Most investigations of language use in the computer-mediated communication (CMC) systems colloquially known as 'chat rooms' are based on studies of chat rooms in which English is the predominant language. This study begins to redress that bias by investigating language use in a Swedish text-based chat room. Do Swedish chat participants just adopt strategies adapted to suit the needs of written online conversation, or is Swedish written language being developed in analogy with adaptations that can be observed in 'international' chat rooms?
As is now well known, text-based chat rooms provide a means for people to converse in near real time with very little delay between messages. As a written form of interaction, there is no possibility of sending simultaneous non-verbal information, and while the minimal delay gives the interaction a more conversational feel, the conversants must struggle with the time pressure of combining a slow message production system with rapid transmission-reception.
Several strategies have been developed in order to ease the strain of writing and to convey more information than written symbols normally allow (Werry; Witmer & Katzman; Hård af Segerstad, "Emoticons"). A number of strategies have been developed to suit the needs of CMC, some of which we recognise from traditional writing, but perhaps use more generously in the new environment. Well known and internationally recognised strategies used to compensate for the lack of non-verbal or non-vocal signals include providing analogies for vocalisations adopted in order to compensate for the effort of typing and time pressure:
- Smileys (or emoticons): Smileys are combinations of keyboard characters which attempt to resemble facial expressions, eg. ;) (or simple objects such as roses). These are mostly placed at the end of a sentence as an aid to interpret the emotional state of the sender;
- Surrounding words with *asterisks* (or a number of variants, such as underscores (_word_)). As with smileys, asterisks may be used to indicate the emotional state of the sender (eg. *smiles*, *s*), and also to convey an action (*waves*, *jumps up and down*);
- In some systems, different fonts and colours may be used to express emotions.
- Capitals, unorthodox spelling and mixing of cases in the middle of words and Extreme use of punctuation marks may all be used to convey analogies to prosodic phenomena such as intonation, tone of voice, emphasis ("you IDIOT");
- Abbreviations and acronyms: some are traditional, others new to the medium;
- Omission of words: ellipsis, grammatical function words; and,
- Little correction of typographical errors -- orthography or punctuation -- and little traditional use of mixed cases (eg. capitals at the beginning of sentences), and punctuation.
This study compares and contrasts data from a questionnaire and material from a logged chat channel. The investigation began with a questionnaire, inquiring into the habits and preferences of Swedish students communicating on the Internet. 333 students (164 females and 169 males) answered the questionnaire that was sent to five upper secondary schools (students aged 16-18), and two lower secondary schools (students aged 13-15). Subjects were asked for three kinds of information: (a) examples of the strategies mentioned above and whether they used these when chatting online, (b) which languages were used in everyday communication and in chat rooms, and (c) the names of favourite chat rooms. One of the most popular public chat rooms turned out to be one maintained by a Swedish newspaper. Permission was obtained to log material from this chat room. The room may be accessed at: <http://nychat.aftonbladet.se/webchat/oppenkanal/Entren.php>.
A 'bot (from 'robot', a program that can act like a user on an IRC network) was used to log the time, sender and content of contributions in the room. In order to get a large data set and to record the spread of activity over the most part of a week, approximately 120 hours of logging occurred, six days and nights in succession. During this period 4 293 users ('unique pseudonyms'), from 278 different domains provided 47 715 contributions in total (410 355 total utterances). The logged material was analysed, using the automated search tool TRASA (developed by Leif Gronqvist -- Dept. of Linguistics, Göteborg University, Sweden).
The language used in the chat room was mainly Swedish. Apart from loan words (in some cases with the English spelling intact, in other cases adapted to Swedish spelling), English phrases (often idiomatic) showed up occasionally, sometimes in the middle of a Swedish sentence. Some examples of contributions are shown, extracted from their original context. (Note: Instances of Nordic letters in the examples have been transformed into the letters 'a' and 'o' respectively.)
Table 1. Examples of nicknames and contributions taken from the Web chat material.
|01.07.20||Darth Olsson||Helloo allibadi hur e de i dag?|
Critical information check
|01.11.40||Little Boy Lost||
fru hjarterdam...120 mil busstripp...Later hojdare om det...;)
The above examples demonstrate that both nicknames and contributions consist of a mix either of Swedish and English, or of pure English.
In answering the questionnaire, the subjects gave many examples of the more 'traditional strategies' used in international chat channels for overcoming the limitations of writing: traditional abbreviations, the use of all uppercase, asterisk-framed words, extreme use of punctuation and the simplest smileys (Hård af Segerstad, "Emoticons", "Expressing Emoticons", "Strategies" and "Swedish Teenagers").
The questionnaire results also included examples of 'net-abbreviations' based on English words. However, while these were similar to those observed in international chat rooms, the most interesting finding was that Swedish teenagers do not just copy that behaviour from the international chat rooms that they have visited: the examples of creative and new abbreviations are made up in comparison with the innovative English net-abbreviations, but based on Swedish words. A number of different types of abbreviations emerged:
- Acronyms made up from the first letters in a phrase (eg. "istf", meaning "i stallet for" [trans. "instead of"]);
- Numbers representing the sound value of a syllable in combination with letters (eg. "3vligt" meaning "trevligt" [trans. "nice"]); and,
- Letters representing the sound value of a syllable in combination with other letters forming an abbreviated representation of a word (eg. "CS" meaning "(vi) ses" [trans. "see (you)"]).
The logged chat material showed that all of the strategies, both Swedish and English, mentioned in the questionnaire were actually used online. The Swedish strategies mentioned in the questionnaire are illustrated in Table 2.
Table 2. Examples of innovative and traditional Swedish abbreviations given in the questionnaire.
|Innovative Abbreviation||Full phrase||Translation||Traditional abbreviation||Full phrase||Translation|
|Iofs||i och for sig||Strictly speaking||Ngra||nagra||some ones|
|iaf, if||i allafall||Anyway||gbg||Göteborg||Göteborg|
|D||Det||It||bla||bland annat||among other things|
|Cs||(vi) ses||See you||t.ex.||till exempel||for example|
|B.S.D.V||Bara Sa Du Vet||Just To Let You Know||t.om||till och med||even|
|P||Pa||On, at||etc||et cetera|
|QL (ql)||Kul||Fun||m.m||med mera||and more|
|Trevligt||Nice||m.a.o.||med andra ord||in other words|
The table above shows examples of traditional and creative abbreviations developed to suit the limitations and advantages of written Swedish online. A comparison of the logged material with the examples given in the questionnaire shows that all innovative abbreviations exemplified were used, sometimes with slightly different orthography.
Table 3. The most frequent abbreviations used in the chat material
|No. of occurrences||Innovative Abbreviations||No. of occurrences||Traditional abbreviations|
The limited space of this article does not allow for a full analysis of the material from the chat, but in short, data from both the questionnaire and the Web chat of this study suggest that Swedish teenagers conversing in electronic chat rooms draw on their previous knowledge of strategies used in traditional written language to minimise time and effort when writing/typing (cf. Ferrara et al.). They do not just copy behaviour and strategies that they observe in international chat rooms that they have visited, but adapt these to suit the Swedish language. As well as saving time and effort typing, and apart from conveying non-verbal information, it would appear that these communication strategies are also used as a way of signalling and identifying oneself as 'cyber-regulars' -- people who know the game, so to speak. At this stage of research, beyond the use of Swedish language by Swedish nationals, there is nothing to indicate that the adaptations found are significantly different to online adaptations of English or French (cf. Werry). This result calls for further research on the specifics of Swedish adaptations.