Word Formation Processes In Nigerian Short-Message Service

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Word Formation Processes In Nigerian Short-Message Service


One of the features of a living language is that it constantly changes with new words finding their way into the vocabulary of the language. Languages’ vocabularies grow from time to time as a result of new innovations that continuously spring up in different sectors of life and human endeavour; one of which is the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), in the recent century. This study, therefore, explores the various processes employed by Nigerian Short-Message Service (SMS) writers in generating new words, by critically sampling and analyzing some of these new words to see the processes employed by these GSM users. It is discovered in this study that these GSM users have the capability of reducing any form of expression to the starkest abbreviation. Generally, the new words analyzed are in one way or the other in their reduced forms and this may not be far from the characteristic SMS requirement of limited number of characters.

Table of Content

Chapter One:


  • 1.1 Background of the study
  • 1.2 Problem statement
  • 1.3 Purpose of the study
  • 1.4 Significance of the study
  • 1.5 Research Questions
  • 1.6 Scope and Limitations of the Study
  • 1.7 Organization of Study

Chapter Two:

Review of Related and Relevant Literature

  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Conceptual Review
  • 2.3 Theoretical Framework

Chapter Three:

Research Methodology

  • 3.0 Introduction
  • 3.1 Research Design
  • 3.2 Sources of data collection
  • 3.3 Determination of Population
  • 3.4 Determination of sample size
  • 3.5 Instrumentation
  • 3.6 Instrument Validation
  • 3.7 Adopted Method of Analysis

Chapter Four:

Data Presentation, Analysis and Interpretation

  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Data Presentation
  • 4.3 Data analysis
  • 4.4 Data Interpretation

Chapter Five:

Conclusion, Summary and Recommendation

  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Conclusion and Findings
  • 5.3 Summary of the Study
  • 5.4 Recommendation
  • Bibliography

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

The current computer literacy level in the society has made text-based communication, which comes in various forms; assume a vital position among many people. These text-based communication techniques include chat on-line, text messaging, e-mail, among others. This form of communication (text-based communication) comes with its peculiar style of writing, creating and re-creating new ways of writing. This paper is an attempt in analysing the various word formation processes employed by Nigerians using the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in text messaging.

GSM, which is an abbreviation for Global System for Mobile Communication, is a communication system that does not use wires and cables. It rather uses radio waves according to Homby (2001), and as such, it can be carried about and be used anywhere. Though GSM can be used for many purposes, it is majorly used for call making and text-messaging. However, this paper focuses on text massages.

Temple (2013) observes that technical ideas (with respect to GSM) from various numbers of sources are gathered over the period from 1982-1985. According to him, Europe produced the very first GSM Technical Specification in 1987, which marks the birth or the pivotal year of GSM. However, GSM was introduced in Nigeria in 2001following the January 2001 auction for GSM which attracted mobile phone operators like MTN Nigeria, Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel), MTEL, Globacom and Etisalat to operate digital mobile service in the country.

Econet Wireless Nigeria and MTN Nigeria launched their GSM on 7th and 8th of August 2001 respectively. Obviously, GSM subscription rate and phone calls were extremely expensive at inception. However, with the advent of days, they have become relatively affordable that an average household in the country can afford to own as many GSM phones as the number of persons in the household. This makes it possible for young people (even children) to have access to GSM. Consequently, from observation there are innovative ways/styles of writing that accompany the use of GSM to compose text messages, especially by the younger generation in order to reflect local colouration and to, save time, space and cost. In this paper, we look at these innovative styles to find out the word-formation processes employed by Nigerian users of this information technology gadget in their text messages. Short Message Service (SMS) is a text messaging service component of web, phone or mobile communication systems that makes use of standardised communication protocol which makes it possible for fixed lines or mobile phone devices to exchange short text messages. SMS sends and receives messages of up to 160 characters per page to and from GSM handsets. In other words, there is a limited number of characters that can be sent or received through SMS. This may explain the need to create and re-create new words. This study is inspired by this new form of writing and the styles with which it comes.

Language is in constant change with new words coming into it almost on a daily basis. Though not every new word survives, some eventually find their ways into the vocabulary of the language. Word formation is simply the creation of new words in a language. Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (2011) observe that new words have quite a number of ways by which they can enter the language. Scholars like Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (2011); Aronoff an Fudeman (2008); Gries (2006); Peña (2010), among others, have identified these various processes of word formation to include:

Compounding, derivation, coinage, acronym, blending, clipping, back-formation, etc. However, the focus of this paper is on how Nigerian mobile phone users employ these and other processes in forming new words as are evident in their test messages.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Prior to the technology age, language use in bilingual communities was restricted to the context of speech. Over the years language use extended to writing and in recent times, especially from the mid-1990s; we have the computer mediated styles of communication. This medium introduced among other styles, the use of the short massage system of communications. The predominance of SMS style usage of university students and youths triggered the curiosity of the researcher to investigate the concepts of language, style and communication, English language in Nigeria and its attendant problems, and the ‘SMS’ styles of communication as used in Nigeria Short Message Service.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The singular goal of this study is to explore the various processes employed by Nigerian Short-Message Service (SMS) writers in generating new words, by critically sampling and analyzing some of these new words to see the processes employed by these GSM users.

1.4 Significance of the Study

Over the years, the short message service ‘SMS’ has been a miniature and abridged style of transmitting written information. This style became prominent in Nigeria during the introduction and advent of the mobile phones (handsets/GSM). It becomes pertinent for this practice to be reviewed and documented.

1.5 Research Questions

The study seeks to provide answers to the following questions

  1. What are the various word formation processes that can be identified in Nigerian SMS?
  2. What are the various word formations deduced from the sound of a word?

1.6 Organization of the Study

For clarity of purpose, this study is divided into five sections, with the first and the second sections bordering on introduction and views of various authors on the topic respectively. In the third section, the methodology adopted in the paper is discussed, while the various word-formation processes, alongside the resulting new words as identified in SMS, are provided and discussed in the fourth section. Finally, the fifth and sixth sections respectively summarise and conclude the study.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Summary of the Findings

This study looked at how GSM users manipulate words and spelling symbols to re-create new words while writing their text messages. The previous section shows that GSM users make use of clipping, sound-reduction and initialisms involving abbreviation in forming these words. Example ‘A’ above shows that clipping in text messages comes in various forms. While some can be said to have a pattern, others are without any identifiable pattern.

However, they are understood by the communicators. This can be proved by the communication flow observed in the data extracted from the respondents.

Again, there is a notable difference as well as irregularities that exist between the English sounds and their corresponding spellings. This, from the result of the findings, may be the reason behind the new form of writing exemplified in B above. Here, new words are formed on the basis of one-to-one correspondence between the pronunciation of words and their spelling. It is worthy of note to state that what is done is not outright transcription but a rendition of words is a typical Nigerian pronounceable way that still portrays the original word.

Typically, the nearest letters that depict the speech sounds of the words are chosen in the representation and this is usually clear where the actual sound segment is not present in any of the native languages. As observed earlier, Plag (2002) sees it as pronunciation spelling which is not considered as a word creating process, rather to represent non-standard orthographic variants. But our findings see it as a word creating process. This conclusion was reached by observing other text messages (still within the 810 messages collected) sent by the same group of respondents to their elder ones and official colleagues. In these official text messages, the above instances of clips, abbreviations, alphanumeric, etc were written in Standard English forms. This is a clear indication that the respondents are not motivated by non-standard spelling. Furthermore, B (ii) shows a pattern of sound-reduction, which can be called alphanumeric, where numerals like 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9, are used to represent sounds. These can either be used in isolation or alongside other letters in the original word to form words in the language of Nigerian SMS users.
This study also discovers that there is a wide range of abbreviations in use among the SMS writers in Nigeria. As against the general notion that initials are being formed from names of organisations and technical names, we see these GSM users’ ability to reduce almost anything they desire to initials. These abbreviations range from single words to phrases, clauses, as well as sentences. Therefore, we can say that Nigerian GSM users reduce both simple and complex expressions to the starkest abbreviation.

It is also evident from the data presentation and analysis that what we have are all forms of reducing words and expressions because of lack of space, (which may not be far from the characteristic limited number of characters that are required in SMS), impatience on the part of GSM users to type full words (obviously to save time), and cost. As it concerns cost, it was only last year (2013) that the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) reached an agreement with network providers that inter network SMS charge be a flat rate of N4.00 per SMS. Before 2013, it costs N15.00 and above.

Furthermore, this study discovers that these ‘new words’ are generally interpreted in context. For instance, what is obtainable in the Nigerian context may be different from the Ghana or American context and vice versa. Also, the manner in which words are shortened in the sampled SMS shows that, except within context (i.e., context of use now), these expressions may not be understood. Even though interpretation of SMS is outside the scope of this paper but the analysis reveals that context is the major factor that provides lucid interpretation of these new created forms of writing, which people usually refer to as ‘the language of the GSM.’ Again, (though it is not within the scope of this paper), it is equally important to note that the users of these short forms are mostly youths. Adult GSM users, most times, do not understand this “new language”, and are not usually involved in it. Therefore, the usage is more among the youth, who apparently understand the language. Again, new words are not actually created in that sense of word formation. What we have is a unique writing system in Nigerian SMS that involves the recreation of existing words through clipping, alphanumeric, and sound reduction and deletion.

5.2 Conclusion

Every human society depending on its needs require new words from time to time to satisfy such needs. Therefore, new innovations make it needful for new words to come into a language in order to name new things and take care of their present communication needs. Every language needs new words almost every day. However, these words are got by borrowing, derivation, conversion, etc. The most important thing is that new concepts are taken care of in the vocabulary of a language. This is why language cannot remain static – since innovations will not cease. Hence, language keeps growing and developing to meet up with the changes in the society. In recent times, many words have entered the vocabularies of many languages as a result of many innovations; for example, the turn-around in the information communication technology (ICT) requires a great deal of new words to meet the demands of the industry since the words we have presently are not adequate to take care of the new things that come with it. ICT makes it necessary for new words like ‘internet, website, ping, cookies, blog, bookmark, download, etc to enter the vocabulary of the English language as well as for old words like web, surf, and bug, etc., to acquire new meanings. Also, there is need to reduce the number of characters in a text since the number of characters in a mobile phone is restricted. This encourages the use of clipped words, abbreviations and the reduction of series of letters to a single letter or figure that will take care of the sound(s) represented by the series of letters as we saw in the paper. Of all the processes of word formation available, Nigerian GSM users make use of clipping, initialisms, abbreviation, alphanumeric, sound-reduction and deletion to create ‘words’ in their SMS.

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