Communicative Study Of Electronic Messaging Among Bilingual Undergraduate Students

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Communicative Study Of Electronic Messaging Among Bilingual Undergraduate Students


This study advances research on using language in electronic communication. It intended to analyze texting on WhatsApp in terms of linguistic and paralinguistic characteristics, the identity of undergraduates, and uses of emojis. Adopting a corpus-based approach to the study of language variation, data were collected from WhatsApp chat group of six male students enrolled in a Master‟s program at a graduate school in the Northern region of the Nigeria. A total of 195 messages were garnered over a period of three months. Results showed laudable features of electronic texting which are deviant of the formal English orthographically, morphologically, syntactically, and phonologically. This supports previous claims that texting has adversely affected the structure of formal language. It was also found that emojis were used to complement words, impose additional meaning that mere words cannot convey or supplant written forms. Additionally, the way undergraduates used text messages reveals information about their identities. It also gives clues about their cultural, religious,and educational backgrounds.

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

Modern technologies, particularly, the new media, with their electronic messaging capabilities are changing virtually all aspects of human life around the globe. Advances in science and technology in the last decade – particularly micro-chip dependent technology such as computers, lasers, the internet, satellite, videophones etc. have helped in advancing the frontiers of globalization from which Nigeria is not isolated. The impact of these new emerging technologies is felt even in developing countries which are grappling with serious language problems as a result of socio-cultural and linguistic diversities. This new mode of communication appears to have captured a large clientele of the youths who adapt more easily to change. The youths of today live in a world characterized by the dynamics of electronic messaging which affects their communication mode as well as their writing and which also make their life more complex.

The complex situation in which the young people are struggling to find direction in their lives or simply to survive and improve their living conditions and develop and improve their identity has been given various names. Some call it the information age, while others prefer the term techno-culture or techcapitalism, global media culture or simply globalization, referring to the dialectic process in which the global and the local exist as ‘combined and mutual supporting principles’. The idea behind all these terms is that across the globe, ICTs are playing a vital role on young people’s lives and in the society at large.

Electronic messaging therefore came as a result of social needs which are anchored on easy and fast communication. It is perhaps the most consummate among the youths because of the common form of interaction it provides. They have learned to coordinate and indeed co-micro interaction via the mobile phone and internet. Electronic Mail, a new written-language register; In a study of with French speaking adolescents; Olga et al observed that “Adolescents seem to have largely appropriated these new communication tools, including electronic mail ‘Teens and technology’, a survey conducted by the New Internet and American Life Project on 1100 young people, “electronic mail ranked on top and was used by 89% of online teens”(2).This interprets that electronic messaging gives the youths a source of interaction that is not mediated by parents as in the case with the traditional landline telephone. The Nigerian youths as part of the global community have contributed to popularizing the social use of texting and have developed a linguistic and manual dexterity in the composition of messages.

Two aspects of the Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) text based communication which the youths employ for the purpose of fast and easy communication are those done through Social Network Sites (SNS) and Short Message Service (SMS).This they do using peculiar linguistic features that are drawn from their dual linguistic dispositions (bilingualism).Social Network Sites include Facebook, ICQ, Myspace, Skype etc, and according to Lee, C. while quoting Kats et al, Social Network Sites (SNS) have led to an age of ‘perpetual contact’.

Social Network Sites provide an increasingly important communication channel in facilitating social connections among Nigerian youths while SMS avails them with the opportunity of ‘on-the-go’ messaging. Awonusi in his paper entitled “Little Englishes and the Law of Energetics”, A sociolinguistic study of SMS text Messages as register and discourse in Nigerian English’ avers that senders of text-messages however, confront the problem of constraint of time, money and space. As a reaction to the constraint, text users devise various linguistic strategies to communicate comprehensively but briefly, thereby depending on the law of energetic. (47).

The integration of internet services into Mobile phone has further made the convenience of mobile phone communication easier for students. This research therefore, attempts to examine the linguistic features of text-based computer mediated communication among Nigerian undergraduates using sociolinguistic theories; the study will among other issues explore the extent to which undergraduates accommodate their interlocutors in their SMS and Facebook. Finally, because modern technology has made it possible for youths to text and access Facebook through mobile phone, this study will henceforth use the mobile phone to refer to the two affordances of the computer-mediated modes of communication, namely: SMS and Facebook.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Many of the SMS text messages are couched in racy, semi-formal or informal telegraphic styles occasioned by the constraints of time and space as well as economic (monetary) considerations. Also, the use of languages in electronic messaging is quite obscure due to the use of peculiar bilingual abbreviations, phonetic representation, clippings, alpha numerals, Nigerian English, Pidgin English and indigenous languages which could be interpreted differently. These pose a problem of misinterpretation and misunderstanding hence, there is need to study specifically the linguistic features of electronic messaging as well the ability of undergraduates to accommodate their interlocutors by their language style.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

This research is based on the linguistic features inherent in Facebook (a social network site) and SMS which are specific to University of Lagos undergraduates. This study sets out to undertake critical examination of the linguistic features of the two chosen modes of computer mediated communication namely; SMS and Facebook. The objectives of this study are:

  1. To classify the degree of convergence in the SMS and SNS of undergraduates;
  2. To describe how undergraduates employ code-switching to accommodate their interlocutors in SMS and SNS;
  3. To identify how native languages affect the accommodative ability of undergraduates in SMS and SNS;
  4. To point out the type of code-switching employed by undergraduates in SMS and SNS;
  5. To classify the extent to which divergence is employed in SMS and SNS;
  6. To substantiate that undergraduates employ accommodation in SMS and Facebook.

1.4 Scope of the Study

This study will be restricted to two modes of computer mediated communication SMS and Facebook in mobile phones or computer. The restriction to the two is imperative because it has been discovered that the University of Lagos students are often involved in SMS. Also, Facebook, which students mainly access for socialization reasons, has become a substantial communication pattern among them. Ten SMS messages and ten Facebook Messages extracted randomly from undergraduates of University of Lagos will be used as data for this study. In doing this Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) proposed by Howard Giles will be used as theoretical framework and the researcher will limit herself to the two major variables of CAT-convergence and divergence.

1.5 Definition of Terms

To achieve the objectives of the study, we have attempted simple exposition of some relevant concepts.

1.5.1 SMS

The SMS is a contraction for Short Messages Service. It has become a very familiar and widely used form of communication. An online source revealed that “short message services (SMS), what Alabi V. rightly referred to as “the written language of GSM” (1994), is a communication protocol allowing the interchange of short text messages between mobile telephone devices”. Students make maximum use of SMS to communicate written codes from one person to another. In SMS brevity is the tool to comprehensiveness and comprehending information since it allows a limit of 160 characters per SMS.

1.5.2 SNS

The abbreviation SNS simply means Social Network Sites. It is an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people who for example, share interests and/or activities and people with similar or somewhat similar interests, backgrounds and/or activities make their own communities. A social network service consists of a representation of each user (often a profile), his/her social links, and a variety of additional services. Most social network services are web-based and provide means for users to interact over the internet such as e-mail and instant messaging. Social networking sites allow users to share ideas, activities, events, and interests within their individual networks.

1.5.3 Facebook

Facebook is one of the many emerging social network sites which students have discovered as another means of communicating. It has been defined in different ways by different people:

Facebook is a social networking website that is operated and privately owned by facebook, inc. Since September 2006, anyone over the age of 13 with e-mail address can become a facebook user.

According to Wikipedia encyclopedia facebook has recorded “500 million active users in July 2010”. As a social network site, facebook has “implanted a wide variety of technical features” its “backbone consists of visible profiles that display an articulated list of friends who are also users of the same system”.

1.5.4 Computer Mediated Communication

Computer mediated communication (CMC) “is human to human communication using networked computer environments to facilitate interaction”. (Pearson et al 336). CMC differs from other types of electronic communication in the sense that communication is transactional. “Both people involved in the CMC event are responsible for simultaneously sending and receiving messages.”(Pearson et al 337). However, it uses electronic channels to facilitate communication.

Chapter Five

Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Conclusion

Today, wired and wireless technology has provided a wide space for electronic communication. In fact, most of the world, under the auspices of the Internet now, has become a networked society where people contact and meet electronic more than they do face-to-face. Noticeably, many people today cannot bear to switch off their mobile phones; and if they do so, they will later be asked why! Such a tendency has redefined both private and social spaces and thus reshaped language. The fact that the Internet and its allied applications which surged globally have drastically changed the way people communicate and use the language, impacting both writing and speaking (Crystal, 2001, 2005, 2011, 2013; Waldrone, Kemp &Wood, 2016). While some language researchers believe that the Internet has caused negative language change (e.g. Ali, 2012; Kern 2006; Prøysen, 2009), some others (e.g. Crystal, 2008) take the issue with the contention that it provides a platform which is conducive for massive contact, community building, and language change. However, electronic interactions lack facial expressions, gestures and conventions of body posture; these are the features of real time communication that make an integral part of delivering messages among undergraduates important when expressing ideas and opinions (Kern,2014).

This study demonstrated the utilization of text messaging in terms of linguistic and para- linguistic characteristics, identities of undergraduates, and the use of emojis. Although the study is based on a small sample of participants, the findings revealed laudable features that distinguish SMS texting from formal/standard varieties of English, such as using shortened forms of language which are orthographically, morphologically, syntactically, and phonologically deviant of the formal discourse. In texting, undergraduates pay less attention to punctuations and grammatical rules; they are likely more careful to convey their messages in a way that resembles face-to-face conversations. They do so by using paralinguistic features, primarily emojis.

The study has gone some way towards enhancing understanding of the linguistic and paralinguistic features of texting. It confirms previous findings and contributes additional evidence suggesting that texting is a linguistic phenomenon of unique characteristics. It supports the argument that texting is a new genre of English; it includes features such as emojis and excessive punctuations that are part of speech and not formal English writing. It also backs up prior claims that texting does not constitute a negative influence on the formal language; rather, it signals a rise of new language that is being used excessively by the internet-oriented generation (Crystal, 2008; 2013).

Similarly, this paper makes noteworthy contributions to research on texting in terms of using emojis; it was found that emojis were used not only for expressing emotions, but also for other communicative purposes. Emojis can also be used to show gratitude, excitement, sarcasm, celebrations, etc. The study should also prove to be particularly valuable to sociolinguistic studies; the way undergraduates use text messages reveals some information about their different identities. People from different cultures perceive and employ facial expressions in unique ways. The data show that the undergraduates‟ uses of code-switching, speech acts, and sarcasm give clues about the cultural, religious, and educational identities of the speakers.

Although the study, theoretically, achieved its stated objectives, it has provided opportunities to plunge headfirst into some other related issues the study failed to address thoroughly. The limitations accruing from the sample size and data collection, or even, the characteristics of the participants, provide room for further research. The study‟s sample included 6 participants and 195 messages and participants were all males. A more comprehensive study would include a bigger sample that consists of equal number, maybe more, of males and females from different cultures which might enrich this topic and yield more interesting results.

5.2 Recommendation

From the study, there is the possibility that the setting or context of texting influenced language choice in both studies, thereby reducing the number of bilingual exchanges. In Study 1, the participants were almost all university students and much of their time spent texting might have oc- curred in university settings where English is the expected language of use. In Study 2, despite the efforts of the authors to encourage code switching, the university setting of the experiment might have curtailed bilingual exchanges to some degree. Finally, there is the possibility that more switches between English and Spanish might have occurred in Study 2 if a specific effort had been made to recruit close friends as participant pairs who might not otherwise have to engage in cautious English-dominated conversations of the type that might be expected of only acquaintances in a university setting.

Text message research suggests that language choice in text messaging depends on factors other than efficiency, such as the topic of conversation (Deumert & Masinyana 2008). Herring (2007) listed a number of factors that can influence technology-mediated language use, dividing them broadly into technological factors (such as those that might drive efficiency in text messaging) and social/situational factors. Studies of synchronous or near-synchronous forms of computer-mediated communication show that language choice is affected by situational and so- cial factors. In the realm of online chatting, language mixing has been associated with ‘creativity’ in interpersonal communication (i.e., using elements of one language to enhance the effectiveness of another) (Fung & Carter 2007), increased comprehension, affirmation of identity, support of affective expression (Ferreira da Cruz 2008), and social ties (Paolillo 2001). Warschauer et al. (2002) stated that code switching in online communications occurs with topics that are personal or have personal meanings. Warschauer et al. also noted that code switching online occurs often in greetings, humorous or sarcastic expressions, expressions related to food or holidays, and religious expressions. Androutsopoulos (2006) collected news stories, discussion group posts, and user names from diasporic websites in Germany, finding that language mixing and code switching in posts had various functions some of which related to establishing identity.

While the purpose of the present studies was not to determine the exact functions of code switching in SMS, it was clear from studying the messages from Study 2 that some, but not most, of the language mixing was motivated by the texting game itself, e.g., cases where ‘senders’ in the game used language choice as a cue for ‘receivers’ to know the de- sired language of the target word. The functions of language mixing in Study 1 were unclear, but some functions of language mixing such as establishment of cultural identity or clarification of messages to increase comprehension would seem to be relevant to the sample messages collected. Code switching research outside of technology-mediated communication suggests a range of functions of language switching, but communication efficiency usually is not one of the suggested functions. These earlier studies, combined with the results from the present studies, do not provide support for the idea that efficiency is one of the functions of bilingual code switching while communicating via SMS

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