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Published on August 9th, 2009 | by Babar Bhatti


First Ph.D. On Texting

A British student,  Caroline Tagg, aged 33, has become the first person in Britain to produce an 80,000 word thesis on the topic of text messaging. Reported here.

The University of Birmingham student spent the last three years analysing the use of phrases like “c u in a bit” or “wot r u up 2?” to prove just frequently such words appear in text chat and how the medium has become a language in itself.

She recruited a small army of texters who sent and recorded 11,000 messages, which were then put through a computer programme that identified words used most often.

“People have different abbreviations of words that the computer programme did not recognise as unique, such as the letter ‘u’ being used to represent the word ‘you’.

“But, my work is different to existing research as I explored the occurrence of everyday speech-like creativity. The use of language is different in different situations, for instance, words used in an email would be different to those used in a newspaper or in a conversation. What I found was that texting is like a language in itself, with people using a mixture of spoken and written language.”

She discovered that people text in the same way as if they were talking, using unnecessary words such as ‘oh’, ‘erm’ and often use grammatical abbreviations like ‘dunno’.

“I saw these in a lot of messages,” she said. “People deliberately use words like this when they don’t need to.”

Caroline said the average text contains 17.5 words. And she discovered from her 80,000 word thesis that there is more to texting that just abbreviations – something most people associate with texting.

“Actually, not many people use abbreviations,” she said. “People use playful manipulation and metaphors. It is a playful language. Not only are they quite creative, it is also quite expressive.

“It was interesting to be able to research a number of linguistic methods and frameworks and apply them to the text message, because the text messages were quite fun.”

Caroline, who is due to start work as a lecturer of English Studies and Applied Linguistics for the Open University, said she plans to continue her research, specifically looking at the texts of teenagers aged 16-18 or in other forms of computer communication like social networking.

Tutor Professor Sue Hunston – who admits she can’t text – said: “Every stage of the English language has been studied. Now Caroline has studied its use in texts.”

Thanks to Bilal for suggesting!

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