There are two fundamental psychological human needs. One is the need for control, the other is the need for relatedness – as, after all, we are social beings by nature. Through our phones and text language we are able to communicate at all hours, with people on the other side of the world a mind splintering phenomenon if you think about it… no wonder we are addicted! But what queues the difference in the language used between messaging  your mother or your teacher?  Well, it is all due to our need to convey a perfect person to each other.  When texting someone we don’t know that well, or who doesn’t know the real us, we text with perfect politeness and formality, saying what we think we should say, instead of what we might want to. However with our friends and family, we can relax a little, and let our occasional laziness and quirks of personality shine through, in the form of personal slang or modern initialisms and contractions  (omg, brb and tysm). This is because we are already assured of their love and acceptance, whereas with strangers we are not, so, naturally our type of relationship affects the way we text.

There is a slight sense of discomfort we get when conversing with people who are not our friends or family. It is because of this that we tend to talk with formality, politeness and minimum para linguistic features, as to show a perfect, polite version of ourselves. The same goes for when we text. For example, when texting an older colleague I wrote: “Hi Monique, how are you? I was just texting to tell you that I have been roistered to work Friday night, and can not come to the gala night, however am still happy to volunteer Saturday night if that works? So sorry for the inconvenience! Thanks Ruby. ” The message has perfect punctuation and capital letters. I used phrases like ” so sorry for the inconvenience” and ” how are you” – when texting someone I was comfortable with I would not have bothered with these niceties. Words are written out out in full ” Saturday” “Friday” and “can not” instead of using the common logograms and contractions such as ” sat” “sun” and “don’t”.                 I texted in this way to please, and ensure that the recipient took me seriously, knowing that I was sincere and respected her as well as the formal relationship we share. In short, the formality and politeness is used because we want others to like us.

Your friends and family are the people that know all about you, but still love you. It is because of this knowledge that we can relax around those we love, ditching the need to please and go for the quickest way of getting our message across. When texting parents or friends I  – and I’m sure you are the same – often leave out entire words, or shorten sentences that would be near impossible to understand by outsiders. For example, I texted my mum: “please book white h” .                          This sentence is almost nonsensical taken out of context, but I was asking her to book the White House restaurant for dinner that night. If texting anyone else I would have written something more like :  “Hello, can you please book the White House for dinner tonight? Thanks!”                               In this version, notice the presence of propper punctuation, and politeness, vs in the original message I used a logogram, the ‘h’ replacing ‘house’ as well as shortening the sentence, resulting in the text being more informal (called ellipsis) and less polite. Despite this, it was still a perfectly acceptable, understandable message, that the recipient was not taken aback by, as a stranger might be. I was able to do this because I already know that my mother likes me, so therefore I didn’t need to try so hard with the language used.

I used examples taken form my own life so that I could fully understand what was going on at the time, however, from my research it is clear that most people have experienced the change in  text language used between friends and strangers. It may be as simple as a ‘thank you’ shortened to a ‘thanks’ or a ‘hello’ to a ‘hi’, either way, these subconscious and conscious changes effect the way we communicate. In my opinion – taken from research and experience –  we have figured out the ‘right’ things to write, the ‘right’ response to give or the ‘right’ amount of expression to use. We use this when we talk to those who are anywhere in our spectrum from ‘not quite friends’ to ‘complete strangers’, in our desperate attempt to be liked, accepted. However, those who are close to us are granted the privilege of receiving our unique personal slang, modern initialisms and contractions.    So next time you get a response with a single ‘k’ don’t get annoyed, but know that whoever sent it feels comfortable, and secure enough with your relationship to discard the niceties… and relax.


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Ruby, I really enjoyed reading this essay as it has a mode expression that engaged me as a reader and drew me into the arguments you are putting forward.

    I think you’ve kept quite a narrow point of view when it comes to the use of language. You have focused on the idea that formal language is perfect and desirable and informal language is somehow less than this.

    There is also the idea that when we speak to people we’re familiar with, certain aspects of our communication is unique to the two of us. It could be argued that this use of our personal language, or it might be called our dialect or idiolect, actually reinforces our friendships and makes us closer and more related. I see that you’ve taken your argument towards that point near the end in your last paragraph. I encourage you to see if you can develop that a little further so that your overall essay achieves a balance in reasoning.


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