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The Body Language of Texting

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Christopher Vu

on 16 March 2014

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Transcript of The Body Language of Texting

Computer mediated communication at first glance can seem very impersonal compared to a face to face conversation. Just as how a person must compose their facial expressions and body language in person, a texter must also think about how they are represented online. There is plenty to "read between the lines" as each message can represent a wide range of tones, emotions, and personality. Whether it is through a visual representation of an emoticon, or through an excessive use of question marks, every little detail is used to paint a picture of the speaker. Within the text, texters must appropriately compose the body language of their words as it is just as important as in reality.
Response Time
The Body Language of Texting
by Kevin Dinh and Christopher Vu

Buzzfeed has a post which describes the many ways that texters illustrate their emotion through “laughter” (4). Despite all variations on how to represent a laugh, each one has a very specific meaning. It is a good example of the underlying tones within the words of the text in CMC. Some ways of representing laughter actually mean something very different than its literal meaning.

For example, many of the onomatopoeia have very specific meaning like "teehee", meaning an adorable laugh, or "muahaha", meaning an evil laugh.
The use of punctuation can dramatically change the meaning and tone of a text message. It is interesting how big of a difference a single punctuation mark can make for such an unregulated and commonly illiterate form of communication as CMC. Using punctuation can invoke wide ranges of feelings from the simplest changes, such as adding a period or including an extra question mark.

Length of Words/Responses
How texting is also able to convey subliminal, underlying messages through Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) the same way body language does with speech.
Expressing Emotion
One of the most important things non verbal clues gives to a conversation is emotion. Texters use a variety of methods to express their emotions through text. Methods such as:

Emotions are very crucial to understanding the full meaning of conversation. Some could argue that it is hard to demonstrate a full range of emotions and other body signals through CMC. However, it has been shown that texters have adapted to show just as much as they could with verbal speech.

For example, a liar in face to face communication has many signals that could show him or her to be a liar which might be tough to translate over to CMC. However, Hancock, Curry, Goorha, and Woodworth have found that a liar would use less first person pronouns, or have a higher word quantity than normal (3) in their study examining liars through the internet and email.

As liars also reveal details about themselves within the subtext of their words, texters also do the same in CMC.
The most direct way of displaying emotion in CMC is through the use of visuals. By visually representing a face or object, it is clear how to show emotion. These visuals are often called emoticons or emojis. They can be helpful to emphasize a feeling, or clarify when it is ambiguous what is meant.

For example:
"What a day! : ( " : ( is a frown
"What a day! : ) " : ) is a smile

Despite being identical phrases, the use of the emoticons to represent a frown and smile help clarify what is meant by each. It indicates a different tone that the phrase should be read and displays different emotions.
Emoticons give a more personable feeling to CMC as speakers "feel more connected and (perhaps as a result) experience greater enjoyment in the interaction" as researched by O'Neill (6). This kind of interaction ties texters closer together despite not being physically with each other.
It is often said that 90% of conversation is non verbal. A large part of comprehending someone’s speech is through body language or other subtle clues. As more and more of today’s communication is done through the 1’s and 0’s of computers, people have found other ways to communicate the non verbal parts of conversation.
Textreme by Wong Fu Productions
The Pissed Period.
Take for example the simple and innocent period. The period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought (1) but recently earned a more aggressive meaning because of text messaging. A text replying "we could do that" and "we could do that." say the same thing, but have two different connotations (1). The added period leaves an underlying hostile feeling to the message recipient. The period gives off an unfriendly vibe because throughout of the years of texting, the norm of separating clauses has been line breaks. Using periods break the norm, making the recipient feel like something is different or wrong and so left with an uneasy feeling. (1)
1. There are many facial expressions that can be represented through several symbols
2. As shown below, the emoticons add a level of clarification and also emphasis to each sentence
1. http://docs.moodle.org/23/en/images_en/e/e4/Smilies.png
2. http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations_02.asp
Unlike the usage of periods, the more number of question marks you add in a text message, the more effect your text message has. A question text with one question mark is normal. A text such as "Where is the restaurant?" does not invoke such a strong feeling. However, simply adding 2 or 3 more question marks changes up the entire tone of the question. "Where is the restaurant????" gives off an aggressive, impatient and needy connotation. It pushes the text recipient to respond quickly and makes the text sender seem like the sender is anxious and demanding, needing the question to be answered right away.
The Questioning Question Mark?
Acronyms of Laughter
Some acronyms are also used to represent laughter "lmao", laughing my ass off, for many people actually means "that is the dumbest thing I've ever heard" (4).

Possibly the most common form of laughter has actually been over used to the point that it actually does not mean any sort of laughter at all, that word is "lol". It has been used so much that many simply use the word to acknowledge that something was funny, but was not too funny at all. This sort of over use has caused users to subconsciously use it as a filler, as people use "uhm" or "like" in verbal speech.
In this example, texters show how the basic forms of laughter such as "haha" and "lol" are simply used to fill space and does not represent anything comedic.
Exclamation points can add excitement and thrill to a text line. Exclamation marks, like question marks, are also quantitatively effective.The more exclamation points, the more excitement. It leaves the feeling that the text message sender is interested and enthusiastic. When comparing "Okay, we should do that." to "Okay, we should do that!!!", the latter of the two texts has a more happy and liveliness connotation to it while the text without the exclamation point leaves the sender seeming more calm and peaceful. From just adding three exclamation points, a text can go from neutral and mellow to overly ecstatic and upbeat.
The Excited Exclamation Point!
The Ellipsis...
The usage of ellipses is common in CMC but can give off a feeling of confusion to the reader. A text using ellipses requires the text recipient to read "in between the lines" (2) and therefore leaves the recipient feeling confused and at loss. The sender is intentionally not giving the reader all the information in an ellipsis text, giving the text a sort of mysterious connotation. For example, a message saying "No." ends a conversation suddenly while "No..." continues the conversation while implying that there is something more the reader has to find out (1). Simply adding two more dots to a period statement can sway a conversation to whole another direction while leaving the reader guessing.
The length of words and responses of CMC can add many different tones to a conversation. Using acronyms such as “gtg” or “hbu” rather than actually writing “got to go” and “how about you” can differ in body language although essentially meaning the same thing. The length of a text message response can also change the mood of an CMC conversation.

The Length of the Words
Acronyms are a shorter way of saying a longer phrase while abbreviations are a shorter way of saying a word. Acronyms and abbreviations go hand in a hand and very often used in CMC. A study done on chat conversation with college students by the University of Colorado found that abbreviations give a more casual and relaxed tone (5). The study described conversations using acronyms and abbreviations as “student-student,” stating that these discussions were far less formal and proper than discussions using acronyms (5).

Length of Response
The length of a response can dramatically determine the mood of a conversation. Answering with a paragraph versus answering with a single worded response can result in two completely different emotions. If a length of a response is decently long, it sends a signal showing that the sender is interested and involved in the discussion (2), typically giving the text recipient a pleased and gratified feeling. Responding with a short reply, on the other hand, can unconsciously show that the sender is uninterested and inattentive with the conversation. Examples of these short form of responses can be "right", "exactly," "yeah," or "ok." Caroline Tagg's thesis of SMS Texting Messaging claims that "response tokens can be minimal" but these minimal responses will display lack of interest and dis-concern. These minimal responses can eventually lead to an underlying feeling of rejection or exclusion by the recipient (7). A lengthy response and a short response basically invoke two opposite emotions, therefore a one word answer to a paragraph long message can change the tone of the conversation completely.
Writing out a whole phrase, rather than using abbreviations, takes effort and time, showing that the writer is more professional and formal. Using abbreviations tones down the mood and makes the conversation more casual and friendly-like. The shorter the words used in a text message are, the more informal the conversation will be.
commonly used acronyms in CMC
There seems to be an unwritten rule when communicating with someone you are courting, to never respond faster than they respond to your text. One of the aspects of CMC that is unique to texting is the fact that by not being physically with someone, you can take as much time as you want to respond. Many linguistics do not know the origin of this unspoken rule but believe that it is due to the social norm that it is common to act "occupied" when in a courting situation, hence resulting in long response times during CMC. Just like the length of a response, the response time of a text message can be an underlying indicator of the sender's interest in the conversation (8). A fast reply shows interest while a slow reply shows body language that is lacking interest and enthusiasm.
1) Crair, B. (2013, November 23). The Period Is Pissed When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive? Retrieved March 13, 2014, from New Republic website: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115726/period-our-simplest-punctuation-mark-has-become-sign-anger

2) Guest Blogger. (2011, June 7). 11 Secret Meanings Behind Punctuation in Text Messages. Retrieved March 13, 2014, from WIRED website: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/secret-meanings-text-message-punctuation/

3) Hancock, J. T., Curry, L. E., Goorha, S., & Woodworth, M. (2008). On Lying and Being Lied To: A Linguistic Analysis of Deception in Computer-Mediated Communication.

4) Heaney, K. (2014, February 5). The 42 Ways To Type Laughter, Defined. Retrieved March 13, 2014, from BuzzFeed website: http://www.buzzfeed.com/katieheaney/the-42-ways-to-type-laughter-defined

5) Maness, J. M. (n.d.). A Linguistic Analysis of Chat Reference Conversations With 18-24 Year-Old College Students.

6) O'Neill, B. (2010). LOL! (laughing online): An investigation of non-verbal communication in computer mediated exchanges.

7) Tagg, C. (n.d.). A CORPUS LINGUISTICS STUDY OF SMS TEXT MESSAGING (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Birmingham.

8) Why do people take so long to reply to text messages? (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2014, from AdultSocialSkills.com website: http://www.adultsocialskills.com/textreply.htm
The video demonstrates how there can be a lot of meaning within the subtext of a text such as, emoticons, punctuation, and response length. Ethan and his friends try to create the perfect text message to convey the right tone for his message. For example, by changing "yeah we can meet up" to "yeah we could meet up" gives a more laid back feeling. Also Ethan's use of emoticons showed how it can give off a completely different tone than intended if used incorrectly.
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