There are stories about people attempting to write novels using Twitter. The process will certainly help concentrate the mind, and cut out padding, though this maybe counteracted by a lavish application of txt spk and emoticons, so you can pack more in each chapter / tweet. Why write about someone feeling sad, if you can simply slip in a down-at-mouth emoji? The same goes for text messages.
For many, text messaging abbreviations we are all familiar with (even if some of us are not too sure what they mean) illustrate an accelerating decline in standards of written English – there have been newspaper article about candidates answering essay questions in public examinations using text speak, ffs!
But, according to researchers at Binghampton University, New York, use of emoticons, irregular spellings and abbreviations, and imaginative use of exclamation marks and other forms of punctuation are def not sloppy, but an attempt to convey additional meaning. Whilst perhaps not a gr8 thing to do in every written document, their use can indicate that the writer is thinking about what they are trying to communicate and, if it seems a bit harsh, trying to soften the impact. (smiley face).
A text message writer is aware that the receiver of their message is not in front of them, so cannot pick up on non-linguistic clues – the smile, to soften a blunt comment, the pitch of the voice to convey a certain amount of doubt rather than intransigence, or the breathlessness to illustrate that you really are sooo sorry to be keeping you waiting.
The researchers go so far as to suggest that the omission of a full stop in a text message can indicate sincerity, and people who received a one word response to a text, which included a full stop, felt the response was less enthusiastic or genuine than if it came without one. For example, someone who replied yeah to an invitation to meet up that evening, was more likely to keep the appointment than one who responded yeah.. The researchers were so convinced by this that the title of their work is called Punctuation in text messaging may convey abruptness. Period. (Published in Computers in Human Behaviour, 2017)
Are there any lessons in this for writers of novels, short stories and plays? Not least, perhaps, it illustrates the importance of thinking about how our words are received by a readerand, in dialogue, by other characters in the story. As we wax lyrical, with words tumbling onto the page, maybe we should pause every so often to think, hmm – how will this be interpreted? Who is receiving this? Just a thought. LOL
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This post first appeared in 2017.