A LEXICO-SEMANTIC ANALYSIS OF COMPUTER-MEDIATED DISCOURSE IN SELECTED INSTANT AND TEXT MESSAGES OF NIGERIAN STUDENTS

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Department of English and Linguistics

Introduction

The advent of new information and communication

technologies (ICTs) has ushered in a new era of new media,

signalling unbounded possibilities for language and

communication studies. In actual fact, the ever increasing

mobility of the Internet the world over has opened yet other

dimensions to the study of language use in computer-mediated

environment. This has been attributed to the upsurge in the

world’s telecommunication market and its antecedent

penetration and adoption of the technology by the populace,

coupled with the improvement of the network with the third

generation (3G) mobile technology, which facilitates the

convergence of the technologies of the mobile phones and that

of the Internet. For instance, in 2006, Nigeria had an estimate

of about 8 million Internet users, many of whom relied on

equipment at cybercafés. In 2007, Internet hosts totaled 1,968.

Akande, A. & Odebunmi, A.

40

In 2006 more than 32.3 million mobile cellular telephones and

1.7 million main lines were in use (International

Telecommunication Union 2007). However, in 2010 with an

estimated population of 150 million, there were 72.78 million

active GSM subscribers on all the major networks, with 6.69

million active CDMA subscribers. Within the estimated

population of the country, there were 10 million Internet users

(Miniwatts Marketing Group 2009). Of this estimation, 1.72

million Nigerians are said to be on the Facebook, with

penetration rate of 1.1%. Nigeria is thus among the leading

subscribers in Africa which has a total Facebook population of

17,607,440, with global penetration of 1.7% as at August 31,

2010 (Internet World Statistics).

These growing trends have provided opportunity to

study human interactions as they occur across the computermediated

environment. However, unlike before, when the study

of human-human interactions through the new media

technologies of the Internet and the cell phone restricted

scholarship to the investigation of language use in the immobile

technologies such as the world wide web, email, Yahoo/MSN’s

instant messengers (IM or IM’ing), Listserve and short message

service (texting) of the global system for mobiles (GSM). In

Nigeria, these features have significantly been studied against

theoretical frameworks of Conversation and Discourse Analysis

Sociology of English in Nigeria

41

(Herring 2004a, 2004b), Pragmatics (Odebunmi 2009),

Stylistics (Taiwo 2008) and Semiotics (Shoki and Oni 2008). It

is therefore very significant to explore the implication of the

mobility and ubiquity of the Internet on textual constructs and

(English) language use of Nigerian in their interactions over the

IM and the GSM-SMS platforms. This approach represents one

of the contemporary methods of investigating human language

textual constructs in computer-mediated communication.

The approach in this chapter is to observe and quantify

the lexical variations which afford mutual intelligibility and

meaning making of the textual constructs of sampled

interactions. Earlier studies in Nigeria IM and SMS studies

have focused on the forms and functions of textual messages

(Taiwo 2008), to the best of our knowledge, little or no

attention has been focused on differentiating IM and SMS

compositions with a view of understanding pattern of usage

especially as it concerns second language users of the English

language (Nigerians in this case). The central thesis is thus, to

understand the characteristics of textual constructs of Nigerians

as second language users of the English language, especially

the lexical/sentential differences afforded by the technologies

of transmission against their socio-linguistic backgrounds.

Akande, A. & Odebunmi, A.

42

An Overview of CMC Studies in Nigeria

Scholarship into human-human interactions across digital

platform did not start in Nigeria until the commercialization of

the Internet and the GSM networks as earlier mentioned. This

notwithstanding, Nigerians resident within and in the diaspora,

have contributed immensely to the linguistic and

anthropological researches of computer-mediated

communication. Specifically, within the linguistic circle, giant

strides have been made. Ifukor (forthcoming) has grouped

Nigerian textual CMC activities and studies between 1990-

2010 into three broad categories viz.

(i) Web 1.0 communicative exchanges (e.g.

Bastian, 1999; Blommaert & Omoniyi, 2006;

Chiluwa, 2009, 2010a; Deuber & Hinrichs, 2007;

Moran, 2000; Ofulue, 2010; Olateju & Adeleke,

2010; Oluwole, 2009), (ii) mobile telephony and

text messaging (e.g. Awonusi, 2004, 2010;

Chiluwa, 2008; Ekong & Ekong, 2010; Elvis,

2009; Obadare, 2006; Ofulue, 2008; Taiwo,

2008a, 2008b) and (iii) social media and multiplatform

Web 2.0 discourse (e.g. Ifukor, 2008,

2009a, 2009b, 2010; Jonathan, 2010; Oni &

Osunbade, 2009; Taiwo, 2010a, 2010b) (cf. Ifukor

2011a, 2011b). In terms of technological platform

or mode in Murray’s, (1988) term, examples of

Nigerian CMC include mobile phone text

messaging (Awonusi, 2004, 2010; Chiluwa, 2008;

Ifukor, 2011a; Ofulue, 2008; Taiwo, 2008a,

2008b); Instant Messaging (Oni & Osunbade,

Sociology of English in Nigeria

43

2009); email (Blommaert & Omoniyi, 2006;

Chiluwa, 2009, 2010a, 2010b; Ofulue, 2010;

Olateju & Adeleke, 2010); listserv (Bastian,

1999); Usenet newsgroup (Moran, 2000); Internet

discussion forums (Deuber & Hinrichs, 2007;

Ifukor, 2011b; Taiwo, 2010a, 2010b); blog

(Ifukor, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2010); Twitter

(Ifukor, 2010, 2011c); Facebook (Ifukor, 2011d;

Jonathan, 2010), and surveys on CMC usage

(Ifukor, 2011a; Oluwole, 2009; Pyramid Research,

2010; Sesan, 2010).

It suffices to say that the year 2010 represents another landmark

in CMC scholarship in Nigerian due to the following four

reasons as pointed out in Ifukor (forthcoming),

First, Taiwo (2010c) published two edited

volumes of a handbook on digital behaviours

consisting of, among the collection, 16 papers

(single and co-authored) on various aspects of

text-based Nigerian CMC. Therefore, Taiwo's

(2010c) handbook represents the single largest

collection on Nigerian CMC to date. Second, it is

the same year that published works on Nigerian

social networking media (Ifukor, 2010; Jonathan,

2010) emerged. For instance, Ifukor's (2010)

paper on electoral activities by Nigerians in the

blogosphere and Twittersphere highlights the

relevance of blogging and social media to modern

Nigerian democratization. Thirdly, beginning

from his inaugural post on Facebook on June 28,

2010, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ)

experimented with what, for want of a better

Akande, A. & Odebunmi, A.

44

terminology, can be called the first Nigerian

Facebook presidency. On October 1, 2010 CNN

named GEJ the Facebook President. This is a

remarkable endorsement of not just the person of

the Nigerian president, but also of how a global

product (Facebook) is being appropriated for

internal governance in Nigeria. Eventually, a book

based on GEJ's interactions with Nigerian netizens

was published and titled My Friends and I:

Conversations on Policy and Governance via

Facebook (Jonathan, 2010). It is argued here that

the embrace of new media technologies by the

Nigerian government has ushered in a new era of

Nigerian politics, reflecting modern trends in

digitally-aided democratization. Finally, but not

the least, two national surveys on the digital habits

of connected Nigerians were released by Pyramid

Research (2010) and Sesan (2010) in the same

year.

Examining the thrusts of contents of the Taiwo's (2010c)

sixteen-chapter handbook in relation to Nigeria, 18.75% of the

papers (i.e. Chiluwa, 2010b; Ofulue, 2010; Olateju & Adeleke,

2010), examine aspects of Nigerian email communication for

identity construction, 419 or hoaxes, and code switching. 37.5

percent of the papers (i.e. Akande & Akinwale, 2010; Balogun,

2010; Odebunmi & Alo, 2010; Olaosun, 2010; Olubode-Sawe,

2010; Taiwo, 2010c) dwell on mobile telephony and SMS as

follows: with a view of stressing their positions on the

implications of the leprous compositions of the Nigerian

Sociology of English in Nigeria

45

students on written communication as well as contextual beliefs

in the 160-character discourse by Nigerian academics, an Ecosemiotic

examination of visual codes in mobile phone

directories, typography and orthographic conventions in

Yoruba NOKIA phone terminologies, and language mixing for

phaticity and invocations. The remaining papers (43.75%) are

concerned with pedagogical and systemic issues.

As rich as all the previous Nigerian CMC studies are,

none have focused on the differences in textual compositions of

Nigerian Internet users due to notable constraints and

affordances of the CMC, notably the mobility, synchronicity

and transmission capability of the technologies involve in IM

and SMS. This gap will hope to fill in this study.

A Brief Account of Lexico-semantic Studies in Nigeria

(English)

Lexico-semantics (lexical semantics) is an important theory of

linguistic description which has gained scholarly attention in

Messaging

From table 2 above, we found that abbronyms had the highest

number of occurrence featuring at the average rate of 972 per

message for IM’ing and 139 for texting Of the total number of

messages sampled (N=75) texting occurred 1044 times almost

doubling average frequency of occurrence in IM’ing with 729

times Emoticons and vocal segregates (emotexts and vowel

extension) all representing the non linguistic vocal

segregates, on the other hand, occurred at the average rate of

276 per message for IM’ing and 12 for texting There is less

representation of emoticons and vocal segregates in texting

Akande, A & Odebunmi, A

54

44% per message transmission, with average frequency of

occurrence at 12 The frequency of occurrence for the non

linguistic signs was 207 times This means that the total

average frequency of occurrence for all the IM textual signs is

1248 Based on these findings, we can infer that computermediated

communication of instant messaging has its

peculiarities in the textual signs such as emoticons, emotexts,

vowel/letter extension and abbronyms, even in an ESL country

like Nigeria Nigerian students thus construct and interpret

messages with the shared assumption of these CMC lexemes

One can also conclude that a IM constructed by an average

Nigerian student would reflect predominance of lexical signs

(abbronyms) over visual signs (emoticons) and much less of

these occurrences for text messaging over the mobile phones

Some of the instances of the linguistic and non linguistic signs

are presented, as extracts, as follows:

bjrealme: hw sister?

bjrealme: na you i should ask

bjrealme: una no c each order?

westsideoutlawzus2p: stop posting me joo

5 westsideoutlawzus2p: na me suppose ask u dat

bjrealme: ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

bjrealme: 8-x

bjrealme: you funny ohhh

bjrealme: no be ur babe

10 bjrealme: you go dey contact each orda now

westsideoutlawzus2p: wel no b say i no dey

here 4rm her but jst 2 ask abt her welfare

bjrealme: she should be in good condition

Sociology of English in Nigeria

55

westsideoutlawzus2p: aw abt ur admision

15 bjrealme: you don finish exams'

westsideoutlawzus2p: yes

bjrealme: we just go do post jamb

(EXCHANGE 15)

The same goes for extracts 2 (Exchanges 15) Move 7

Exchange 15 shows an instance of emoticon, moves 14, 19, and

20 show instances of abbronyms peculiar to Instant Messages

which interactants may have shared assuption of

It suffices to say here that findings from the sampled

text corroborate results of earlier studies on some systems of

CMC, especially the email and newsgroup It has been found

that email and e-chat have a peculiar linguistic structure

stemming from the use of multifarious word formation

processes, emoticons and abbronyms being part of this These

signs make CMC text in Instant Messaging program to appear

more like speech than writing communication (cf Hunnicut

and Magnuson, 2001; Sjoberg, 2001; McElhearn, 2000) and

much different from that of the text messaging Let us consider

an extract of the sampled text messages:

Watz goan, be reminded that our

general meeting holds Tue 17/7 Also

our society harvest is same day at 9am

mass Pls come wt gifts O! NO

SHAKING!Enjoy ya weekend

Akande, A & Odebunmi, A

56

Contractions (operationalized here as the use of

apostrophe and excludes the possessive case) which typically

appear in informal speech and writing are examined The

reason for the analysis stems from the fact that this category of

contraction is shorter to type than the full forms, especially

when omitting the apostrophe In computer-based IM,

apostrophes require only a single keystroke, while needing four

key taps on mobile phones We calculated percent of full and

contracted forms against total potential contractions For

apostrophes, we scored only use in contractions, not

possessives In texting, 14% of all potential contractions were

contracted In IM, only 24% were contracted Mispells were not

accounted for in our quantification and these were much Being

fresher students, it is assumed that the subjects are still battling

with the mechanics of the English language

In the dimension for the analysis of punctuation,

punctuation at the ends of transmissions and the ends of

sentences was examined We also tallied use of question marks

at the ends of semantically-interrogative sentences in

comparison with use of periods, exclamation marks, or

equivalent punctuation (ellipses, dashes, commas, and

emoticons) at the ends of declaratives, imperatives, or

exclamations Texting and IM followed similar patterns, with

the proportion of texting punctuation always lower than in IM

Sociology of English in Nigeria

57

Total sentence-final punctuation was 39% for texting and 45%

for IM Transmission-final punctuation appeared in only 29%

of text messages and 35% of IMs However, for transmissions

containing multiple sentences, the sentences not appearing at

the ends of transmissions had more sentence-final punctuation:

54% of text messages and 78% of IMs, Logically,

transmission-medial punctuation is more critical than

transmission-final marks in helping recipients interpret

messages In most cases, the act of sending a message coincides

with sentence-final punctuation

To compare question marks and periods (or equivalent

marks), we divided each corpus into two categories: semantic

questions and “other” More question marks were used to end

semantic questions than periods (or equivalents) to end other

sentence types In texting, 23% semantic questions were ended

with a question mark, while only 10% of “other” bore sentencefinal

punctuation In IM, all (52%) of questions ended in

question marks, while only 41% of the remaining sentences

were punctuated More frequent use of “required” question

marks may pragmatically highlight the request for a response

from the recipient

Akande, A & Odebunmi, A

58

Conclusion

Analyses of texting and IM’ing against the socio-linguistic

backgrounds of second language user (English) much enabled

as a result of the mobility of the Internet in today’s media

landscape have shown peculiarities in the textual constructs of

Nigerian students The paucity of emoticons and heavy use of

abbronymizations in both texting and IM corpora is not in

consonant with studies of this nature in North America (Ling

and Baron 2007) and the UK (Thurlow and Brown 2003)

However, sameness in the previous reports on sentential

punctuation in texting or IM’ing, shows the degree to which

affordances and constraints of the CMC media affect uniformly

English language constructs and meaning making in online

platforms Findings have shown that usage patterns are hardly

contrastive Ling and Baron (2007) notes that students often

omitted transmission-final marks (especially periods), but their

overall punctuation choices tended to be communicatively

pragmatic The fact punctuation was consistently more

prevalent in IM than in texting probably reflects greater ease of

input in IM It is however worthy of note that student approach

textual composition with differences in their competence level

More so, text messages were consistently longer and contained

more sentences, probably resulting from both differential

costing structures and the tendency of IM sequences (but not

Sociology of English in Nigeria

59

texts) to be sent in series one after the end to form threads and

turn sequences Text messages contained significantly more

abbreviations than IMs, but even the number in texting was

small

Texting and IM’ing data, therefore, are in tangential

with respect to contractions and apostrophes: more contractions

appeared in texting, but texting used only one-third the

apostrophes found in IM Greater use of contractions in texting

could reflect the higher tendency to use abbreviated forms to

save cost (compared with IM’ing), which in turn is in

consonance with an awkward input device of the mobile phone,

even with qwert-keyboarded phones The same applies to

apostrophes in texting

References

Adegbija, Efurosibina 1989 A Comparative Study of

Politeness Phenomena in Nigerian English, Yoruba and

Ogori Multilingua 8(1):57-80

Awonusi, Victor 2004 “Little” Englishes and the Law of

Energetics: A Sociolinguistic Study of SMS Text

Messages as Register and Discourse in Nigerian

English In V Awonusi and E Babalola (eds),

Domestication of English in Nigeria: A Festschrift in

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Honour of Abiodun Adetugbo University of Lagos

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Awonusi, Victor 2010 Beyond Energetics: A Sociolinguistic

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16

Bamgbose, Ay 1971 The English language in Nigeria In

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Chiluwa, Innocent 2010a Nigerian English in Informal Email

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Chiluwa, Innocent 2010b Discursive Practice and the Nigerian

Identity in Personal Emails Taiwo, Rotimi (Ed)

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and Digital Communication: Language Structures and

Social Interaction Pennsylvania, USA: IGI Global

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Information Technology 9(2): 111-116

Herring, Susan 2004a Slouching Toward the Ordinary:

Current Trends in Computer-Mediated Communication

New Media & Society 6: 26-36

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Analysis: An Approach to Researching Online

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Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of

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