Textese

h8u by eiknarf

SMS language or textese 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. It can be likened to a rebus, an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words (e.g. ‘i <3 u’ which uses the pictogram of a heart for ‘love,’ and the letter ‘u’ replaces ‘you’).

The objective of SMS language is to use the least number of characters needed to convey a comprehensible message, also as many telecommunication companies have an SMS character limit, another benefit of SMS language is to reduce the character count of a message, hence, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization are largely ignored.

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 reader must interpret the abbreviated words depending on the context in which it is used, as there are many examples of words or phrases that use the same abbreviations (e.g., ‘lol’ could mean ‘laugh out loud’ or ‘lots of love,’ and ‘cryn’ could mean ‘crayon’ or ‘crying’). So if someone says ‘ttyl, lol’ they probably mean ‘talk to you later, lots of love,’ and if someone says ‘omg, lol’ they probably mean ‘oh my god, laugh out loud.’

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.

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. There are no standard rules for writing SMS languages, and words can also be combined with numbers to make them shorter, such as ‘later’ which changes into ‘l8r.

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. The advent of predictive text input and smartphones featuring full QWERTY keyboards may contribute to a reduction in the use of SMS language. The dialect has a few hieroglyphs (codes comprehensible to initiates) and a range of face symbols. According to a study, though it is faster to write it takes more time to read than normal English.

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