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OMG! Researchers seek more text messages for study

April 12, 2012
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A language professor studying how people use text messaging to communicate says research shows “LOL” is used over six times more frequently than “OMG.”

This is just one of the early findings made by Christian Guilbault, an associate professor in the French department, who is collaborating on a project called Text4Science with colleagues from Université de Montreal and University of Ottawa.

The public is encouraged to forward to researchers copies of text messages already sent. People can either text them directly to 202202 on their cellphones or add them via www.text4science.ca. Almost 8,000 text messages have been collected so far.

“As a very preliminary step, we have been looking at our frequency and alphabetical lists of individual words and bigram lists — recurrent combinations of two words — to look at some of the things that we might expect to see in text messaging language, and to contrast with what is actually happening,” says Guilbault. “It’s very basic stuff so far, but just enough to give us a taste of some really interesting questions to look at in more detail.”

Text4Science was launched last December in an effort to learn about how text messaging affects our use of language. Researchers hope to better understand how different groups of Canadians are adapting their language (or not) as they text, and whether texting language is likely affecting the way we write overall.

Other findings from the research so far:

  • Contributors to the project have shared 10 different ways to text laughter (including three different variants of “LOL”) and 12 ways to text “OK.” Also, “okay” was, by far, more frequent than the next most common form, “OK,” and more than five times more frequent than “k”
  • Contributors texted “you are” and “u r” about equally, but “please” and “thank you” about three times as often as “pls” and “thx”
  • Finally, contributors used “see you” four times as often as “c u”

Quebec, Ontario and BC have contributed the bulk of the data so far. Researchers need more text messages from the Prairies, Maritimes and territories to help assess the regional differences across Canada.

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