Channel-driven economy strategies in English and Polish SMS messages

Małgorzata Kul (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań) Dafydd Gibbon (Bielefeld University)

Communication via non-face-to-face, technically mediated channels has been extensively investigated, generally with sociological and discourse analytic methods (cf. Döring 2005 for a review). From both functional and structural linguistic points of view, however, technically mediated channels provide useful indicators of constraints on the interaction between production and perception which characterise much discussion in phonetics and Natural Linguistics, and which also motivate much work in the language and speech technologies. For example, Gibbon (1981, 1985) analysed channel constraints imposed by Morse Code telegraphy on short-wave radio communication, using the methodology of speech act theory, and focussing on uptake-securing. Similar constraints can be observed in text communication with modern mobile devices: SMS teletyping, PDAs, messaging units. The massive upsurge in both personal and professional communication via these devices has produced linguistically very interesting highly constrained corpora. After specifying the channel constraints in detail (for example: constraints on input and output devices, on character inventory and selection procedures and on text length), the present contribution analyses economy strategies in writing SMS text messages, and relates these to the channel constraints on SMS teletyping, and proposes that the strategies are not merely channel-determined but are also dependent on typological differences in morphosyntax, phonology and orthography between languages. In the English corpus extract

"Oh..,I didn't mentionThat?:-)I took a TaxiAndI'mBackHome"

some of the simpler channel-driven economy strategies can be observed: (1) speech/text act: ASCII emoticon ":-)"; (2) punctuation: character economy by space replacement with capitalisation; space removal where there is no ambiguity; omission of final period; (3) use of informal style with contracted forms. The contribution examines SMS texts of this kind in English and Polish, with particular reference to typologically different factors in the two languages. In addition to strategies such as those illustrated here, word abbreviation strategies will be examined, with particular attention paid to differences in phonologically motivated strategies such as vowel reduction and deletion, syllable deletion, metaphonological orthography modification, e.g. English "coz" for "because, "u" for "you" (cf. also Sobkowiak 1991). In the final section, economy strategies in text messaging are compared with economy strategies in other highly constrained technically mediated channels (Gibbon 1981, 1985); finally, referring more traditional contexts and to studies text messaging in languages with non-alphabetic orthographies, it is shown that economy strategies not only have a long ancestry, but may also help to explain typological differences between writing systems of the languages of the world.