SMS TEXTING AMONG GSM USERS IN NIGERIA: A MORPHO-SYNTACTIC

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SMS TEXTING AMONG GSM USERS IN NIGERIA: A MORPHO-SYNTACTIC

Abstract

The gradual shift from the offline to online communication such as text messaging has given way to innovative

language-short forms whose morph-syntactic aspects have permeated the linguistic characters of the texters. For

about a decade now, there exist a growing body of research on mobile phone text messaging by linguists but

only very few have been done in the area of morpho-syntax. The work therefore, examines the aspects of

morphology and syntax found in SMS text messages. It adopts a combination of Chomsky (1957)

Transformational and Silverstein (1976) Meta pragmatic theories. Through the move-a rule and the pragmatic

method of analysis, the study discovers that there are morpho-syntactic variations among texters which are

problematic to formal English. It also reveals that movement of constituents from one slot to the other is a

common feature in text messages though some of such movements violates move-a rules. Other syntactic

differences are reflected in form of subject/agent, object, determiner, to-infinitive deletions/omissions. Wordorder

violations, contractions, abbreviations, acronyms, compounding, blends and lack of punctuation also

characterize morpho-syntactic elements in SMS texts. Morphologically, there is no hard and fast rule with

regards to the users’ choice of letters in abbreviation. Texters use a combination of letters and numbers in their

text messages and in some cases they use only numerals. The texters obviously down-play the orthographic and

syntactic rules of the formal English language for their convenience.

Keywords: SMS texts, Nigeria, mobile phone, morpho-syntactic analysis.

1.0 Introduction

Language has been an integral part of communication and human beings being compulsive communicators

continue to find new ways of communication in an attempt to bridge the distance between individuals. Internet

technology has greatly influenced human life especially in the area of communication. Following the wave of the

technology, Wiki (2008) notes that there is an overwhelming access to different forms of media with an increase

in interconnectedness of peoples and races around the entire world. According to Adejub (2010:2), “the entire

world comprising six continents and many countries of about 6,881,800,000 (as the estimated population United

States Census Bureau) has been reduced to a global village through the dynamism of communication with the aid

of information technology (ICT).” ICT is a term used to refer to a range of technologies for gathering, storing,

retrieving, processing, analyzing and transmitting information. The SMS (short message service) which serves as

the latest way of quick communication since the invention of SMS texts came alongside with the global

technology Lexemes are used to facilitate the effectiveness of this device. The effectiveness of this medium of

communication depends on the appropriate combination of the words it carries, and in the combination of these

words lie what is known as the message. This communication technique is currently in use in all areas of lifeoffices,

schools, markets, homes, advertisements, churches, etc. The component service (the phone) is unique for

its smallness and mobility. Due to the smallness, there is a limited space which leaves subscribers no choice

other than pursue simple sentence structures and other language short-forms to enable them exhaust their

message. Crystal (2008) contributing to the small character space of the mobile phone contends that subscribers

have created new linguistic forms to enable them maximize the available space and at the same time, make sure

they say all that is to be said to the understanding of the receiver. Supporting this view, Rafi (2010) observes that

through the new written conventions, texters have developed a written form of sounds that replaces the ability to

hear spoken utterances. The study therefore, seeks to examine the morpho-syntactic analysis of the innovative

language-form (Text messaging).

1.1 Methodology

The sources of data for our analysis comprise the text messages sent and received by the students of the

University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Our choice of area of study is guided by the fact that University of Nigeria,

Nsukka is a federal university where the students comprise peoples from different tribes of the nation. Data was

collected from fifty University students comprising both male and female. A total of seventy-five messages

(consisting of educational, seasonal, love, religious and other messages that express well wishes) were collected

from the participants whose messages were taken in confidence. This guarantees the researcher’s permission to

analyze the messages. The samples of the data are found in the Appendix.

Research on Humanities and Social Sciences www.iiste.org

ISSN 2222-1719 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2863 (Online)

Vol.3, No.15, 2013

85

2. SMS Text Messaging: An Overview

The Short Message Service (SMS) is the part of a phone, web or mobile communication system used globally for

the exchange of short text messages between discussants. SMS according to Oladoye (2011:16) was first used in

December 1992 by a 22-year old named Neil Papworth. He says that the concept of SMS was developed by

Friedhelm Hillebrand, Bernard Ghillebaert and Oculy Silaban in 1984, in the Franco-German GSM cooperation.

Since the invention, the mobile telephone has been the latest way to communicate quickly. Text messaging is a

general term that is used to refer to the short written messages usually sent through phone and other portable

devices over a network. Ong’onda (2011:1) observes that the terms ‘text messaging’ or just ‘texting’ refers to the

brief typed messages sent using the Short Message Service (SMS) of mobile/cell phones, personal digital

assistants (PDAs), smart phones or web browsers. Uhunmwangho (2009:27) defined a text message as “any

linguistic event, usually a written form of speech that is imbued with meaning”. Doring (2002:7) notes that

“SMS communication allows for a reasonable use of syntactic and lexical short forms, which save character

space, or touches of the handset keys, as compared with using the full forms of words”. In the words of Rafi

(2010:3) it pursues simple sentence structures for communication. They also make use of written sound of words

and in other cases bring code mixing into it. Rafi further observes that SMS syntactic and lexical choices by the

texters are not so different from a child language; for instance a child expresses his feelings through simple

present progressive tense e.g. mom eating for ‘Mom is eating’ and Eating for ‘I am eating’

The equipment in its uniqueness affords most texters a much economized means of communication (Habluetzel

2007), (Thurlow 2003) and (Thurlow and Poff 2011). The Short message Service gives the subscriber the

advantage of choosing a specific number of words that would communicate comprehensively, but briefly, with

minimum cost- Chiluwa (2007:96). Due to the inconveniences caused by the limitation in the time and space that

comes along with the Short Message Service, texters are forced to find new ways for sending text messages.

Letters and numbers are also often combined (or used alone) for compression and convenience. Discussing on

the brevity of the electronic discourse, (Crystal 2001), (Hard af Sagerstad 2002) and (Thurlow 2003) note that

the technical restrictions of text messaging have led to the development of language short forms in SMS

communication.

The sender of a text message is known as a texter. SMS text service itself has different colloquialisms depending

on the region in that it may simply be referred to as a text in North America, India, Australia, Nigeria etc. Our

area of study geographically is therefore, morpho-syntactic analysis of SMS text messaging in Nigeria.

2.1 Nigeria and the SMS Texts

The global technology for Mobile communication notes Alabi (2010a) was introduced in Nigeria in the year

2001 and following the inception, he observes that SMS text messaging has become a major medium of passing

across information from one person to another irrespective of the distance between the ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’.

MTN, which happened to be the first GSM Company in Nigeria, commenced its commercial services in August

2001. In the words of Bodomo (2010:110) mobile phone in Nigeria was introduced in 2001 with the evolution of

Global System for Mobile Communication which two people or more exchange messages by coding and

decoding texts received and sent from their cell phones”. Oladoye writes that the commencement brought the

Short Message Service (SMS) to limelight in the Nigerian communication system; ever since then, text

messaging has taken different turns. SMS text messaging as used by modern handsets is a part of the Global

System for Mobile communication (GSM), as a means of sending messages of more than 160 characters to and

from GSM mobile handsets. In Nigeria, most SMS messages are mobile – to – mobile text messages, although the

standard supports other types of broadcast messaging as well. Linguists and scholars of related fields have

conducted researches on the general use of SMS text messaging since it became a part of the Global System of

communication in Nigeria. Such scholars include: Chiluwa (2007), Egbe (2009), Uhunmwangho (2009), Alabi

(2010ab), Adejub (2010) Oladoye (2011), etc. Chiluwa focused on the effects of the limited interface allowed by

the SMS to the users and the Nigerianess of SMS messages in English. Egbe spoke elaborately on the varying

possibilities offered by text messages and acknowledges that many users sending greetings at Christmas, Easter,

Sallah, anniversaries, wedding ceremonies or events are no longer by the use of cards but through text messages

by the mobile handset. Even invitations to events, meetings and high powered gatherings are sent through the

mobile discourse. Oladoye (2011:46) discussing on the importance of the SMS as a means of communication in

Nigeria comments as follows:

SMS text messaging has become a vital part of our communication system in Nigeria. It serves as a cheaper

alternative for many Nigerians today, in which they pay less, as against the higher costs on oral phone calls. It

has found a place for itself and it has come to stay. Various new devices are now developed to promote its usage

e.g. Blackberries and I-phones. In Nigeria today, people receive invitations to employment interviews, warnings,

announcements, etc via text messages. SMS text messaging is moving fast on a wide range in the Nigerian

communication system and even in the whole of Africa

From the foregoing, there seem to exist a growing body of research on mobile phone texts messaging by

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SMS TEXTING AMONG GSM USERS IN NIGERIA: A MORPHO-SYNTACTIC

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