re: how teens and adults text, I would be super interested for you to explain your theory!












ok SO. a lot of this comes from various stuff i’ve seen on the linguistics of tumblr, but at the heart of it is that people in my generation (at least in the us; idk abt other countries’ timelines on this front) went thru (or are still going thru) our Formative Social Years in an environment where we’d regularly interact with even our closest friends on text-only platforms (whether texting or gchat or fb messages or w/e), and b/c so much linguistic/social information is actually conveyed by facial expression and tone of voice, we’ve collectively made up all of these textual ways of conveying that in a concise, efficient way

so like, sometimes on this blog i’ll talk about “straight people”, and sometimes i’ll talk about “str8 ppl”, and even tho i would pronounce those the same, the first is much more neutral — it would probably happen in the context like “i’m not sure how i feel about straight people writing stories that center around experiences of homophobia” — than the second, which which is much more frustrated/venting — it would be more likely to crop up in the context of “all i want is to live quietly in my little queer utopia but no str8 ppl have to come along and heteronomativity UGH #over it #whatever #NOT RLLY OVER IT”. or even with more subtle things like end punctuation: “i’m not going” basically just means i’m not currently planning to go to the thing; “i’m not going.” carries much more of a connotation of “i have seriously considered going and have Reasons for staying at home” (and note that capital — “i have Reasons for staying at home” feels different than “i have reasons for staying at home”). (and this isn’t even getting into things like shitposting or advanced memeology, but there are specific textual markers that go with things like that, some of which would be pronounced if you read them aloud, but many of which wouldn’t be)

but, crucially, for these kinds of things to carry meaning, they have to be used consistently: if i use “str8 ppl” and “straight people” interchangeably in all contexts (as i do for something like “the supreme court” vs “scotus”), then there’s no way to develop a distinction in meaning between the two — the only way to do that is to consistently use the different orthographies in different contexts. (to take another example: if something is “great”, then it’s solidly good. if something is “gr8”, it’s more in the land of “i can’t quite believe this is as earnest/tacky/tasteless as it is but i’m weirdly into it anyway?” (sometimes with a side helping of “do i just enjoy this ironically or do i genuinely enjoy it there is no way of knowing please send help”))

the upshot of this is that to be fluent in tumblr (or texting, or fb messenger, or w/e) means to actually be paying a lot of attention to subtle points of grammar and spelling, to know when to use “did u kno” or “ur” or even pull out an old-fashioned tip of the hat to “e733T haxxor 5killz”. most of these are very subtle distinctions, the kind of things you feel intuitively rather than write out explicitly, and so it’s very hard to convey them concisely and accurately to someone who’s not already immersed in the linguistic environment

and let’s be real, people in my parents’ generation aren’t. i mean, sure, many of them have facebook accounts, but these kinds of platforms weren’t around when they were in their “really getting to grips with social interaction” years, and their most important social interactions usually don’t take place exclusively online. for me, all of my closest friends are people i’ve only interacted with online for more than a year now (with a few brief face-to-face visits when various travel arrangements have allowed), so tumblr, facebook, and gchat are absolutely critical to my social life and interpersonal interactions; for my parents, their closest friends are people they see in person at work every day, so social media is a light overlay to their social lives, not the thrumming core

as such, my parents don’t grok these distinctions. to them “what are you doing?” means the same thing as “lol wut r u doing”; “gr8” is just like “great” (and “gr9” takes some parsing … ); dogespeak doesn’t have the same distinctive valence that it does to us. since they don’t know about these distinctions, they don’t feel the need to maintain more “proper” spelling/grammar when texting with a friend — different people have different set points for this, obvs, but in general i feel like “standard (setting aside all the class and racial implications in that term …) spelling and grammar” (with lighter-than-standard punctuation and capitalization) translates to “relatively neutral/pleasant conversational voice”, and then deliberate misspellings, abbreviations, letter substitutions, and grammar deviations are markers used to indicate shifts in mood — i have a vague sense that bitterness tends to collapse down and preserve grammar but weird spelling (“lyk w/e im happy 4 u but pls, i kno u lied 2 get that”) whereas enthusiasm tends to preserve spelling but weird grammar (“what i can’t even no how do air AMAZE”). since people in my parents’ generation don’t realize that doing so unintentionally changes the way their words come across, they feel free to text “poorly” (ie with lots of errors/substitutions, generally mixing various text-flagged vocal tones in ways that are often incoherent) in order to do so more quickly (b/c lbr typing everything out can be a pain (esp on a non-smartphone), and since parents don’t do it as much, they’re not necessarily as fast as our spry young fingers on a familiar interface)

so yeah, that’s what i suspect is going on

tl;dr: parents don’t use orthography to mark vocal tone in the way youngfolk do, and thus feel free to condense their texts and otherwise use textspeak. youngfolk are using orthography to mark for tone, and thus text more “correctly” to preserve their social intentions

Which is something that leads to some confusion between parents and children – I’ve gotten really upset over some of my mother’s texts because they have a period at the end, and in order to be neutral, they need to not have a period. And then I remember that the way she composes text messages (and, incidentally-not-incidentally, the way my boyfriend composes messages in text) come from a different tonal background, and they don’t use orthography in the same way to convey mood. It’s weirdly difficult to code-switch texting, I think.

I’ve been referring to this particular phenomenon as having a vivid sense of typographical register, but I think it also fits well into the broader sociolinguistic idea of style-shifting. If you don’t communicate via technology that much, you basically have just one style (or maybe a simple split between formal like a professional email and informal like a text), but the more computer-mediated friendships you develop, the more you develop ways of communicating textually with all the subtle shifts in nuance that you also have offline. 

As an adult who grew up using the internet and texting as the primary media for engaging with most of my friends most of the time, I often feel sort-of between these generational divides.

I rarely switch to text-speak unless it’s in reference to specific memes. (I would never write “str8 ppl” for instance, but I understand the nuances described above perfectly. I understand that language, but I wouldn’t use it). But I absolutely get and use the “you only use a full stop in a text/IM to indicate when you’re annoyed/very srs”. That’s been a thing for at least 15 years now.

One of the hard things I find about tumblr is that most people here don’t seem to speak my language when it comes to emotes. Hell, one of the most common emotes I use everywhere else online (>_> but with the eyes facing the other way) doesn’t even work on this site because of poor site coding.

Everywhere else I use :3 :/ 😛 😀 and others in abundance. They are my main form of punctuation. I use them to indicate tone all the time.

And tumblr just doesn’t seem to use them. So to me, tumblr always feels somewhat formal all the time, because I don’t feel it’s a space where I’m allowed to use the tools I need to properly, informally and comfortably express myself. I’m always translating myself for tumblr.

And part of why I don’t feel comfortable using emotes on tumblr is because no one else seems to use them (not the ones I grew up using anyway) so I have no way of knowing whether those emotes even work the way I want/need them to for the vast majority of tumblr.
It’s kind of a shame because they were such useful scripts and made communication so much easier for me. It’s a lot of effort sometimes to figure out how to convey the same things without using them and I wish I didn’t have to.

Maybe the two-character sideways smiley is seen as old fashioned already? Is that why people don’t use them? 

:/ and 😛 are the two most useful indicators of tone in my toolbox, like “yeah I don’t know 😛 ” and “yeah I don’t know :/ ” are very clearly very different. However I do think (hope) that other people can understand it even if they don’t use it themselves (I’m like you, I can understand Tumblr speak I just don’t speak it). 

I’m however totally useless with the iPhone little-full-colour-picture-emoji things. >_> Half the time those don’t even show up on computer-tumblr either. 
(also didn’t know that the other eye thing messes coding, what’s it do? :O)

Edit: of course on this post where I actually wanted the <_< to show it’s borked version, it works just fine 😛 idk if the problem is therefore specific to mobile tumblr.

But it It does something like this: <_<>> Like. It tries to close the tag? I only realised it doesn’t mess up the other one in the same way when I saw you use it a few days ago. I though maybe they’d just fixed the bad coding, but no, <_< is still borked. (obv now i’m thinking that the reason yours works and mine doesn’t is because you tend to be writing stuff on the browser version?

I hate emojis. I can understand them, and sometimes they remind me of Lyra’s  alethiometer (and remind me how silly I found the idea that this thing was supposed to be hard to use because… Um? People do pictograms. We know how to do this stuff), but I don’t use them myself. I think mostly I hate them because I see them as part of the thing that pushed out/replaced the tools I actually already knew how to use and felt comfortable using (i.e: I am old and don’t like change :P) but also a bit because a lot of them, esp. the people ones seem so…. Uuuuurgh. In terms of… Everything. Like. Hey! Want a gender-normative societally-approved-masculine-performing White guy? You got it! Want a gender-normative societally-approved-feminine-performing white woman? You got it! Want anything else? Nah.

And the more traditional emoticon emojis I’ve never liked because they always… Add too much detail. Like, they try to make it represent a very specific emotional reaction? Which limits its use, and I often feel that the way I use the corresponding text emote is not represented in the emoji equivalent.
😕 isn’t the same as :/ for me, and :/ is actually far more versatile. (ESP because you can add a frown to it (but not on tumblr) the emojis for X_x // x_X // x_x // X_X (😵😲) do not, for me, match at all with the text equivalent, and just aren’t as versatile – like those three text variants all have different nuances. And you can add more nuance by introducing deliberate errors: X_c says something different again And X_@. And so does X_Zz. (and on a dvorak keyboard, I’m more likely to type K_X or X_k as the typo version).

In short I don’t actually see emojis as an improvement on text emotes, I see them as a step backwards. They’re more restrictive, less useful, less versatile. And not as personal.

Sure you’ll get the same variation of “x friend uses those three emojis a lot whereas y favours these four” but you don’t get the part with people using similar emotes to convey the same thing, but with a personal flair. Exactly like how you use >_> and I use <_< . Same as Viking being distinguished by putting noses in his emotes, etc. like, basically nearly everything I was celebrating with The Text Gazes Back isn’t there in emojis.

</angry old person rant>

I too am an angry old internet person and agree with all of the above :p

*shakes stick at cyber lawn*

Yes, to the more recent comments! I understand the different usage, and I understand at least some of the emojis (some of them I look at and get confused or my brain just refuses to translate, but hello neurodivergence), but the little two-symbol text things were part of what I used growing up, and putting actions between the little star thingies. And they meant different things, too, and not just formality level, but at the moment it is too early to put the difference into words.


I’m 26 and I understand all the distinctions in the OP, but I definitely have a different experience. For me, not putting a period usually means someone is upset and has more to say but isn’t saying it. When my husband says he’s going to stop by and get a haircut before coming home, I say “okay, cool.” My mother in law has a tendency to respond to any of my texts about our plans with, “okay” ahhh! what is the thinking. is she upset? she hates me, doesn’t she? I think those passive response differences are what really get me. If someone my age responds with “ok” then I know something is not right. If it was okay, they’d actually say “cool” or “cool cool” or “sounds good” or “gotcha!”

Also, I talk really really differently on tumblr than I do on text. I also talk differently on forums where you have a whole littany of abbreviations and shared language. So I mostly use real words and normal grammar when texting. The only really difference I can identify is that I lengthen words to display excitement. “Yaaaaaay!” means so much more than “yay” (Which can easily sound sarcastic to me)

Finally, I just don’t really use emoticons. I got a phone when I was 17, but I don’t think I had texting until I was 19. (Oh gosh, that long distance relationship when I was 18 would probably have lasted even longer than it did if my ex had been able to get away with texting me only). So maybe I was already too old for emoticons/emojis. Or more likely, maybe I’m just not an emoji person. 

The worst for me is the Facebook mobile 😛 emoji – it automatically makes itself into a winky ;P emoji no matter what I do. Trust me, 😛 and ;P are very different feelings. (Facebook on a computer doesn’t do this, so I can’t even know which one my recipient is seeing.) I liked the old gtalk auto-emoji best, the ones that just rotated themselves and didn’t try to add extra personality beyond what I intended. But I actually emoji when I choose to use them specifically, since there are some that I don’t have an emoticon for (e.g. hearteyes, party popper, and the concrete objects like foods, means of transportation, and animals). 

(By the way, this post also led to an interesting comment on Russian internet language, which I’m going to link to rather than reblog it twice.)

I think these comments all tie into a broader question of what influences the language we use via technology. Sure, there are general effects of whether or not you use it a lot, as the original post gets into, but there are also things like which technology you use, when you started using it, and which forms of language were common when you started out. In 20 years, are people going to be saying “these darn kids don’t know how to appreciate the subtlety of emoji anymore, they’re all using x instead!”? Probably. 

standard […] spelling and grammar […] translates to “relatively neutral/pleasant conversational voice”, and then deliberate misspellings, abbreviations, letter substitutions, and grammar deviations are markers used to indicate shifts in mood 

Okay wow I never noticed this before but yes. I do this completely. 

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