Faculty of the School of Graduate Studies
Ilia State University
Technologically conditioned writing changes in SMS language
With the flourishing of information technology in the last 50 years, computer-mediated
communication, especially communication with short message service has become an important
and significant part in our daily life. New ICTs can lead to changes in the language use
(Bodomo, Lee, 2002). Though studies of Labov (2000) have confirmed that the influence of
television and radio on language use is not significant, however, the mobile phone and, hence,
the short message service is part of new ICTs, which can be distinguished from old passive
technologies (TV, radio) by flexibility, connectivity, affordability and interactivity
(Blurton,1999). Apart from these, Bodomo and Lee believe that popularity of a particular tool or
media can also be a major factor in the discussion of how new ICTs introduce new forms and
uses of language.
As Halliday (1985:82) predicts:
―When new demands are made on language… [it] changes in response to them. …[We]
are making language work for us in ways it never had to do before, it will have to become a
different language in order to cope.‖
Digital ICTs tools and media then present these ―new demands‖ which promote new
language forms and uses. In this paper, we shall focus on the new orthographic and typographic
forms of language in sms discourse.
Limitations of SMS writing
A major element of SMS communication is its limitation of 160 characters per message. It
has hugely affected the written language with the need for messages to be compacted to fit in
this limit while still managing to communicate effectively. For these reasons SMS
communication allows for the use of shortenings, which save character space, or touches of the
handset keys (Döring, 2002, 7). Orthographic and typographic deviations that are usual in SMS
writing are also due to the minimal edition capacity of mobile phone and the mode of seizure
that is the source of confusion of keys. Döring also believes that abbreviations and acronyms
fulfil a collective identity function whereby they require a special shared knowledge to be able
to understand the language and consequently be able to use it. The adept use of these
personalized language short forms is an indicator of group affiliation and a component of group
identity. The language specific to SMS users often does not relate to standard language and the
mass media thus label SMS communication as the secret code of the youth or as the big SMS
action against long sentences (During 2002). Popular conceptions that texting is highly
abbreviated is reinforced by Crystal (Crystal 2008) who draws on online texting dictionaries.
On the other part literature about text messages also suggests unconventional spelling is more
limited than popularly assumed (Grinter and Eldridge 2003; Thurlow and Brown 2003;
Faulkner and Culwin 2005), accounted for by technological factors, interpersonal concerns and
individual style. Such studies support arguments regarding the over-exaggeration of
abbreviation in public, non-academic minds, and highlights, to use Thurlow and brown‘s term,
the ―unremarkable‖ nature of texting.
Where shortenings are used, they appear from the literature to emerge as appropriate, even
creative responses to features of the communicative situation: the combination of physical
constraints and informal intimate functions (Hand af Segersteg 2002; Kasesniemi and Rautianen
2002; Thurlow and Brown 2003; Crystal 2008). For Hard af Segersteg (2002) texting results
from the principle of reducing time, space and effort. Thurlow and Brown (2003) focus on
informality and playfulness of the unconventional spelling. A final motivation noted in the
literature is that of construing identity and defining group membership (Kasesniemi and
Rautianen 2002; Ling and Yttri 2002; Thurlow and Brown 2003). As Thurlow and brown note,
such user-related motivations may occur simultaneously, and override the need for brevity and
The popularity of short message service and consequently the augmentation of the number of
SMS writer with minimal knowledge of orthographic and typographic norms is also one of the
main reasons for writing changes.
All these features have conditioned three main aspects of SMS orthography and typography:
Rough respect of the common spelling and typographical rules;
Omnipresence of the ―neographies‖ (Anis, 1999).based on abbreviation of
words, to such an extent that we can speak about "cyberlanguage" (Dejond,
Emergence of specific paralinguistic elements (smiles, etc.), the so called
« didascalies électroniques » (fr.) (Mourhlon-Dallies, Colin, 1999).
Most of these orthographic and typographic features are found in old manuscripts, poems,
comic strips, etc. Thus they are not new but adapted to particular technological pressures:
keyboards, mode of interaction, etc. Acronyms and inicialisms were used since Ancient Times.
Romans used the first letters to shorten words on inscriptions and currencies: C (Caius), SPQR
(Senatus Populusque Romanus), INRI (Iesu Nazareth Rex Iudeorum). Clipping - reduction of a
word to one of its parts is also traditional phenomenon: auto (mobile), (tele) phone; exam
(inations), math (ematics); as well as phonetic use of letter and number spelling: (fr) K7
‘cassette’, or different traditional abbreviations: (fr.) pcq, bcp. Scripta Continua: writing without
inter-word separation was used in Ancient Egypt as well as in Aeneid of Virgil; graphical
redoubling is frequent in comic strips.
Hence the salient character of abbreviated forms in electronic language is not due to the
shortening methods but to their extraordinary concentration, ―creative‖ use and popularity.
One of the most ―salient‖ limitations of Georgian SMS writing is that Georgian language has
its own script and the use of Latin letters for Georgian words is not common in most
applications. However, due to technological constraints (mobile phone interface, keyboard not
supporting Georgian scripts) users are forced to use Latin characters. In internet communication,
Latinized Georgian is becoming increasingly uncommon and provokes user irritation (unlike the
ASCII-ized Arabic that has in general a positive social connotation among internet users
(Palfreyman and Al Khalil, (2007)). Currently, internet communication allows the use of
Georgian characters, but mobile phones do not yet support it. It creates additional problems that
will be discussed below in more detail.
In the following sections we will discuss technologically conditioned orthographic and
typographic adaptations in Georgian SMS writing.
The study of Georgian SMS writing is of interest for several reasons. First, Georgian unlike
English can not be described as a world language as it is spoken only in Georgia and, thus can
be viewed as endangered language. Another reason for interest in Georgian is that the grammar,
vocabulary, sounds and writing system of Georgian are strikingly different from those of
English and other Indo-European languages.
The analyzed text messages were collected in Geor