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"txt" redirects here. For other uses, see TXT.
Comic intended to illustrate the French version of "Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers". The child's speech reads: "But it's true! What are you, a Nazi?" (written in SMS language). The writing reads (misspelled) Hitler was evil!

SMS language or textese (also known as txt-speak, chatspeak, texting language, txt lingo or txtslang) is a term for the abbreviations and slang most commonly used due to the necessary brevity of mobile phone text messaging, in particular the widespread SMS (short message service) communication protocol. SMS language is also common on the Internet, including in email and instant messaging.


SMS language is similar to that used by those sending telegraphs that charged by the word; people wanting to save money began shortening their messages to pay a smaller amount. Mostly common is "Tomoz" instead of "Tomorrow" which was sent in one of the first SMS.

SMS language is a nascent dialect of English that subverts letters and numbers to produce ultra-concise words and sentiments.[1] The invention of mobile phone messages may be considered as its source, although elliptical styles of writing date back to at least the days of telegraphese, and telegraph operators were reported as using abbreviations similar to those used in modern text to chat amongst themselves between sending official messages dating back 120 years.[2] There are no standard rules for writing SMS languages, and a lot of words can also be shortened, such as "text" being shortened into "txt". Words can also be combined with numbers to make them shorter, such as "later" which changes into "l8r", using the numeral "8" for its phonetic pronunciation. Textese seeks to use the fewest number of letters, and so helps in dealing with the space constraints of text messaging, as well as permitting the sender to type less and to communicate more quickly than one could manage without such shortcuts.

It is similar to Internet slang and Telex speak, and has evolved from the shorthand use in Internet chat rooms to accommodate the small number of characters allowed (early SMS permitted only 160 characters and some carriers charge messages by the number of characters sent), and as a convenient language for the small keyboards on mobile phones.

Properties and style[edit]

The initial or primary motivation for the creation and use of SMS language was to endeavour at the least number of characters possible to convey a comprehensible message. This is following how many telecommunication companies have an SMS character limit per SMS, where an increasing use in the former will lead to an increase in the latter and the overall cost imposed on the user. As a result, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization are largely ignored.

Observations and classifications as to the linguistic and stylistic properties of SMS language have been made and proposed by Crispin Thurlow[3] (2003), López Rúa[4] (2007) and David Crystal[5] (2009):

Pictograms and logograms (rebus abbreviation)[5][edit]

Some tokens of the SMS language can be likened to a rebus, using pictures and single letters or numbers to represent whole words (e.g. "i <3 u" which uses the pictogram of a heart for love, and the letter u replaces you).

The dialect has a few hieroglyphs (codes comprehensible to initiates) and a range of face symbols.[6]

Initialisations (acronyms and abbreviations composed of initials)[7][edit]

There are many examples of words or phrases that share the same abbreviations (e.g., lol could mean laugh out loud or lots of love, and cryn could mean crayon or cryin(g)).

Pragmatics and context[edit]

As such, the reader must interpret the abbreviated words depending on the context in which it is used. For instance, should someone use ttyl, lol they may probably mean talk to you later, lots of love as opposed to talk to you later, laugh out loud. In another instance, should someone were to use omg, lol they may perhaps mean oh my god, laugh out loud as opposed to oh my god, lots of love.

Therefore, Context is key when interpreting textese, and it is precisely this shortfall that critics cite as a reason not to use it (although the English language in general, like most other languages, has many words that have different meanings in different contexts). SMS language does not always obey or follow standard grammar, and additionally the words used are not usually found in standard dictionaries or recognized by language academies.

Reductions and shortenings[8][edit]

For words that have no common abbreviation, users most commonly remove the vowels from a word, and the reader is required to interpret a string of consonants by re-adding the vowels (e.g. dictionary becomes dctnry and keyboard becomes kybrd).

The advent of predictive text input and smartphones featuring full QWERTY keyboards may contribute to a reduction in the use of SMS language, although this has not yet been noted.

Other features[edit]

Other main features in SMS language include the use of [9]

  • Abbreviations
  • Slang
  • Syntactic reductions
  • Asterisk emoting
  • Emoticons
  • Omission of parts of speech
  • Reactive tokens

Users may also use spellings that reflects the sounds rather than standard spelling to reflect the sounds in speech not commonly recognised as standard words such as "haha" to signify laughter, or even "muahaha" for evil laughter.[10] As there is no fixed rule designating what types of features should appear in SMS language, these are only general features and are by no means absolute. SMS language, with its intergroup variation, serves as a kind of group identity marker. [9]

Even though SMS language exists in the format of written text, it closely resembles normal speech in that it does not have a complicated structure and that its meaning is greatly contextualised.

Liberal utilisation of emoticons, punctuation marks and capitalization to denote emotion detracts from traditional use of punctuation and capitalization. It can also differ across individuals and culture. For example, overpunctuation can occur: "Hello!!!!".[11]


In the case of capitalization in SMS language, there are three scenarios:[12]

SMS messages with

  • No capitalization
  • Capitalization of only the first word
  • Full capitalization as appropriate that conforms to all grammatical rules

Most SMS messages have done away with capitalization. Those with only capitalization of the first word may not be intentional, and is likely due to it being the default setting for mobile phones.


Just as how body language and facial expressions can alter how speech is perceived, emoticons can alter the meaning of a text message, the difference being that the real tone of the SMS sender is less easily discerned by merely the emoticon. Using a smiling face can be perceived as being sarcastic rather than happy, thus the reader has to decide which it is by looking at the whole message.[13]

Reactive Tokens[edit]

The feature of 'reactive tokens' that is ubiquitous in Internet Relay Chat (IRC), is also commonly found in SMS language. Reactive tokens include phrases or words like ‘yeah I know’, which signifies a reaction to a previous message. In SMS language, however, the difference is that many words are shortened unlike in spoken speech.[10]

Differences between male and female use of SMS language[edit]

According to Norwegian researcher Richard Ling, there are differences in the SMS language of females and males.[5]

  • Women's messages were more lengthy
  • Women used more complicated grammar in their messages: More men sent single sentence messages compared to women, especially with the group between 16 to 19 years of age.
  • Women used shortened forms and emoticons significantly more than men
  • More women conformed to the conventional rules of writing, correctly using spelling, punctuation and capitalization: Accurate use of capital letters was more significantly observed in text language of women compared to men
  • More greetings and words of parting were observed in women's messages
  • Women had messages with emotional and practical(e.g. arranging a meeting) content unlike men, who mostly used SMS language for practical content only

SMS language and identity[edit]

According to Sean Ó Cadhain, abbreviations and acronyms elicits a sense of group identity as users must be familiar with the lingo of their group to be able to comprehend the SMS language used within the group.[14] The ability to use and understand these language short forms that are unique to each group indicates that an individual is part of the group, forging a group identity that excludes outsiders. SMS language is thus thought to be the "secret code of the youth" by some.[14] The fact that sometimes, shortened forms are used for reasons other than space constraints can be seen as interlocutors trying to establish solidarity with each other.[14]

The lexical, morphological and syntactic choices between males and females SMS users[10] suggested to Ling that women are more ‘adroit’ and more ‘literary’ texters.[5]

Overall observations and criticisms[edit]

Frequency of use[edit]

In one American study, researchers found that less than 20% of messages used SMS language. Looking at his own texting history, the study's author, linguist David Crystal, noted just 10% of his messages used SMS language.[15]


Effect on verbal language use and literacy[edit]

According to research done by Dr. Nanagh Kemp of University of Tasmania, the evolution of ‘textese’ is inherently coupled to a strong grasp of grammar and phonetics.[16]

David Crystal has countered the claims that SMS language, with its profuse use of abbreviations and slang, has a deleterious effect on language with numerous scholarly studies. The findings are summarized in his book Txtng: the Gr8 Db8.[5] In his book, Crystal argues that:

  • In a typical text message, words are not abbreviated as frequently as widely thought
  • Abbreviating has been in use for a long time, and thus is not a novel phenomenon only found in SMS language. Furthermore, some words such as 'sonar' and 'laser' that are accepted as standard words in the dictionary are actually acronyms.
  • Both children and adults use SMS language,so if adults do not display the errors seen in children's written work, they cannot be attributed to SMS language alone.
  • Use of abbreviations in written work and examinations is not that prevalent among students
  • A prerequisite to using SMS language is the knowledge of spelling, so use of SMS language does not necessarily imply low literacy

There are others who feel that the claims of SMS language being detrimental to English language proficiency are overrated. A study of the written work of 100 students by Freudenberg found that though students and teachers reported the use of SMS language in academic work, the actual amount of use of SMS language found in the written work was not very significant. Some features of SMS language such as the use of emoticons was not observed in any of the written work by the students. Of all the errors found, quite a substantial amount cannot be attributed to use of SMS language. These included errors that did not help to shorten, but instead, lengthened the word,and have appeared even before the advent of SMS language.[11] There are also views that SMS language has little or no effect on grammar.[17] Proponents of this view argue that SMS language is merely another language, and since learning a new language does not affect students' proficiency in English grammar, it cannot be said that SMS language can affect their grammar. They also point out that English grammar remained unchanged even though different generations have different slang words. Following this line of thought, with proper instruction, students will be able to distinguish between slang, SMS language and correct English and use them in their appropriate contexts.[17]

Efficiency and economy[edit]

According to a study,though sms is faster to write, it takes more time to read than normal English.[18]


Effect on verbal language use and communication[edit]

In spite of various other research supporting the use of SMS langauge, the popular notion that text messaging is damaging to the linguistic development of young people and to the English language itself persists.[19]

Welsh journalist and television reporter John Humphrys has criticized SMS language as "wrecking our language". The author cites ambiguity as one problem posed, illustrating with examples such as "lol", which may either be interpreted to mean "laughing out loud", "lots of love", and "little old lady" depending on the context in which it is being used.

The proliferation of SMS language has been criticized for causing the deterioration of English language proficiency and its rich heritage. Opponents of SMS language feel that it undermines the properties of the English language that have lasted throughout its long history. Furthermore, words within the SMS language that are very similar to their English-language counterparts can be confused by young users as the actual English spelling and can therefore increase the prevalence of spelling mistakes.[20]

Indolence vs. efficiency[edit]

Humphrys describes emoticons and textese as "irritating" and essentially lazy behavior, and surmises that "sloppy" habits gained while using textese will result in students' growing ignorance of proper grammar and punctuation.[21]

Use in school work, assignments and exams[edit]

Use of SMS language in schools have tended to be negative. There have been some reports in the media of children using SMS language for essays in school. For example:

Use in advertisements[edit]

In recent years, advertisements have been increasingly ifluenced by sms language. The longer the message in the advertisement, the less impression it will leave. Hence, short messages that are more catchy, cost and space saving are more commonly used. [22] The visual effect elicited by SMS language also lends a feeling of novelty that helps to make the advertisment more memorable. Dr Peter J D’Adamo and Catherine Whitney's advertisement of their book includes the use of SMS language by the use of the phrase:EAT RIGHT 4 YOUR TYPE.[22]

Companies focusing on the teen market have the tendency to make use of SMS language in their advertising to capture the attention of their target audience.[23] Since teenagers tend to be the ones using SMS language, they are able to relate to advertisments that use SMS language. Unilever's advertisement for their novel range of deodorant for teenage girls uses the phrase "OMG! Moments." David Lang, president of the team who created the advertisement commented that they desired to bring across the impression that they identify with youth culture and discourse.[23]

Many other companies like McDonald's have also attempted to pursue the teenage market by using SMS language abbreviations in their commercials. McDonald's in Korea has an online video commercial which concludes with: "r u ready?".[23]

Conventionalised examples and vocabulary[edit]

Single letters can replace words[edit]

  • be becomes b
  • see or sea becomes c
  • okay becomes k or kk
  • are becomes r
  • you becomes u
  • why becomes y
  • oh becomes o

Single digits can replace words[edit]

  • won or one becomes 1
  • to or too becomes 2
  • for becomes 4
  • ate becomes 8

A single letter or digit can replace a syllable or phoneme[edit]

  • to or too becomes 2, so:
    • tomorrow becomes 2mro or 2moro
    • today becomes 2day
  • for or fore becomes 4, so:
    • before becomes b4
    • forget becomes 4get
  • ate becomes 8, so:
    • great becomes gr8
    • late becomes l8
    • mate becomes m8
    • wait becomes w8
    • hate becomes h8
    • date becomes d8
    • later becomes l8r or l8a
    • crate becomes cr8
    • skate becomes sk8
    • skater becomes sk8r
  • and becomes &
  • thank you becomes 10q, thnq, ty

Combinations of the above can shorten a single or multiple words[edit]

  • your and you're become ur
  • wonderful becomes 1drfl
  • someone becomes sum1
  • no one becomes no1
  • any one become any1 or ne1
  • see you becomes cu or cya
  • for you becomes 4u
  • easy becomes ez or "esy"
  • enjoy becomes njoy
  • adieu becomes +u


While vowels and punctuation of words in SMS language are generally omitted, David Crystal observes that apostrophes occur unusually frequently. He cites an American study of 544 messages, where occurence of apostrophes in SMS language is approximately 35 percent.[5] This is unexpected, seeing that it is a hassle to input an apostrophe in a text message with the multiple steps involved. Interestingly, the use of apostrophes cannot be totally attributed to users attempting to disambiguate words that might otherwise be misunderstood without it.

There are not that many cases in English where leaving out the apostrophe causes misunderstanding of the message. For example, "we’re" without the apostrophe could be misread as "were". Even so, these are mostly understood correctly despite being ambiguous, as readers can rely on other cues such as part of sentence and context where the word appears to decide what the word should be. For many other words like "Im" and "Shes",there is no ambiguity. Since it is not imperative that users use apostrophes to ensure that their message is understood accurately, this phenonenon may in part be atttributed to texters wanting to maintain clarity so that the message can be more easily understood in a shorter amount of time.[5]


The syntax of SMS language differs from standard English in that it leaves out auxiliary verbs and pronouns.[9] For example, " I am not coming back for dinner." becomes "Not coming back for dinner."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lily Huang (2008-08-01). "". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  2. ^ Radnedge, Aidan. "". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  3. ^ Thurlow, Crispin. "Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people's text messaging.". Discourse Analysis Online (DAOL). 
  4. ^ López-Rúa, Paula (2007). "Teaching L2 vocabulary through SMS language: some didactic guidelines". ELIA (7): 165–188. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Crystal, David (2009). Txtng the gr8 db8. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  6. ^ Walters, Guy. "New Statesman". New Statesman. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  7. ^ López-Rúa, Paula (2007). "Teaching L2 vocabulary through SMS language: some didactic guidelines". ELIA (7): 165–188. 
  8. ^ Thurlow, Crispin. "Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people's text messaging.". Discourse Analysis Online (DAOL). 
  9. ^ a b c Nancy Anashia Ong'onda, Peter Maina Matu, Pamela Anyango Oloo (2011). "Syntactic Aspects in Text Messaging". World Journal of English Language. 1 (1). 
  10. ^ a b c Muhammad, Shaban Rafi. "SMS text analysis: Language, gender and current practices" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-27.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "TESOL" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "TESOL" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  11. ^ a b Freudenberg, Kristy (2009). Investigating the aspects of SMS speak on the written work of English first language and English second language high school learners (M.Sc. thesis). Stellenbosch University. 
  12. ^ Ling, Richard (2005). Mobile communications: Renegotiation of the social sphere. London: Springer. pp. 335–349. 
  13. ^ Ahmed, Sabreena; Nurullah, Abu Sadat; Sakar, Subarna (2010). "The Use of SMS and Language Transformation in Bangladesh". 
  14. ^ a b c Cadhain, Sean. Teen txtuality and the txt flirt. 
  15. ^ Crystal, David (5 July 2008). "2b or not 2b?". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2011. 
  16. ^ "Messaging 2.0". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  17. ^ a b Solomon Ali Dansieh (2011). "SMS Texting and Its Potential Impacts on Students' Written". International Journal of English Linguistics. 1 (2). 
  18. ^ "". 2008-12-10. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  19. ^ "DCBLOG". 2007-07-10. Retrieved 2012-2-24.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  20. ^ Berman, Isabel (2006). "Email-"Inspired" Changes in Non-Native Legal Discourse". Language@Internet. 3. 
  21. ^ John Humphrys (2007-09-24). "I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language". Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  22. ^ a b Mampa Lorna Mphahlele (2005). "The impact of short message service (SMS) language on language proficiency of learners and the SMS dictionaries: A challenge for educators and lexicographers" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  23. ^ a b c Vranica, Suzanne (2008). "Marketers Try to Be 'Kewl' With Text-Message Lingo". Retrieved 2012-02-27. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]