Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Txt: emoticonography, performativity, Hitler?!

Sunday's NYT Magazine contained a piece about txt msgng by Charles McGrath. There are some interesting things in here, first off the neologism emoticonography, which is a new term to me and has about 240 Google hits. It appears in a MetaFilter post from October here, where the user says they "just made that word up;" it is the title of an article explaining communication on IRC; and way back in 1994, someone used it in an email posted to the American Dialect Society's listserv.

Next, there's the comparison of text messaging language to hip-hop usage:
As with any language, efficiency isn't everything. There's also the issue of style. Among inventive users, and younger ones especially, text-messaging has taken on many of the characteristics of hip-hop, with so much of which it conveniently overlaps - in the substitution of "z" for "s," for example, "a," for "er" and "d" for "th." Like hip-hop, text-messaging is what the scholars call "performative"; it's writing that aspires to the condition of speech. And sometimes when it makes abundant use of emoticons, it strives not for clarity so much as a kind of rebus-like cleverness, in which showing off is part of the point.
There are a couple of things about making this comparison to hip-hop: hip-hop isn't written as much as it's spoken, and when it's written (in liner notes, for instance?) it's written to imitate speech. But there's no constraint on space or time like there is in texting, and it seems that a lot of the stylistic things also have to do with these constraints, like "a" for "er" and "d" for "th," both of which minimize characters. I'm also unclear about this explanation of performativity as writing wanting to be speech; "showing off" being "part of the point" actually seems more on target, though in terms of what it does for you socially, not in terms of just "performing."

I really didn't know emoticons were being used this much, especially in text messaging as opposed to IM, IRC, chat, or BBS. Apparently there's even an emoticon for Hitler: ( /.#( ) I also haven't heard the terms "lateral" and "penetrative" used (the author claims that txtng is the former, according to scholars); is this a communication concept?

Perhaps the most interesting part is the discussion about the suitability of different languages to text messaging:
The Chinese language is particularly well-suited to the telephone keypad, because in Mandarin the names of the numbers are also close to the sounds of certain words; to say "I love you," for example, all you have to do is press 520. (For "drop dead," it's 748.)
I'd like to know more about this; does anyone know of any studies? Surely they're out there.

Finally, the article concludes with a morality tale, stemming from the fact that text messages are used primarily for "greasing the social wheels" functions, a way of reiterating that we have connections, be they electronic or real. He's probably right about that, but then he writes this:
"We're all wired together" is the collective message, and we'll signal again in a couple of minutes, not to say anything, probably, but just to make sure the lines are still working. The most depressing thing about the communications revolution is that when at last we have succeeded in making it possible for anyone to reach anyone else anywhere and at any time, it turns out that we really don't have much we want to say.
This desperation seems to come out of nowhere, especially since earlier in the article he talks about how txt is used to flirt, ask on dates, break up, etc. But even if the whole point is just to grease the wheels, why would we be expected to "say something"? Is it different from Hi howareyou haveaniceday what'sup takecare?

Comments:
i've actually noticed that text message conventions seem to be adopting the written conventions of what the article calls 'hip-hop' - what we might call a form of AAVE, or what sociolinguist Samy Alim has termed Hip-Hop Nation Language. you see the written conventions not just in the liner notes, but in the name of artists (2pac, tha alkaholiks), songs (tha shiznit, playaz from the south), and should i ask a phd colleague of mine who studies this kind of thing about it, probably quite a bit more. some of it is probably done to imitate speech conventions, and in this case maybe AAVE phonology, but some of it is definitely inspired by something else (e.g. the alkaholiks). i think the same can be said of some txt message conventions, though, or of CMC-specific registers in general ('roxorz' for 'rocks'; and 'hawt' for 'hot' doesn't always reflect an actual spoken vowel shift, though it can).

i'd blame it on ideology and stance, but that's how i roll.

i really didn't know emoticons were so popular in txt messages either, though i've seen a slew of them on blogs and in IMs. one of my favorite things, by the way, is the use of japanese emoticons by american speakers, especially when it's done to mark something (say, their use by a japanophile speaker). i've never heard of 'lateral' or 'penetrative', nor can i see hitler in that emoticon. is that pound sign supposed to be the mustache? i'm totally confused.

i mist u, socioblog.
 
i should add that, whether this was hip-hop going to txt or vice versa, i'm not sure of - although it's also worth noting that uber-pop singers are adopting similar conventions in song titles and albums. come on. somebody else mention kelly clarkson.
 
Hehe, don't you feel ripped off? ;)

I read that article. I wasn't impressed by it. I agree that the hip hop reference was inaccuate. Also, I refuse to excuse the cowardice of anyone who would dump someone that way.

The octopus article was dumb, too. Anybody who's ever owned a pet knows that animals have distinct personalities.
 
Oh, I just realized that this is a community blog, and my comment was directed at someone specific. My bad *^_^*
 
omg. i've killed the blog.

i didn't even think you could kill an academic blog.

hell.
 
?
 
okay, maybe i didn't.
 
ok. yes you did. :) are you guys planning on coming to salsa?
 
thank god somebody's on my side. wassup, josh?

i didn't get to submit a salsa abstract (it's a long story), but i'm thinking of going down there anyway if i can get the funds. hello, travel grant.
 
Yeah, I'm just lazy lately. I, like, write the posts and then never bother to respond to the comments, which is lame because I *really* appreciate people commenting.

I'll come to SALSA if my abstract gets accepted (about which I am dubious), and I might come anyway if it doesn't. We'll see.

Joshua, how'd your presentation go? Was this Berkeley?
 
berkeley is this sunday, and the thought of it is kind of terrifying. if anyone happens to be in the san francisco area this weekend, i'd love a little cheerleading section.

speaking of conferences, is anyone submitting something to the CLIC/LISO conference this summer? word on the streets (really!) is that they're CMC-friendly.
 
p.s. i'm just rereading paolillo's 2001 article on social networks in the journal of socioling, and he makes a notable likening of the discourse in IRC channel #India to the language of hip-hop too.
 
that article is the foundation of the study i'm working on. he's a pretty smart guy. this "hip-hop" language is something of an enigma though. i'm taking a African American English syntax class with Lisa Green this semester and i'm thining about doing a syntactic analysis of the structural differences between this "hip hop" and aae. do any of you know if this has been done before or if there's any kind of definiton of "hip hop language"?

i'm reextending my invitation to stay with me if you all come down to salsa. we have bunk beds so you would be able to relive your youths. in fact, their my first beds. i'd also be able to provide you with some good eats and transportation to and from the conference and the airport. so if you guys can get down here, i'd be able to make your stay pretty cheap. i'm also on the abstract selection comittee, so bribes are always welcome... in fact, we meet tomorrow to do the picking.

i've basically been out of touch because i'm trying to work out a bunch of relationship issues that have been taking up all of my "free" time (and actually a lot of time that isn't really free at all). hopefully, things are worked out now so i'll have time to work on things that are fun instead of just the things i need to do to get by.
 
there are a few scattered articles out there on hip hop language, but samy alim is the only linguist i know of who's looked at it consistently - look for any of his articles on 'hip hop nation language'. he gives a pretty set definition of what the term means, and i'm nearly positive he discusses syntax in some of his writing. he also has a book out called 'you know my steez' which might be helpful.

thanks josh. i'll post salsa-esque plans if any get made.
 
jumping in late (I've been neglecting this blog, so sad) to say that while I didn't get accepted to salsa (curses!) I'm still debating the trip. did anyone get in to present?
 
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