Canadian researchers are calling for people to donate their text messages for study, as interest over digital communication’s impact on language continues.
Text4Science, a collaboration between researchers from Canada’s University of Montreal, University of Ottawa, and Burnaby’s Simon Fraser University, is seeking text message donations for a study on how the digital communications differ between languages and their effect on literacy.
“We hope to see how text messages change with languages and dialects,” said Christian Guilbault, an associate professor with SFU’s French department, noting that there are differences between the French used in France and in Quebec, a pattern he expects to see repeated in different English dialects.
The researchers also theorize that text message shortcuts, like “msg” for “message,” aren’t being lazy; rather they are being creative and imaginative in their language use.
That theory was one research at the University of Tasmania in Australia supported, finding a strong link between primary school children’s use of text abbreviations and improved literacy. The published study found “textisms” may drive the development of literacy skills and could improve language and learning.
For example, one researcher recorded 29 different text shortcuts for the word “tomorrow,” concluding using textisms required more sophisticated literacy skills. In addition, textese may actually boost children’s writing and reading skills, because the study found children who are good at quickly creating and interpreting textisms are also proficient at spelling and reading familiar and novel words.
Beyond language uses, texts can also reveal information about a person’s gender. Researchers at the Mitre Corporation used a machine to help determine a person’s gender just by reading their tweets, and correctly guessed the gender 76 percent of the time.
The experiment tested the different speech patterns of men and women — certain words, phrases and even punctuation — to see if it extended into cyberspace. Sociolinguists have known women laugh more than men, but they wanted to see if it translates into more exclamation points in tweets.
Mitre found that women tend to use exclamation points and words like “mom,” “yummy,” “wait,” “wanna,” “chocolate” and “hair,” in addition to extended vowels, such as “soooooo.” Men use words like “jeep,” and “Vegas” and terms like “google” and “http.”
The Canadian study will add to the growing body of work concerning text messages and what they say about our society. Many traditionalists believe the quick and easy communication tool contributes to the decline of literacy and language, a criticism study-leader Guilbault dismisses.
“When they talk to their friends they speak differently than if they were to speak to Stephen Harper [Canadian Prime Minister] or the queen or to a university professor,” he said. “Put them in an informal environment and they switch to a whole new register. It’s the same thing with writing; they are developing a new skill.”
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