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Can you hear me now? Etiquette for texting

A woman texting as people walk slower while texting on their mobile phones to try to avoid accidents, according to new research, November 19, 2014 (Credit: AP Images/Lauren Hurley)Children and cell phones are an ever-present reminder of the problems often encountered in communication. With children, the refrain "If I have to tell you one more time" is often followed by "Listen to me." Cell phones, on the other hand, give the illusion of convenience until you enter into an exchange in which you find yourself repeating "Can you hear me now?" What you hear is not always what is said, and what someone said is not always what you hear. But when children and cell phones come together, going over your data may be the least of your problems.

In a study conducted by psychologists from Binghamton University, participants were found to be significantly more likely to view period-punctuated texts less genuine than unpunctuated texts. The more you punctuate, the less real you are.

In this study, undergraduate students were shown a series of text messages and handwritten notes. Afterwards, they judged that sincerity increased as grammatical correctness decreased. Written communication fails to reflect body language, but these students reported that the grammatical mess-ups revealed the person's genuineness often found in physical proximity and revealed through body language.

This is but another study that reveals the changing dynamics within communication in the 21st century. Coupled with the lack of punctuation is the usage of emojis, the decaying effects from 'textspeak,' and the prevalence of our internal processor.


This year, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was the emoji. Specifically, it was the digital symbol that connotes joy and is technically called 'face with tears of joy.' It won the title due to its prevalence and the fact that it "best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015." A digital shorthand way to communicate thoughts, feelings, and opinions, emojis are replacing words in text conversations. Though believed to communicate more than words, emojis have the propensity to bring about a multitude of words in the form of questions—specifically, "What did they mean?"


With the usage of emojis increasing, the number of misspellings and grammatical errors has increased as well (hopefully this article is not an example). Often called "textspeak," this way of communicating substitutes grammatical correctness for succinctness.

Psychologist Celia Klin told Quartz: "Given that people are so adept at communicating complex and nuanced information in conversations, it's not surprising that as texting evolves, people are finding ways to convey the same types of information in their texts."

This is sometimes referred to as discourse particles. These words or symbols communicate feelings to the person on the receiving end of the message. Texting is replete with examples of such particles. The asterisk (*) has become the signal to repair an error from the previous message. Instead of looking over the text before sending, the person simply sends another text that properly spells the word. Or, to assert your syntactical dominance, another person does this for you before you can, thus repairing the conversation and passively aggressively showing their superiority. But it is possible that the beloved enemy known as autocorrect changed the word completely, thus it was necessary to send the asterisk.

Another example is the carat (^), which indicates that you concur with the previous message. Your strong agreement needs no words, rather the carat functions as an affirmative echo.

Internal Processor

Finally, there is our internal processor, not the one IBM makes. In 1957, Noam Chomsky asserted in his work Syntactic Structures that we have an internal grammar in our mind. He wrote that this serves as an underlying foundation to the processing of external language. Chomsky believed we can recognize nonsensical phrases that lack proper punctuation because we have a knowledge base that makes such distinctions.

An example: up green cats fast trees climb

Just recently, his work was scientifically substantiated in a study put out by New York University. Senior researcher in the study Daid Poeppel said, "Our neurophysiological findings support this: we make sense of strings of words because our brains combine words into constituents in a hierarchical manner—a process that reflects an 'internal grammar' mechanism."

Bob Dylan was right in that the times "they are a'changin'". And so is our communication. However, there is consistency in the midst of the change. Bad grammar and the desire to change the language has been a persistent feature of the human experience. Harvard President Charles Eliot in 1871 remarked:

"Bad spelling, incorrectness, as well as inelegance of expression in writing, ignorance of the simplest rules of punctuation… are far from rare among young men otherwise well prepared for college studies." Among the students at Harvard in the 1870s was Theodore Roosevelt, known affectionately as Teddy or the twenty-sixth president of the United States.

Grammatical errors may be common, but the errors point to the strength in our desire to connect and communicate. The biblical narrative is replete with examples of prophetic communicators speaking to those who didn't have ears to hear (i.e. Jeremiah, Isaiah). Imagine having a message that resonated like fire in your bones (Jeremiah 20:9). Amos would describe hearing a message from the Lord was like hearing a lion roar—it demanded attention and response (Amos 3:8).

Though they had a message, their listeners did not understand or could not understand. In this situation, Jesus was masterful. For those who chose not to understand, Jesus would utilize imagery or illustrations in order to convey his points. The message never changed, but the way in which it was communicated did.

For today's Christian, we live and move in a world in which the language is changing, but our desire to connect is not. Though we have heard from the lion (Amos 3:8, 2 Peter 1:19), we must listen to his sheep (James 1:19). Only when we listen can we best understand how to communicate the message that even the angels yearn to hear (1 Peter 1:12).

Sixteenth century philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon found: "Reading maketh a full man; conference [discussing] a ready man; and writing an exact man." I would add emojis make a confused man. So if you wouldn't mind, could you tell me one more time?

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