Table of contents
3.1 Note on the reproduction of data
3.2 ASL – The problem of speaker identity on the Internet
4. Analysis of the collected data
4.2 Rebus Technique
4.3.2 Shorthand Expressions
6.1 Regular text references
6.2 Electronic references
7.2 Chat Sessions
7.2.1 Yahoo Chat: Movies: Harry Potter
7.2.2 Yahoo Chat: Music: Hip Hop & Rap
7.2.3 Yahoo Chat: Family & Home: Parenting
7.2.4 Yahoo Chat: Small Business
In the course of this paper I shall analyse abbreviations found in four chat sessions. My main hypothesis is that Internet users have adopted several ways of abbreviating in order to make their contributions more efficient. Furthermore, a great number of these abbreviations indicate, or are trying to render, the emotional state of the speaker and in doing so make the interpretation of an utterance easier. In addition, it appears that another reason for abbreviating is to compensate for a lack of information, such as tone and mood of a speaker. This deficit arises, possibly, from the lack of personal contact between the speakers and is characteristic of the use of abbreviations as used in English on the Internet.
Taking a more general approach, Crystal included the computer mediated variant of English in his term “Netspeak”; firstly, in his Language and the Internet (Crystal 2001: 17) and, three years later, in The Language Revolution. (Crystal 2004: 65) I shall take a slightly closer look at the concept in section two.
Section three deals with two issues connected to the material I collected. Firstly, I comment in section 3.1 on how I reproduced the logged chat sessions and most importantly why I deleted certain contributions I identified as not being part of the ongoing conversation. Section 3.1 also contains a short description of the chats I used as the data for my analysis. The following subsection 3.2 deals with the problem of the anonymity of the Internet users and the resulting problems for research.
Section four consists of the analysis of the collected data. I decided to deal only with abbreviations as they occur in written Internet communication, whereas I use written here in its literal meaning, i.e. in the sense of typed in via keyboard. I divided these abbreviations into three types, namely acronyms, rebus techniques, or phonetic spellings, and emoticons. These are discussed in the respective subsections. In addition to this, I divided the subsection on emoticons into two parts, discussing the absence of both smileys and shorthands.
The last section presents my conclusions for this analysis of three features of Netspeak. Furthermore, I shall point out further possible directions for research.
When using a keyboard, messages are typed in and it seems obvious that it should be a form of written communication. In Herring’s words:
What is interesting about CMC [Computer-mediated communication]? … The first issue concerns the language of CMC: it is typed, hence like writing, but exchanges are often rapid and informal, and hence more like spoken conversation. (Herring 1998: 3)
Crystal (2001) takes this notion up and coined the term Netspeak, which he maintains and expands three years later by the following:
[I]t still has no generally agreed on name. … [C]omputer-mediated communication and electronic communication are two which have been suggested – nor is there an accepted term for the kind of language it manifests (the term I used is Netspeak¹).
(Crystal 2004: 64-65; the footnotes are not reproduced here)
Furthermore, Crystal shows that it is a revolutionary new form of language, since it is unlike speech, yet, also unlike written language (2004: 69-80).
Crystal and Herring’s observation that there were elements of spoken language in the, technically, written languages used on the Internet, have been questioned in earlier studies. The more sceptical researchers include Runkehl (1998: 63) who comments on the issue of this dichotomy as follows:
[A]ngesichts der vorliegenden Analysen [verwundert es] doch, dass in der Literatur der Bezug zur gesprochenen Sprache derart hoch eingeschätzt wird. … die Kommunikation ist in erster Linie … schriftsprachlich geprägt und weist in der Schriftsprache Besonderheiten auf die dem Cyberslang zugeordnet werden. (Runkehl 1998: 63)
Despite Runkehl’s criticism, I shall follow Crystal with respect to the use of terminology in this paper. Crystal re-states his point in his recently published work The Language Revolution
(2004) while also re-addressing the terminology problem:
The Internet is providing us with a further alternative to the mediums (sic) through which human communication can take place… . (Crystal 2004: 64-65)
I intend to show some of the features via my analysis of abbreviations in the following section.
The origin of Crystal’s term can be found in the popular novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell coined the term Newspeak, whose purpose is “to make all other modes of thought impossible” (Orwell 1987: 312). Although Crystal alludes to Orwell, the prescriptive notions of Newspeak cannot be found in Netspeak.
3.1 Note on the reproduction of data
The chat sessions I logged are attached in Appendix B. The popular website http://www.yahoo.com served as the main platform for the collection of my data. Although Yahoo requires its users to sign up in order to be able to join these chatrooms, no restrictions are made and they are open to anyone. I chose three chatgroups from http://chat.yahoo.com. The first chat I logged can be found in the section dedicated to the discussion of movies and serves as a forum for the fans of the Harry Potter film series. The second chat is from the music section and there people subscribing to the genre of Hip Hop & Rap music can chat with each other. The third chat I recorded is from the Family & Home section, providing a chatroom for people interested in issues of Parenting. The fourth and last chat I logged is meant for people with an interest in Small Business affairs. I choose this variety of topics in order to get a broad set of speakers, with regards to age. My hypothesis was that the first two chatrooms would be preferred by younger Internet users, whereas the last two would feature more aged ‘chatters’. The problem involved with discerning the age of an Internet user, as well as other factors concerning the identity of him or her, is addressed in the following section.
However, in order to make the chat sessions I used as the basic data for this analysis more accessible I found that I had to make certain modifications. Thus, in reproducing the data I changed the following;
Firstly, I deleted contributions from users that I identified as SPAM. This acronym originated from military language, meaning Spiced Pork And Meat (Runkehl 1998: 43). In chat, SPAM consists of recurring words, phrases, or sentences that are not responding to the ongoing conversation. SPAM includes the advertising of products and the like, harassment of other users present etc. Ongoing “spamming” is also referred to as “flaming”, where flaming stems from “flame”, which is short for an inflammatory remark (Angell and Heslop 1994: 4-5).
I also deleted the responding commentaries of offended users to this, as well as the often made suggestion to “mute” the “spammer”, that is to say to exclude him or her from the chat by automatically not displaying any contribution, an option that is available in most chat rooms.
My justification for doing this is that spamming and flaming present different threads of a chat session, since SPAM is often pre-recorded, thus of a more “asynchronous” nature than the more “synchronous” exchange in chat sessions (cf. Crystal 2004: 67).
The abbreviations discussed will be indicated in brackets by CI, CII, CIII and CIV (for Chat Session 3.2.1, 3.2.2, 3.2.3 and 3.2.4, see Appendices), followed by the number of the contribution in question.
3.2 ASL – The problem of speaker identity on the Internet
A frequent way of starting a conversation on the Internet is the question ASL, meaning “What’s your age, sex and location?”. Although this might seem to be a helpful marker for any researcher to determine the identity of the speakers present in a chat session, one should be aware of the following problems:
Firstly, the ASL question is, of course, only asked when a user meets another who is, as yet, unknown to him or her, thus it is unlikely to be asked in a session of users who are already acquainted.
Secondly, the addressee can answer any of the three points at his own will, since in text-based chat none can be checked for their validity. Yahoo, which served as the main platform for the compilation of my corpus, requires its users to sign up and thus create a profile. This contains usually no usable information besides the chosen nickname. Put differently, it can be said that information given in a profile can, again, be of the same arbitrary validity as the pieces of information given in a chat-room. The nickname of a user might give the observer certain hints concerning the speaker’s identity, but this is, again, not reliable.
Despite the above, there is a possibility to make an educated guess concerning the age factor: Baron (2000) points out that certain abbreviations in Netspeak, such as emoticons, are more common among youngsters, because “adults have the communicative skills to make their messages sufficiently clear” (quoted by Crystal 2001: 38). Crystal stays with this notion and re-affirms it in The Language Revolution (2004: 81). This notion will be discussed in section four.
4. Analysis of the collected data
According to the second edition of the OED, an acronym is defined as:
A word formed from the initial letters of other words. (OED: 121)
The same reference defines the related initialism:
The use of initials; a significant group of initial letters. Now spec. a group of letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately (contrasted with ACRONYM). (OED: 967)
In order to have a more recent reference, it may be useful to consider the entries at http://en.wikipedia.org. The articles at this useful web resource are continually updated and deal, among many other things, with issues of Netspeak. The entries on http://en.wikipedia.org can be edited by any registered user, thus they can be composed by several, technically anonymous, authors. Whether or not it is a reliable source of information is open for discussion. The corresponding article at Wikipedia.org contrast with the OED as follows:
The term initialism is often used by those who make a sharp distinction between an initialism and an acronym; they reserve the term acronym for cases when the letters form a pronounceable word, like "NATO" or "AIDS", and use the term initialism when they do not, being pronounced instead by sounding out the name of each constituent letter. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initialism, 5.09.04)
The author(s) then, helpfully, add that:
Others do not make this distinction between initialism and acronyms, and use the terms interchangeably (though the term acronym is used much more frequently in this case).
As noted in the introduction, I do not intend to include spoken conversation in my analysis, thus it is not sensible to claim what initialism might become used as an acronym in non-keyboard chat.
Appendix A features a compilation of listings of acronyms as found at http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_slang, in Abel (2000), Rosenbaum (1996), Rosenbaum (1999), Angell and Heslop (1994: 93-94) and Crystal (2001: 85-86). The purpose of this table is to represent some of the most used acronyms in chat communication, newsgroups, Email, WAP and the like.
However, it is no longer very purposeful to discriminate between the mentioned types of Internet communication, particularly with regards to the development of multi-functional communication devices. These allow us to send messages, for example, from a mobile phone to an Email address and vice versa. It remains, probably, open to investigation if a text message written on the Internet (e.g. at https://www.orange.ch/footer/login) is different from one written on a cell phone. Crystal mentions the preoccupation of certain observers with the possible danger this interlinking of different input devices might create: text-messaging is seen as the “deterioration of standards” and it is feared that “[c]hildren of the future will no longer be able to spell” (Crystal 2004: 81). A thorough discussion of this aspect, however, clearly exceeds the scope of this paper.
Generally, abbreviations are typed in lower case. Exceptionally, when a user intends to emphasize his or her contribution, the upper-case is selected. This occurs with some frequency, despite the fact that capitalization is commonly known as “shouting”. The first chat session provides examples, where users did not follow Netiquette as in example (1):
(1) 31. Kitty Kat Girl: WAT THE HELL MUSIC¿?
32. Kitty Kat Girl: pardon my french
50. Kitty Kat Girl: HI
51. prof. arema: frowns at loud font
53. prof. arema: lower ur freakin font and i (sic) will talk to you
In my first example the user with the nickname Kitty Kat Girl voices a ‘loud’ reproach, which she or he immediately mitigates by an apology. Line 50 in (1) shows another incident of shouting, which is immediately identified by prof. arema who subsequently replies to the shouted greeting with a reproachful comment in line 51; prof. arema then explicitly criticises Kitty Kat Girl ’s use of all upper-case letters in line 53. The second chat session shows an example where a user capitalized an acronym for emphasis:
(2) 19. [[-..::DaT-GuRL-LiShA::..-]]: LOL NET HOEZ
Various prescriptive manuals on “Netiquette” (e.g. Angell and Heslop 1994: 11) explain that this is regarded as rude. Subsequently, users respecting this rule react to SPAM or FLAMES (cf. section 3.1) by muting the offensive user, i.e. by excluding him or her from the chat. Despite the observation that lower-case typing is preferred, I shall use all upper-case for acronyms and those instances of rebus technique where only one character represents a morpheme. This is only done for stylistic reasons.
The opposite case, that is to say the typing in entirely lower-case letters, seems to be the rule. Angell and Heslop’s statement, namely that “a message all in lower-case letters is easier for the reader to type, but harder for the recipient to read” (1994: 12) seems to be of little concern to most users; the time saved by avoiding capitalization altogether appears to be of greater importance. It has, apparently, become the standard in chat rooms. It is also important to consider the fact that orthodox English orthography features very few items starting with capital characters: this is in contrast to German. Runkehl observed that prescriptive rules for “Gross- und Kleinschreibung” (1996:63) were still quite well observed by German ‘speaking’ users in 1996. Thus, it could be said that the levelling process is more easily accomplished in English and prescriptive reproaches, like the one made by Angell and Heslop, are most probably in vain.
The following tables list the acronyms found in the respective chat sessions.