). An earlier version of the current paper was also presented at the annual conference of the British Association of Applied Linguists (Cardiff, September 2002). [Return to text]

Note 2 Headline quote from BBC News (2000). Text messaging grows up. [Return to text]

Note 3 See also Agence France-Presse. 2002. Wireless net unpopular, text messaging is king. [Return to text]

Note 4 In Germany, one of Western Europe's greatest SMS-using countries, young people are similarly cast as the 'handy generation' (Rössler & Höflich, 2002:10), 'handy' being the colloquial German word for a mobile phone. [Return to text]

Note 5 'Answers peppered with soap opera phrases and written entirely in text message shorthand are posing new challenges for this year's GCSE markers …fears have been expressed that the texting phenomenon could undermine children's grammar.' (Henry, 2002). [Return to text]

Note 6 An excellent bibliography of academic writing about mobile telephony and text-messaging is made available online by Nalini Kotamraju (University of California at Berkeley, USA) and Nina Wakeford (University of Surrey, UK). [Return to text]

Note 7 We are grateful to Susan Herring for bringing to our attention the interesting doctoral research of Hård af Segerstad (Göteborg University in Sweden) in which he has examined four modes of computer-mediated communication including the language of text-messaging. (Please see his website for more detail and information about forthcoming publications arising from this work.) [Return to text]

Note 8 Brought to our notice subsequently, Androutsopoulos's (2000) typology details most of the same features, although labels them differently. [Return to text]

Note 9 This was by no means the only such example of participants having sent or received messages during lectures - although hopefully none given by author Thurlow! [Return to text]

Note 10 This text-poem was awarded top prize in a well-publicised, national competition run by The Guardian newspaper in 2001. [Return to text]

Note 11 The facility for screening calls is also commonly afforded by answering machines. [Return to text]

Note 12 Counter-claims are often made regarding the concomitant loss of control over one's accessibility and the blurring of the boundaries between public and private. As Katz & Aakhus (2002) comment, 'perpetual contact' has both its negative and positive side. [Return to text]

Note 13 In the context of mobile phones and text-messaging, Rössler & Höflich (2002) characterize this same process as 'intramedia convergence'. [Return to text]

Note 14 In their paper on the uses and gratifications of mobile phones, Leung & Wei (2000) discuss how mobile phones are 'more than just talk on the move'. [Return to text]

Note 15 This obvious link between text-messages and similar discourse practices is picked up nicely in a major advertising campaign for Nokia phones (see Image 2 - PDF download). Also, in discussing the way chain messages may gifted, Ling & Yttri (2002:159) characterise messaging as 'an updated version of passing notes'; this would seem to be the case for their linguistic form as well. [Return to text]

Note 16 In October 2002, the question of personal text-messaging style became a matter of crucial forensic evidence in the murder of a young teenager by her uncle who had sent forged messages on her phone (see BBC Online, October 9). [Return to text]

Note 17 M37 (Welsh): Good morning moz.Sorry for waking you up!Are y (~) coming to the medieval Europe lecture at 2?If yes, d'ya wanna meet in front of the law building at 1:50?Niaxxx; M38 (Welsh): Ello darling.Love you lds; M39(German): Are you ok?.[Return to text]



We are very grateful to the participants for their time and messages, and would like to thank Adam Jaworski, Janet Cotterill and Debbie Morris for their useful insights. We are also grateful to our reviewers, Susan Herring and Simeon Yates, for their valuable comments on the initial version of this paper.


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