Texting Tone

Jen Doll investigates the rise of “word lengthening,” adding extra letters, in intimate messages:

Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer, notes that elongations, like emoticons and initialisms (OMG! LOL!), tend to flourish in those venues most starved for nuance. “When you’re dealing with IM, texting, and Twitter, those discursive functions that add to the simple message are really crucial,” he said. These tactics suggest that the process linguists call “accommodation”—the way speaking styles converge when humans talk to one another, facilitating both conversation and a sense of common identity—is not limited to spoken communication. “We’re navigating different registers all the time, finding out what’s appropriate,” Zimmer said. But “when those registers don’t match our expectations”—when our best friend begins a text with “Dear Jennifer,” or someone responds Hello to our Hiiiiiii—“that’s when we wonder if things are running afoul.”

In a follow-up post, Doll went in-depth on Twitter:

If you look at these words, a lot of them are from the expressive class. You’re already expressing some emotional state with them — aw — or you’re using them for augmentative purposes, like so and lots of affirmatives and negations: yeahhh, nooo, yesssss. But I think it’s telling that some of the other more frequent words that get extra letters are unpronounceable. People are trying to give some flavor to the communication.