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This page is about language use in the Short Message Service (SMS) component of phone, mobile communication systems, and to a lesser extent, web. For language use specific to the Internet, see Internet slang.
"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, txtese, chatspeak, txt, txtspk, txtk, txto, texting language, txt lingo, SMSish, txtslang,or txt talk) 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. Some similarities and overlaps in properties and style can be found within SMS language and Internet-based communication such as email and instant messaging.


SMS language is similar to that used by those sending telegraphs that charged by the word. It seeks to use the fewest number of letters to produce ultra-concise words and sentiments [1] in dealing with space, time and cost constraints of text messaging. This is following how early SMS permitted only 160 characters and some carriers charge messages by the number of characters sent[2] .

It also shares some of these characteristics with Internet slang and Telex speak following how its evolution is rather symbiotic to the evolution of use of shorthand in Internet chat rooms. Likewise, such an evolution seeked to accommodate the small number of characters allowed per message, and as a convenient language for the time-consuming and at times, small keyboards on mobile phones. In addition, similarly elliptical styles of writing can be traced to the days of telegraphese 120 years back, where telegraph operators were reported to use abbreviations similar to those used in modern text when chatting amongst themselves in between sending of official messages.[3]

Nevertheless, the invention of mobile phone messages is considered to be the source for the invention of SMS language. In general, SMS language hence permits the sender to type less and communicate more quickly than one could manage without such shortcuts. One example is the use of "tomoz" instead of "tomorrow". Nevertheless, there are no standard rules for the creation and use of SMS languages. Any words can be shortened (for example, "text" to "txt"). Words can also be combined with numbers to make them shorter (for example, "later" to "l8r"), using the numeral "8" for its homophonic quality[4] .

SMS langauge as a multilingual entity[edit]

Some may view SMS language to be a nascent dialect of English[5], that is a dialect strongly if not completely derivative of the English language. This may not be so. Such generalisation may have risen from the fact that mobile phones had only been able to support a limited number of default languages in the early stages of its conception and distribution.[6]

Main articles: Symbian and Language Interface Pack

Mobile operating system (OS) such as Symbian and language packs enable the linguistic localisation of products that are equipped with such interfaces, where the current Symbian release (Symbian Belle) supports the scripts of over 48 langauges and dialects, though such provisions are by no means fully comprehensive as to the languages used by users all over the world. Researcher Mohammad Shirali-Shahreza (2007)[7] further observes that mobile phone producers offer support "of local language of the country" within which their phone sets are to be distributed.

Nevertheless, various factors contribute as added constraints to the use of non-English languages and scripts in SMS. This motivates the anglicisation of such languages, especially those with non-Latin orthographies (i.e. not using Latin alphabets) following for instance, the even more limited message lengths involved when using for example, Cyrillic or Greek letters.[8] On the flip side, researcher Gillian Perrett observes the de-anglicisation[9] of the English language following its use and incorporation into non-English linguistic contexts.

As such, on top of the measures taken to minimise space, time and cost constraints in SMS language, further constraints upon the varied nature and characteristics of languages worldwide add to the distinct properties and style of SMS language(s).

Linguistic properties and style[edit]

The initial or primary motivation for the creation and use of SMS language was to convey a comprehensible message using the least number of characters possible. This was due to the way in which telecommunication companies limited the number of characters per SMS, and also charged the user per SMS sent. To keep costs down, users had to find a way of being concise while still getting their message across. As a result, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization are largely ignored. In many countries, people now have access to unlimited text options in their monthly plan, although this varies widely from country to country, and operator to operator. Despite this, SMS language is still widely used for brevity.

Observations and classifications as to the linguistic and stylistic properties of SMS language have been made and proposed by Crispin Thurlow,[10] López Rúa[11] and David Crystal[8] among many others. Though they are by no means exhaustive, some of these marked properties involve the use of:

  • Initialisations (acronyms and abbreviations composed of initials)
  • Reductions and shortenings, and omission of parts of speech
  • Pragmatics and context in intepretation of ambiguous shortenings
  • Reactive tokens
  • Pictograms and logograms (rebus abbreviation)
  • Paralinguistic and prosodic features
  • Capitalization
  • Emoticons
  • Variations in spelling
  • Punctuation, or lack thereof

Initialisations (acronyms and abbreviations composed of initials)[12][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)).

Reductions and shortenings[13], and omission of parts of speech[14][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). Omission of words, especially fuction words (e.g.: determiners like "a"and "the") are also employed as part of the effort to overcome time and space constraints. [15]

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

Pragmatics and context in intepretation of ambiguous shortenings[edit]

Recipients may have to interpret the abbreviated words depending on the context in which they are being 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, co-textual references and context are crucial 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 many 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.

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.[16]

Pictograms and logograms (rebus abbreviation)[8][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.[17]

Paralinguistic and prosodic features[edit]

Prosodic features in SMS language aim to provide added semantic and syntactic information and context from which recipients can use to deduce a more contextually-relevant and accurate interpretion. These may aim to textually convey the effects of verbal prosodic features such as facial expression and tone of voice [18][19] Indeed, 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.


In the case of capitalization in SMS language, there are three scenarios:[20]

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.

Capitalization too may encode prosodic elements, where copious use may signify the textual equivalent of raised voice to indicate heightened emotion.[21]

Asterisk emoting and emoticons[edit]

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.[22]

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!!!!".[23]

Punctuation, or lack thereof[edit]

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.[8] 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.[8]

Variations in spelling[edit]

Users may also use spellings that reflect their illocutionary force and intention rather than using the standard spelling. For example, the use of "haha" to signify "standard" laughter, and "muahaha" to encode perhaps more raucous or evil sound of laughter.[16]

In this, regional variations in spelling can also be observed. As such, SMS language, with its intergroup variations, serves also as an identity marker. [19]

Conventionalised examples and vocabulary[edit]

SMS dictionaries[edit]

SMS language is far from being accepted as a standard form, and there exists no known dictionaries for SMS language except for a glossary by Vodacom Messaging, a service provider, which provides a list of acronyms and their meanings.[24] [25]

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
  • enjoy becomes njoy
  • adieu becomes +u

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.[26]

General effects on society[edit]

In SMS language, the original letters in words are typically replaced by phonetically similar letters or numbers. The word 'to' is commonly replaced by '2' and the word 'see' by the letter 'c'. As the trend of SMS language evolves and seeps into the daily lives of individuals and some parents are even giving their babies alternative spellings for names in a bid to be unique. [27] [28]


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.[29]

David Crystal has countered the claims that SMS has a deleterious effect on language with numerous scholarly studies. The findings are summarized in his book Txtng: the Gr8 Db8. 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

He further observes that this is by no means a cause for bad spelling, where in fact, texting may lead to an improvement in the literacy of the user. [30] [8]

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 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 have already appeared even before the advent of SMS language.[23]

There are also views that SMS language has little or no effect on grammar.[31] Proponents of this view feel that 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. With proper instruction, students should be able to distinguish between slang, SMS language and correct English and use them in their appropriate contexts.[31]

Efficiency and economy[edit]

According to a study, though SMS language is faster to write, more time is needed to read it compared to conventional English. [32]


Effect on verbal language use and communication[edit]

Although various other research supports the use of SMS langauge, the popular notion that text messaging is damaging to the linguistic development of young people persists and many view it as a corruption of the standard form of language.[33]

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. However, it should be noted that ambiguous words and statements have always been present within languages. In English for example, the word 'duck' can have more than one meaning. It could be referring to either the bird or the action, and such words are usually disambiguated by looking at the context in which it was written.[34]

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.[35]

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.[36]

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:

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.[38] 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.[38] 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.[38]

The lexical, morphological and syntactic choices between males and females SMS users[16] suggested to Ling that women are more ‘adroit’ and more ‘literary’ texters.[8]

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.[8]

  • 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.

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. [39] 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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[40]

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?".[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lily Huang (2008-08-01). "". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  2. ^ "History of Short Message Service (SMS)". Reviews and Ratings of SMS Marketing Services. Best Text Marketing. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Radnedge, Aidan. "". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  4. ^ "Exploring the relationship between children's knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes". British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 27 (1): 145–161. 23.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Check date values in: |date=, |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  5. ^ Lily Huang (2008-08-01). "". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  6. ^ "Multilingual SMS". Idea Group Inc. Category: Mobile Phone: 666–668. 2007.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  7. ^ "Multilingual SMS". Idea Group Inc. Category: Mobile Phone: 666–668. 2007.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Crystal, David (2009). Txtng the gr8 db8. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  9. ^ Perrett, Gillian. "Globalization and the de-Anglicization of English". Universiti Brunei Darussalum. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  10. ^ Thurlow, Crispin. "Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people's text messaging.". Discourse Analysis Online (DAOL). 
  11. ^ López-Rúa, Paula (2007). "Teaching L2 vocabulary through SMS language: some didactic guidelines". ELIA (7): 165–188. 
  12. ^ López-Rúa, Paula (2007). "Teaching L2 vocabulary through SMS language: some didactic guidelines". ELIA (7): 165–188. 
  13. ^ Thurlow, Crispin. "Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people's text messaging.". Discourse Analysis Online (DAOL). 
  14. ^ Freudenberg, Kristy. "Investigating the impact of SMS speak on the written work of English first language and English second language high school learners" (PDF). MA Thesis: Philosophy Stellenbosch University. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  15. ^ Freudenberg, Kristy. "Investigating the impact of SMS speak on the written work of English first language and English second language high school learners" (PDF). MA Thesis: Philosophy Stellenbosch University. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  16. ^ a b c Muhammad, Shaban Rafi. "SMS text analysis: Language, gender and current practices". 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).
  17. ^ Walters, Guy. "New Statesman". New Statesman. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  18. ^ Watt, Helen J. (2010). "How Does the Use of Modern Communication Technology Influence Language and Literacy Development? - A Review" (PDF). Contemporary Issues Communicatio Science and Disorders. 37: 141–148. 
  19. ^ a b Nancy Anashia Ong'onda, Peter Maina Matu, Pamela Anyango Oloo (2011). "Syntactic Aspects in Text Messaging". World Journal of English Language. 1 (1). 
  20. ^ Ling, Richard (2005). Mobile communications: Renegotiation of the social sphere. London: Springer. pp. 335–349. 
  21. ^ Watt, Helen J. (2010). "How Does the Use of Modern Communication Technology Influence Language and Literacy Development? - A Review" (PDF). Contemporary Issues Communicatio Science and Disorders. 37: 141–148. 
  22. ^ Ahmed, Sabreena; Nurullah, Abu Sadat; Sakar, Subarna (2010). "The Use of SMS and Language Transformation in Bangladesh". 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ "SMS Dictionary". Vodacom Messaging. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  25. ^ "THE IMPACT OF SHORT MESSAGE SERVICE (SMS) LANGUAGE ON LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY OF LEARNERS AND THE SMS DICTIONARIES: A CHALLENGE FOR EDUCATORS AND LEXICOGRAPHERS" (PDF). IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2005. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning. 2005. p. 168. Retrieved 16 March 2012.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  26. ^ Crystal, David (5 July 2008). "2b or not 2b?". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2011. 
  27. ^ "SMS language sparks off unusually spelt baby names trend!". Retrieved 16 March 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  28. ^ "SMS language sparks off unusually spelt baby names trend!". Thaindian News. Thaindian News. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  29. ^ "Messaging 2.0". Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  30. ^ Crystal, David (2008). "The joy of txt". Spotlight: 16–21.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  31. ^ a b Solomon Ali Dansieh (2011). "SMS Texting and Its Potential Impacts on Students' Written". International Journal of English Linguistics. 1 (2). 
  32. ^ "If u cn rd this quickly, gd 4 u". 2008-12-10. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  33. ^ "DCBLOG". 2007-07-10. Retrieved 2012-2-24.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  34. ^ Geoffrey K. Pullum (2012-01-15). "Waterstones". Language Log. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  35. ^ Berman, Isabel (2006). "Email-"Inspired" Changes in Non-Native Legal Discourse". Language@Internet. 3. 
  36. ^ John Humphrys (2007-09-24). "I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language". Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  37. ^ Claire Trevett; Mike Houlahan (2006-11-10). "Text language risky move in NCEA examinations". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  38. ^ a b c Cadhain, Sean. Teen txtuality and the txt flirt. 
  39. ^ 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. 
  40. ^ a b c Vranica, Suzanne (2008). "Marketers Try to Be 'Kewl' With Text-Message Lingo". Retrieved 2012-02-27. 

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