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Analysis of SMS Lexis and Vernacular Varieties: Ways to Mark Gender Boundaries.

Byline: Muhammad Shaban Rafi


This paper aims to explore SMS lexical, morpho-syntactic choices and vernacular varieties of texters. It is hypothesized that SMS lexis and morpho-syntax mark gender boundary. The paper also addresses the research questions a) what types of SMS lexis are developing, b) What are SMS vernacular varieties, and c) how much SMS is influencing Standard English vocabulary? A sample of 100 messages was taken from 20 cell phones and perceptions of 25 males and 25 females were recorded on an ordinal scale for data analysis. The results show that a novice intelligible language has evolved through SMS. A significant difference is found between male and female in SMS text construction.


Short Message Service (SMS) creates novice lexis and vernacular varieties among males and females texters, which marks gender boundary and conveys femininity and masculinity in SMS text construction (Rafi, 2008). It is assumed that SMS lexical items and slangs written by males are different from females texters. There are a number of studies examining the linguistic properties of e-mail and other computer mediated communication (Baron 2001; Yates 1996); however, less is known about SMS lexical, morpho-syntactic and vernacular verities in cell phone messaging. SMS lexical and morpho-syntactic choices of the texters have led to a number of language and gender studies in the recent years (Gray 2007; Montgomery 2000; Yule 2007; Kormos 2006; Trudgill 2007; Wardhaugh 2004; Macaro 2005; Napoli 1996; Doughty 2005; Ellis 2001; Jule 2005; Sudo 2007; Cameron 2005; Shehadeh 1999).

Ling (2005) says that the culture of SMS lives among 16 to 19 years old female texters. Inspite of the fact that males are early adopters of mobile phones it is among the females that the great motor of SMS lives. Females' texters, particularly younger ones, seem to have a broader register when using SMS. They use them for immediate practical coordination issues and also for the more emotional side of mobile communication. Sattle (1985), Treichler and Kramarae (1983) and Rosenthal (1985) conclude that females have longer messages than males' texters.

They have a more complex structure and retain more of the traditional conventions associated with other written forms. The material here seems to suggest that females demonstrate different linguistic properties than males, which marks gender identity. According to Tanner (1990) and Wood (2001) women and men communicate very differently as if they are from different planets. The question arises whether or not it is possible to draw line among the texters based on their linguistic choices.


This paper is an addition to the existing approaches i.e. phonological variants, stylistic range e.g. discourse analysis and conversational interaction for gender identification. This research invites the sociolinguists and language planners to conduct further research in the area of SMS vernacular varieties and its influence on Standard English.

The paper explores male and female's lexical, morphological and syntactic choices. Qualitative and Quantitative research designs were used to test the following hypotheses and to answer the research questions (a-c) mentioned earlier.

Research Hypotheses

* SMS lexical choices draw line among males and females texters.

* SMS vernacular varieties draw line among males and females texters.

Method and Procedure

A sample of 100 messages was taken from 20 cell phones and perceptions of 25 males and 25 females were recorded on an ordinal scale for analysis. The texters between the age of 15 to 19 years were taken to test the hypotheses and address the research questions mentioned earlier. This age group was targeted to explore the findings because psycho-motor of SMS lives among them. The selection of the texters was guided by convenience: the institutions where the students belonged to the former age group and most of them bring cell phones with them were taken purposely. The data drew on lexicology, morphology and syntactic levels of the text; however, the data were narrowed over a) compression words e.g. bcoz instead of because, da instead of the, b4 instead of before and etc.

b) abbreviated words e.g. 9/11 instead of emergency, tc instead of take care, cu instead of see you and etc. c) frequency words e.g. u instead of you, 4 instead of for, 2 instead of two or to and etc. d) symbols e.g. :- ( , :- ), ;- ) and etc. and vernacular varieties e.g. Hi dr xyz bro. How r u? M sorry 2 say that m sufring from high temp. So tis not possible 4 me 2 join u. (Hi, Dr. XYZ brother. How are you? I am sorry to say that I am suffering from high temperature. So this is not possible for me to join you.). Factor analysis technique was applied to ensure the reliability of the instrument. 'Factor analysis aims to account for a large number of variables. It allows discovering the factorial validity1of the questions that make up each scale or construct' (Christine and John, 2004). Descriptive Statistics and Independent Sample t-test were calculated through Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) for the analysis of data.


Qualitatively data collection shows that SMS language reflects abbreviations, capitalization and punctuation. Pronouns such as 'u' for /you/, 'v' for /we/, 'y' for /why/ and 'wen' for /when/ are frequently abbreviated. Conjunctions such as 'n' for /and/ and 'bcoz' for /because/ are also commonly shortened in SMS language. Similarly, at lexical level, the texters choose meaningful condensed forms e.g. 'intro' for /introduction/, 'bro' for /brother/, 'sis' for /sister/ etc. At syntactical level 'I am' for /am or m / is most recurrently used. Approximately 80% of the messages have no capitalization, another 12% had only first letter capitalization and the remaining 8% had complex capitalization. The SMS messages written by females are significantly more likely to have complex capitalization. Texters between the age of 20-25 years are most likely to use capitalization in any form and also most likely to use first letter capitalization.

They are also the most likely to use punctuation in their SMS messages. Females use punctuation slightly more than males but the relationship does not appear to be significant.

The data show that there is a significant gender based difference in the number of words per SMS message and in the complexity of the messages. The data further show that females generally use lexically dense words in SMS messages. More than 74% of the messages were sent by males were simple one sentence or one-clause messages; whereas, 51.61% messages were sent by females were consist of many clauses.

The texters often take advantage of the presence of both written and spoken aspects of SMS. The text messages reflect combine features of a written medium with features of a spoken medium e.g. Hi dr xyz bro. How r u? M sorry 2 say that m sufring from high temp. So tis not possible 4 me 2 join u. (Hi, Dr. XYZ brother. How are you? I am sorry to say that I am suffering from high temperature. So it is not possible for me to join you)

Quantitative data analysis shows that 38% males and 62% females use SMS for communication respectively as shown in Figure 1 below.


Table 1 shows that there is MS difference on lexical, morphological and syntactic choices between males and females SMS users; however there is overwhelming opinion of the SMS users that mobile mediated language is influencing language of commercials. SMS language has given a birth to a novice language, which is reflecting in daily written communication. Even the multinational companies have started advertising their products into SMS version and Roman Urdu.


The article has analyzed that there is significant difference between males' and females' lexical, morpho-syntactical choices in cell phone messaging; however there is no significant difference between their perceptions about influence of SMS on language of commercials. Females are more skillful in writing complex, long and lexically dense messages than males. They have developed a unitary system of intelligible communication in the form of SMS language. It is also leaving backwash effects on language of commercials.


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Publication:International Journal of Arts and Humanities
Date:Dec 31, 2010
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