Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Emoticons, you could say, have captured the public’s fancy. People want to make them on their phones, in their texts, on Facebook, even in e-mails. They learn how to make new ones and see if they fit, that is, if they express useful things, and if other people understand them. Whole Facebook sites spring up for emoticon use in general, or even for a specific one.

But I found two separate studies that both said that emoticon use in texting is at about 4%, with women using them more than men. In my own phone it was 0%; people like me are bringing the average down. And that brings me to my first point, which is that I admit there’s a good likelihood that I don’t know what I’m talking about, since they are used widely, in a number of very different situations, by different people, and for widely different purposes. I only see a corner of the action: 500 Facebook friends and a limited number of people whom I text regularly. We are not big emoticon users. But there are plenty out there, and use, in general, is probably increasing.

At first, I thought, this is interesting, and revolutionary: a pictoral hieroglyphic language that is not based on sounds, where symbols have direct meaning without going through their spoken-language equivalent. But, upon reflection, I decided that we have actually been using them for a long time. How long has XOXOX referred to kisses and hugs? Has $#@#$ referred to the so-called ‘four-letter words?’ Hieroglyphics themselves are as old as, well, ancient Egypt. So what’s the fuss?

What’s different is clearly that we have so many different media to use them in. Facebook alone has the main posts, and the chat; there are our phones, with their texting plans, and Apple trying to steal business away from the phone carriers by providing texting free to its users. So many of these machines reward emoticon users because they limit the number of characters one can use. Economy may dictate that we say with a smiley face or a wink what might otherwise take an entire sentence.

So what gets people to use them all the time, and in particular, use the three big ones 70% of the time? I’m referring to the Rice study, which said that smiley-face, frowny-face, and very-smiley face (colon D, I assume) accounted for 70% of the emoticons there were. At first I was surprised that wink (semi-colon parenthesis) and tongue-out (colon – P) weren’t on the list. But a lot of things can account for the relative frequency of an emoticon. If you invent one, and make a Facebook page for it, and advertise it, even then it might not catch on. But those big three are doing fine: why?

First you have to know that everyone you use it with will recognize and understand it. All of the big three are at that 100% recognition mark, but I’m not sure you can say the same for wink and tongue-out. Then again, it has to be genuinely useful in a number of situations. One guy said, “I never stick my tongue out in person; why should I need a symbol that does it for me?” You, do, howver, smile, frown, and smile broadly, and in many circumstances.

So then, the major question: Are they increasing dramatically? Slowly? Not at all? Or what? I think they will increase slowly until even guys like me start using them. I think women will continue using them more than men but everyone will reach a ceiling beyond which they won’t go. There are two frequency variables: number of emoticons per hundred texts, and number of emoticons per text. Even now, we’re only at 4 per hundred texts; very few people are using more than one per text regularly. One said, “I use smiley-face as a kind of text-punctuation. When the text is over, I smile.” I mention this because the emoticon seems to operate on the sentence level, like an exclamation point, rather than at the word level, where you might get five or six in a single sentence, given the right variety. No, you probably won’t find more than one per sentence, or one per text, as a general rule (this is my guess). And then, we will reach a point of balance: lots of emoticons, perhaps one per sentence, but never much more than that. We appear to be in no immediate danger of losing our word-based language in favor of a language consisting of a small group of picture-symbols each of which has several meanings. You can really only have so many emoticons, then you have to let words do the rest.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I've neglected this blog for what, a few years. But it's not because I've lost interest in chat and what it does and what you can do with it. Chat has, overall, been subsumed by texting. Texting has exploded as a means of communication. People focus less on the live interaction, chat, IMing they call it sometimes, because it's so convenient to just shoot texts back and forth at will, at one's leisure. This spreads it out more.

The total amount of informal writing continues to skyrocket. I read an article recently that was using trillions - trillions of texts? A few people study it around the edges. My impulse is to collect these studies and collect our gathered knowledge about texting with the intention of being a linguist of texting.

The vast majority of news stories about texting involve texters who killed someone on the highway, or were involved in accidents of some sort. Then you have the legislatures and city governments that are criminalizing texting and driving. If you wade through those you find a few others about how texting has vastly changed social life for young people and in fact anyone who lives in a world where people are actively texting. Finally, you get the studies around the edges, where people are figuring out who is using emoticons, and why, and to what degree.

Emoticons are interesting because they are part of what makes texting different from regular written communication. Let's see, you have shortened words, lol, a few of these and those, and emoticons. My point as a linguist is that texters would have different dialect patterns than others because so much of it goes across geographical boundaries. I would basically like to do for texting what Labov did for dialects: map them. Figure out the distribution of dialects within networks. Find out who is using what, where.

My main justification for studying it as a linguist would be this: If people relate to the phone - they change what they type based on the phone - and the phone changes what they type - then, making language is a very different process than it used to be back in the era of oral and plain written communication. Phones change what we type. Phones' auto correct essentially trains us to type some things and not others. On the interpreting end we have to guess sometimes what somebody intended to type. All this points to a different process than Saussure, and even Chomsky, tried to explain.

I may collect some of this stuff here, but better yet, I may just start a new site and set of resources. I have to bring back much of my online stuff anyway. This poor site was getting pretty stale and old. But it holds stuff that is important to me, old chat transcripts and the like. I'm not sure what will happen, I'm just stewing about the possibilities.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

tunisian araby w/translation

(machine translated by

Ya jme3a svp walah kont tawa na7ki par tlphne w t2akedt enou ma fama 7ata mochkla ma bine el jaych w el 7aras eri2esi w met3awnine barcha m3a b3adhhom rabi yonsorhom rahom elkol rjel tunis w 8aliiiine 3la 9loubna

O Fri Sfb with you just tell bar phone and confirmed that what even what the problem is between the army and guard L. major and Drink collaborators with the Lord grant them victory after them, some say a man involved and Tunisia to our hearts

el7amdola byad wajh tunis godam la3rab
alah yihlika zin 5alana chibh kofar godam la3rab
m6 tamer biragm man7ibouch

Elhamdula white face Tunisia Jaddam to perish Aaraballah Zine Khalna semi Kfar Jaddam to Aarabmt Tamer despite Mnhabk

Allah ya3tikom na7aya
God bless hand

nsa la7lela bela7ram t3abi el kerech hathaka ach 3mal ben 3li
Nasa to Ahalila haraam tired penny Hamak L. Ashe work Ben Ali

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NJ & beyond

My chat presentation was given again, this time at the NJ Higher Ed ESL Conference in Montclair NJ. I barely changed my script, but did, and pointed out Edmodo and other new things. People however were quite interested in the blogs themselves, and all changes that have come out of them. Between this New Jersey conference, and Miranda's presentation (see below), and with other perspective, I've noticed a few changes in the landscape.

Some people are quite focused on how chatting and informal language improves more formal writing. There is a connection, as Miranda pointed out, having to do with fluency and confidence; I should keep Peter Elbow references closer at hand, as he is who I draw my inspiration from. The fluency-first movement, as applied to reading, writing, speaking, and all language skills, basically was right when it said that you have to be comfortable in your own informal writing self, before you can really crank out the structured stuff; thus it makes little sense to demand essays out of intermediate students who really don't write much of anything else. Under questioning I also said this in New Jersey: increase the amount of writing your students do. Let them compare relentlessly what they said, and what would have worked better (Community Language Learning). Informalize the setting; concentrate on the communication. Make them write so much that they never have trouble getting started.
I had a discussion with Miranda Ma, following her presentation on using weblogs, which was given at SIUC and well-attended. We came around to my favorite topic, which was chatting and how the world is tending toward a lot of code-switching these days. She told me a little bit about life in Macau, and Hong Kong, where she grew up, and I was determined to save it, though a couple of days have passed already.

It's an agreed-upon fact that young people are code-switching more, and particularly in online environments, and mixing languages in ways that older people would not generally allow. We flung examples around, and at one point she said that Hong Kong people were notorious for it; later, a youtube that she shared gave some details on who did it, how, and possibly why. I haven't yet watched the youtube so I'll put it here and peruse it later, but, the upshot is that it means different things to different people, and some (most notably, the mainland Chinese) didn't care for it at all. Also, she said that clearly people don't tend to code-switch within words (at least not as a general pattern), but were more likely to code-switch within sentences or larger environments.

She herself grew up in a household where Taishanese was spoken, but her grandparents spoke Burmese, so she knew several languages from the start. Taishanese, she said, is much like Cantonese, but not quite. Yes, people who knew them both went back and forth quite a bit.

Then came my own idea, that came out of the blue, more or less. In my generation, I said, language was more closely bound by culture, so your use of language was by nature identification with culture. It seems to me that if you truly separate it from culture, then you're free to simply use the best language for the best purpose, as you would pick tools from a large assortment, picking the best one for the best job. but if you are aware of language as a kind of identification, you are more likely to reject code-switching as a pattern and show a clear preference for one language. But language isn't necessarily cultural by nature. If people are truly bi-cultural, they are more likely to simply be free to use what they wish with others who are similar. Why not?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


twitter stories

This blog, sleepy for a while, may yet become the home of a new course of action; I am doing research on Twitter. There are some things i haven't found homes for. This weblog is as good a place as any. Here are starters:

A story about Lance Armstrong and his bicycle; apparently the bicycle was stolen, but twitterers organized and found it rather quickly.

A story about a kidnapping somewhere in the Middle East; because of a successful tweet, the kidnappers were found out and the person was freed relatively quickly. How would one track down this story? It's a challenge.

One I might be taking up, I guess!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

SL & chat

TESOL 2009, Denver, CO

Uncharted but breathtaking: Integrating chat into the writing class is almost ready: I've written five or six mini-articles and a script; I've almost finished the handout, and I'm contemplating what the presentation itself will look like.

I do want to say: I've learned a lot about chat; I have a lot more to learn. I've come to call it "conversational writing". I've come to see it in a different light. More on this later. I'm hoping to use this weblog for comments that come directly from the presentation. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 27, 2009

more & more, chat in the new paradigm

some short things to ramble about as I get ready for my TESOL presentation, Denver, in about a month:

-just finished another writing class with chat in it; some people again handled it well and easily, while others were amazed that it was possible, that they could do it, that it happened in a writing class, etc. In general it was a class of people who had excellent grammar, excellent finding & searching skills, etc.; they'd been around.

-the class chat was marred somewhat by a difficult situation in which Firefox, on an e-mac, made it impossible to copy/paste anything into the TappedIn chat window. Tapped In in general was also difficult, with people occasionally in the CCR (comfy conf. room) and not knowing it, or seeming to be there yet not. But the inability to copy/paste url's was the most frustrating. No way out of it, either, except getting out and doing the whole thing (including log-in, and finding the URL's) in Safari.

-I've become interested in truly bilingual chats. It was pointed out to me that chats use emoticons and pictures often; and therefore, are not totally sound-based anyway; they clearly involve just seeing, reading & typing. Now here's the question though. Assuming everyone in a chat room knows two languages perfectly well. So, they begin using both frequently, mixing freely, carrying on in two languages simultaneously. Presumably they just use whatever is easier, whatever comes to their minds. Presumably they speak in confidence that either language will be understood at either end. Now: does their language fall into a kind of pattern (always using one lang. for one thing, the other for the other)? At what do you say, this is actually its own language, since it has consistent patterns?

The phenomenon of true & willing bilingualism seems to be more common and used more and other words, people who know two, and just willingly use both together, at most opportunities. Some Taiwanese students were explaining to me that since all of them knew both (Taiwanese & Mandarin), they mixed freely; it wasn't like this in their parents' generation, but it was now. One admitted that he preferred one, simply because he knew it better, but participated along with the rest, using both frequently. Similarly, I ran across a Spanish-English chat online, that was based physically along Texas border towns, and this was happening; unfortunately I have lost it now, or I would study it more carefully, as I know both, in this case, and might get some insight into my own research question. I have two points here: one is that the online environment, consistently providing bilingual space which is known for that and sought out for that, becomes in itself a site for a dialect to develop & flourish, and have its own patterns. Second, the willingness to use elements of one's environment and integrate it, albeit impulsively, to the grief of one's parents, a hallmark of pioneers in the young generation who seem to be taking on this bilingualism/worldly integration as a badge that their parents of course didn't share. I'll keep my eye out for more evidence. A single article about the phenomenon, printed years ago, alone accounts for half a dozen references in a Google search for "bilingual chat;" this means both that very little has been written about it, and, that there is extreme interest in what has been written, as it has been copied and referenced far and wide. This particular article was about Chinese-English and the use of bilingual spaces to familiarize with a new culture, and interact.

-I'm determined to research SL chat a little more, since it has occurred to me that chat in conjunction with 3d movement of avatars through town space or down a street, is different by nature than chat w/out pictures or setting. So is chat in online learning environments, where often things are happening on the board, or people are listening to speaking, and carrying on a running chat simultaneously. These chats often mix media, such that the chat carries its own information independent of the other media, but occasionally crosses over or is influenced by the other media. Another thought occurs to me, which is that this kind of picture or video/chat combination could be very useful to the process of language learning, though it probably hasn't been up to now.