sfu prof nds yr txt msgs 4 Cdn lang projct. cn u hlp?
Simon Fraser University researcher Christian Guilbault is gathering text messages from across the country to study this often-abbreviated form of communication.
Text4Science is a joint project between SFU, the University of Ottawa and the Université de Montréal. The overall purpose, said Guilbault, is to understand how people use language in text messages and how it helps build social networks.
"They're very creative and very innovative, so we want to see how they do it. If it's through lone words, so be it. We want to see that. If it's through abbreviations, we want to see that too," said the Port Coquitlam resident.
"We want to see if it's different from dialects to dialects or language to language, see if it's different for British English and Canadian English. There are some differences between the dialects of French, so we expect to see some sort of similar difference between dialects of English."
Researchers will examine both English and French texts and make comparisons between both languages. French text messages have already been gathered for the two-phase study.
"One notable difference, I think, will be that French speakers, which are mostly located around Montreal, are borrowing a lot of words from English, and we don't expect to see that in English," said Guilbault, an associate French professor.
"What we do expect to see, though, if we have enough examples of text messages sent by nonnative speakers of English, is borrowing from other languages - so maybe Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi or other Asian languages mixed in with the English."
The project also has a long-term goal. The research team hopes to involve computer experts to create applications to translate text messages for people who are blind or cannot easily access texts.
As well, the findings will be compiled into a database to help evaluate possible changes in language over time. The objective is to gather 100,000 text messages.
Although 43-year-old Guilbault texts on a regular basis, he doesn't often communicate with people who encode their messages.
"Honestly I'm part of a generation that is a little too old to encode our messages a lot. We tend to shy away from highly encoded messages or undecipherable messages. We tend to stick to proper grammar a lot more, whereas with teenagers, anything goes. They'll say anything they want and in any form that they can possibly think of. They even use it to play, actually. It's some sort of game at that point," he said.
"We don't tend to play with text messages nearly as much. When I text, I usually ask my wife what time she's going to be home and if she's going to pick up a jug of milk before she gets home. We don't play with text messages the same way younger people do."
Guilbault, however, doesn't believe younger generations will lack spelling skills and other language abilities due to text messaging.
"It's just another trick in their bag of tricks and I don't think they're ever going to write an essay using text message code," he said.
"They're able to make a difference between a message they send to their friends and a proper term paper that they're going to write."
In fact, today's youth write more than ever before through daily use of text messages, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, Guilbault added.
"They're writing a lot more, so I think they're just becoming more competent in written English, really," he said.
"They do it naturally." To participate in the Text4Science project, select some text messages you have sent from the memory of your phone and forward them to 202202 by cellphone. Do not send messages you have received. All personal information will be removed from the message, including names and phone numbers.
Participants are also asked to complete a short online survey at www.text4science.ca. Anyone who sends five text messages and completes the survey will be entered into a draw for prizes, such as prepaid phone cards.