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Wotz language goin 2 B in da future?

Wotz language goin 2 B in da future?

Youth culture and text message technology are combining to send the English language and youth relationships in new and unexpected directions, says a Victoria University researcher.

Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Dr Ann Weatherall, has studied the text messages of 16 secondary school students in Wellington and her research has uncovered startling changes in language and the way young people interact through their mobile phones. She also interviewed the students to find out more about their texting habits.

"Language has been adapted creatively by young people, not only to suit the medium of text messages and make them easier to send, but also to signify a youth social identity. For example, words ending in a 'y' like 'really' were spelt as 'reali' even though replacing the y with an i actually saved no time at all. As well, school was usually spelt as 'skool' while together was typed as '2gefa'."

Dr Weatherall said mobile phones, and text messaging in particular, had become a part of youth culture.

"Principals we've spoken to estimated that 95 percent of their students have a cell phone. All the students said they carried their phone with them almost everywhere and most said they had it on all the time. Some even slept with their phones.

"Only a few said they ever turned it off at night or for select occasions like going to church or an airline flight. During class and going to the cinema, when mobile calls are not appropriate, most turned their phones to silent or vibrate mode.

"We found a strong expectation that messages should be returned almost immediately. We had cases where students sent follow-up messages within two minutes asking why a text message had not been responded to."

Dr Weatherall said there was kudos attached to having a lengthy address book, with those having a significant number being able to say exactly how many phone numbers they had. Those who did not, tended to be more vague.

"We also saw a phenomenon where students would text people that they didn't know by getting mobile numbers from friends. For example, a friend of a friend would provide a number and they would 'cold call' them by text, often to assess whether there was the possibility of a romance or friendship.

"Texting could also be used to bully others. We had one boy who withdrew from the study because he was 'flooded' with text messages, which overloaded his inbox and made it impossible for him to send text messages."

Dr Weatherall said the most common text word was "u" for "you" which was used 481 times. This was followed by "2" (to, 258 times), "im" (I'm, 162), "tb" (text back, 116) and "lol" (laugh out loud, 106). Other common words were "th" (the), "yea" (yes), "r" (are), "da" (the), "haha" (laughing), "4" (for) and "b" (be).

Dr Weatherall said text messaging was having a major impact on language with some dictionaries already starting to include text words.

"As a psychologist I was attracted to the subject because it is a new form of communication and it's a way that people manage their relationships with others, form social bonds and, in the case of young people, form a youth identity.

"While there is often conflict between young people and their parents, cell phones seem to be one area on which there is agreement. Parents like them because they believe they increase their teenagers' security while young people like them because they can keep in touch with their friends."

Dr Weatherall has also interviewed a group of adults to see how they use text messaging but has yet to analyse the results.

Worldwide, the GSM Association estimates more than 45.6 billion text messages are sent every month. The first New Zealand text message was sent in 1994 and Vodafone New Zealand estimates its customers are sending 1.8 million text messages everyday.

Dr Weatherall said her research differed from previous studies into text messages in that instead of writing them down, the young people were asked to forward them electronically. This ensured the messages were provided accurately and not changed in transcription although Dr Weatherall says they cannot be sure how many messages were not forwarded to them, either because the students forgot, lost interest or did not want reveal the contents of all of their messages.

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