IM represents 'new linguistic renaissance'

Teens flex their chat muscles

Those among you who believe the use of instant messaging slang and shorthand among teens has doomed the English language to inevitable destruction should take heart from this report in New Scientist, which claims that au contraire, IM represents an "an expansive new linguistic renaissance".

That's according to Derek Denis and Sali Tagliamonte of the University of Toronto, who say the medium of IM allows yoof to roll out a "robust mix" of colloquial and formal lingo and, significantly, that "far from ruining teenagers' ability to communicate, IM lets teenagers show off what they can do with language".

Denis explained: "IM is interactive discourse among friends that is conducive to informal language, but at the same time, it is a written interface which tends to be more formal than speech."

Denis and Tagliamonte came to this conclusion after trawling over a million words of IM chat and 250,000 spoken words used by 72 people aged between 15 and 20. They discovered that "although IM shared some of the patterns used in speech, its vocabulary and grammar tended to be relatively conservative".

While linguistically-slack young 'uns are, for example, more likely to say "He was like, 'What's up?'" than "He said, 'What's up?'" when speaking, the opposite is true when they're IMing their mates. This, say the researchers, "supports the idea that IM represents a hybrid form of communication".

Regarding acronyms, readers will be relieved to learn that their use is not as ubiquitous as might appear. Outrages such as LOL, OMG and TTYL actually comprised a mere 2.4 per cent of IM vocab, a figure described by Denis and Tagliamonte as "infinitesimally small".

The dreaded "u", meanwhile, was shunned in favour of a full-fat "you" in 90 per cent of cases, and the researchers reckon use of such abbreviations is "confined mostly to the youngest users of IM".

Denis and Tagliamonte's findings are published in the spring 2008 issue of American Speech. ®

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