Memorias del XI Encuentro Nacional de Estudios en Lenguas (2010) ISBN:

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1 Code-mixing in Text Messages: Communication Among University Students Alma Lilia Xochitiotzi Zarate Universidad del Valle de Tlaxcala Abstract Different strategies are developed when language is used in text messages (SMSs). One of these strategies is the mixture of L1 and L2 elements into the text message content. This investigation researched the phenomenon of code-mixing in text messages (Short Message Service SMS), by using the Computer Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA). The results were focused on the domains of social behavior and grammatical structure of the CMDA. These domains helped in analyzing and describing the social functions and grammatical components that Mexican bilingual (Spanish/English) university students use when mixing elements from Spanish and English in a SMS. The results are based on a corpus of 42 text messages gathered in a private university from Mexico. The elements found in the SMSs in English suggest that the bilingual participants reinforce the social bonds with people close to them, in addition to the identification with the English speaking group. Moreover, the results of this study illustrate the manners in which students learn and use their L2 (English) in their everyday SMS communication. Furthermore, these L2 elements show and support the idea that it is possible to type fewer characters using structures (lexicon, phrases, sentences) from that language within the text message. 1. Introduction There has been research on the language use in text messages and code mixing (Annamalai, 1989; Ho, 2007; Li, 1998; Mashler, 1998; Muysken, 2000; Peters, Almekinders, Van Buren, Roys and Wessels, 2003; Thrulow, 2003, Hutchby and Tanna, 2008; Thurlow and Poff, 2008, among others); however, little research has been done on both topics at the same time (Lin 2005, Deumert and Masinyana, 2008). For this reason, the purpose of this investigation was to study the language used by bilinguals when text messaging, specifically when those bilinguals included L2 elements in the SMS. In this case, the Spanish-based text messages that included English codemixing were used. For achieving this purpose, there were three research questions, which were: a) What motivates bilingual university students to code-mix in their text messages?, b) What is the most common language function (transactional or interactional) and grammatical structures (lexical, phrasal, Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 500

2 and sentential) from the L2 that appear on the text messages?, c) Are these features of L2 (functions and grammatical structures) related to the motivation students have for code-mixing in their text messages? A study with similar characteristics to my study was done by Angel Lin (2005) in Hong Kong. Lin s investigation took into consideration how her participants used language(s) when using their cell phone, whether there were instances of code-switching or code-mixing and when those cases were common. Participants in her study were university students, which is the population I studied as well. The instrument this author used contained elements (questions related to the receivers of the messages, the languages used when sending a text messages, and the motives people had for sending text messages) that were important for my investigation. Another study very similar to the one I did was done by Deumert and Masinyana (2008). They worked with 22 bilingual (isixhosa/english) South African participants, whose age was ranged from 18 to 27. All of them owned a cell phone, and all of them were text messages users. Deumert and Masinyana found that their participants, when mixing the two languages in one SMS, the message contained abbreviations from English words and paralinguistic restitutions, that is, their participants used different characters for showing emotions, shortening words according to the way they sound and not their appropriate spelling or using common abbreviations. Another feature reported by the researchers was that the mixed messages were used for friendship work, practical arrangements and the exchange of information; while nonmixed English and isi-xhosa text messages were intended to show love or emotions. In the case of the latter, the SMS typed in this language also showed values and beliefs from their culture. Finally, an additional study that was a frame for my investigation was performed by Peter, et al (2003). This research not only focused on the content of the text messages, but it also considered the motives people have for sending text messages, which was one of my main concerns, with the difference that I considered the inclusion of L2 elements in the SMS. This study, along with Lin s (2005) research, helped me in the creation of the instrument I used for my investigation. Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 501

3 2. Methodology The number of bilingual (Spanish/English) university students that participated in the data collection was 124; however, from them only 108 were Mexicans, the rest were foreigners, and their responses were not considered for the results and conclusions of this study. The participants contribution to the study was recorded with the help of an instrument, a questionnaire, which contained specific questions about the mixture of languages and the relationship participants had with their contacts with whom they code-mixed. In the same instrument, the participants were asked to provide a text message in which they had mixed two languages. This questionnaire was based on previous studies (Lin s study, 2005, Peters, Almenkinders, Van Buren, Roy, and Wessels, 2003) and translated into Spanish for the 3 pilot studies and final application. For the analysis of the data, a corpus with 42 text messages was created. The analysis of the content of the text-messages was focused on two main domains, which in terms of the Computer Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA) cover the domain of structure, that is, the lexicon, phrase and sentence. In case of these three structures, the parts of the speech (noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, verb, preposition, conjunction and interjection) were also considered for giving a more accurate analysis. The other domain has to do with the language functions (interactional and transactional) that appeared on text messages. These in the CMCA were analyzed through the domain of social behavior. In order to analyze the domain of social behavior, the model that Thurlow (2003) proposed for analyzing social interactions was used. The orientations he suggested were: Informational- Practical orientation, Informational-Relational Orientation, Practical Arrangement Orientation, Social Arrangement Orientation, Salutory Orientation, Friendship Maintenance Orientation, Romantic Orientation, Sexual Orientation and Chain Messages. 3. Results In the following lines, answers to the research questions are presented. What motivates bilingual university students to code-mix in their text messages? According to the results, the main motivation that bilingual university students had for code-mixing in SMSs was the need they have for economizing the language in text messages (75.3%). This behavior was Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 502

4 accompanied by the fact that the bilingual participants also code-mixed during oral speech as part of their everyday lives. Thus, they reflected bilingualism not only by code-mixing during oral speech, but also when communicating through text messages. What is the most common language function (transactional or interactional) and grammatical structures (lexical, phrasal, and sentential) from the L2 that appear on the text messages? The most common language function was the interactional (81.5%). In this case, served as a reinforcement of the existing bonds between the person who texted the message and the receiver. According to the participants responses, the most common L2 elements appearing on the SMS were in the form of: daily greetings (76.9%), birthday greetings (53.8%), expressing love (50.7%), and festive greetings(valentine s day, Christmas, New Year s eve, 47.6%), see table 1. These responses were corroborated in the SMS samples they provided, which in terms of the communicative orientations (Thurlow, 2003) are: friendship maintenance, salutory, romantic, and social arrangement. This language function appeared to be the most common because the receivers of the code-mixed SMSs, who were bilinguals as well, had a close relationship with the producers of the messages, in other words, they were close friends, boyfriends, girlfriends or family members. Examples of these are the following: Happy-b-day!!! Espero te la pases increíble Hi como estas? Acuerdate de la cita. See you around Hola amor! I miss you =* I m busy righ now, pero vamos al antro (Note: The spelling error in the word righ was taken literally from the sample provided by one of the participants) Option Number of Percentage people a. Daily greetings % b. Birthday greeting % c. Festive greeting (valentine s day, Christmas, new year s % eve) d. Thanking % e. Asking for favors % Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 503

5 f. Encouraging others to change their mood % g. Informing about papers and homework % h. Informing about social activities % i. Making dates % j. Making new friends 2 3.0% k. Making invitations % l. Expressing love % m. Joking % n. Making recommendation or suggestions 6 9.2% o. Business deals 2 3.0% p. Gambling 2 3.0% q. Other 13 20% Table 1. Language Functions used when code-mixing in SMSs. In the case of the most common grammatical structure, it was found that the preferred grammatical structure was the lexicon (58.1%). Within that category, the most common part of the speech was the noun (66.7%). Some examples are the following: Vamos por unos drinks, va a haber una party en casa de Lalo Oye ya te extrañamos! Hasta mis roomies! Ya apurate! Te quiero! Bitchie a que hora pasas por mi? Que fish dnd nos vemos see you Lastly, in relation to question 3, are these features of L2 (functions and grammatical structures) related to the motivation students have for code-mixing in their text messages?, it is possible to say that that there was a close relationship between the grammatical structures and language functions and the motives the participants had for code-mixing in text messages. This, as was acknowledged in the response to the first question, the grammatical structures and language functions used had to do with the space that the words would occupy. The use of lexicon and the interactional function for communicating a message had to do with the use of fewer characters, in addition to the maintenance or reinforcement of social relations. These were a friendship or a romantic relationship that the participants shared with other people, who in this case were the receivers of the messages. The maintenance was reflected when the producers of the SMSs decided to use lexicon, phrases or sentences that suggested greetings or farewells, words of Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 504

6 appreciation, words, phrases or sentences that indicated love, support and the coordination of activities, such as meeting in a certain place or planning pastimes together. 4. Discussion The results presented in this study display the manner in which young adults communicate among each other. These people are making or following the same rules that English native speakers when using text messages as a communication media. This is a result also found by Deumert and Masinyana (2008). The decision on the part of the participants, who contributed in my study, to follow the same rules as the English native population seems to imply that the participants considered themselves part of a group that knows that language, and they showed that knowledge by using elements that exhibited it. This study contributed to our society, linguistics and language teaching by describing what is happening in a community where technology not only improves people s lives, but also is adapted according to people s personal needs. One of these adaptations is the use of technology together with communication, in which the most important part is the negotiation of meanings. It is in the negotiation of meaning where people use creativity in order to create or transfer strategies they commonly use for other situations, such as making rules for text messaging in which the inclusion of elements of other languages appears to be common. 5. References Annamalai, E. (1989). The language factor in code mixing. Int l. J. Soc. Lang. 75, pp Deumert, A., & Masinayan,S. O. (2008). Mobile language choices The use of English and isixhosa in text messages (SMS). English World-Wide (29) 2, Retrieved on November 5 th, 2008, from Communication and Mass Complete Database. Ho, J.W. Y. (2007). Code-mixing: Linguistic form and socio-cultural meaning. The international Journal of Language Society and Culture, 21. Retrieved September 4 th, 2008, from The International Journal of Language and Culture Database. Hutchby, I., & Tanna, V. (2008). Aspects of sequential organization in text message exchange. Retrieved on October 14 th, 2008, from SAGE Publications Database. Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 505

7 Kay, S., & Jones, B. (2003). American Inside Out. Student s book upper-intermediate. Thailand: Macmillan Li, D. (1998). The Plight of the Purist. In M. Pennington (Eds.). Language in Hong Kong at Century s End (pp ). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Lin, A. M. Y. (2005). Gendered, Bilingual Communication Practices: Mobile text-messaging among Hong Kong College Students. Fibreculture, Issue 6. Retrieved August26 th, 2008, from Maschler, Y. (1998) On the transition from code-switching to a mixed code. In P. Aurer (Eds.). Code-switching in Conversation: Languages, Interaction and Identity (pp ) London: Routledge. Peters, O., Almenkinders, J. J., Van Buren, R. L., Roy, S., & Wessels, J. T. (2003). Motives for SMS use. Conference Papers -International Communication Association. Retrieved on December 4 th, 2008, from Communication and Mass Media Complete Database. Thurlow, C. (2003). Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people s text messaging. Retrieved on April 24 th, 2008, from: Thurlow, C. & Poff, M. (2008). The language of text messaging. Retrieved on January, 18th,2009,from La autora Alma Lilia Xochitiotzi Zarate se desempeña como profesora de inglés y lingüística a nivel universitario. Ha trabajado en la enseñanza de la lengua inglesa con niños, adolescentes y adultos jóvenes. Es licenciada en Lenguas Modernas Aplicadas por la Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala y tiene maestría en Lingüística Aplicada por la Universidad de las Américas, Puebla. Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 506

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