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How SMS is becoming a digital-lingual cultural expression

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A review of Dr Rotimi Taiwo’s book, Language and Mobile Telecommunication in Nigeria: SMS as a Digital Lingual-Cultural Expression by Chijioke Uwasomba.

FOR many centuries human communication was realised through the spoken medium until the transition of humankind from the hunter-gatherer stage to “more permanent agrarian encampments”. Humans went further as they developed to represent their thoughts using graphic symbols, first with pictorial forms and later phonetic and alphabetic forms. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith in the mid 15th century marked the beginning of information explosion. With the invention of the telephone and telegraph in the 19th century, human communication became more organised and faster over large distances.

In Rotimi Taiwo’s Language and Mobile Telecommunication in Nigeria, he traces the origin of language and communication up to the 21st century when communication technology has changed so rapidly and radically through the widespread use of computers and communication satellites, the internet, Cell phones, fax machines, video conferencing technology, etc. In the book, the author attempts a linguistic analysis of the use of SMS (Short Message Service) in Nigeria as it affects the Southwestern part of the country which is the focus of the research. The author also tries to document the discursive aspects of mobile telecommunication in Nigeria since the GSM telephony revolution which started in 2001 in Nigeria and how the growth in the use of SMS has impacted on language learning, communicative performance and national development.

Using Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis with insights from Critical Discourse Analysis and the Hallidayan Systemic Functional Linguistics, the author examines the different perspectives on text messaging. The findings from the data show that “SMS fulfils more than just being used as a means of exchanging greetings” (P. 24) because of its innovative streak which allows users to play with English orthographic symbols. These can be seen in the use of homophonic single graphic abbreviations (b for be or c for see of d for the ); numeric characters replacing homophones (d8 for date, b4 for before); aphesis and abbreviation (attn for attention, lo for hello); stripping vowels (rcvd for received, mbrsd for embarrassed); acronyms (yw for you are welcome, ty for talk with you later); grapheme changes (cud for could, wot for what); and contraction (bday for birth day, werru for where are you), etc.

The findings from the data analysis further show that the culture of text messaging in the Southwestern part of Nigeria enjoys a general acceptance as a tool for various forms of interactions-romantic, humour/jokes, official/business, religious, social and greetings. The findings also reveal how different and diverse ways text messages are used to construct socio-cultural meanings in Nigeria. Despite the cultural origin of text messaging, which is essentially Western, it is being adapted to express the culture of other users. The implication of the above is to the effect that the digital age has become one in which the textual and the oral features of language are merging, leading to some unique linguistic form which does not belong to any of the traditional media.

This study as noted from the outset is a major attempt at offering both the linguistic and the social perspectives on the use of textese. Communicating through SMS has brought out the creative ingenuity of Nigerians as SMS has become the major means of interpersonal, group, as well as wider communication. It is used for both positive and negative purposes. The positive role is manifested in its progressive and transformational capacity in aiding banking transactions, political awareness, religious information dissemination, cultivation of friendship and the enhancement of cheaper interactions among people. It has also become a major medium and source through which criminals and other counter-cultural elements perpetrate various crimes and anti-social activities in the country.

Written in a free-flowing style accessible to all categories of readers, the book relies essentially on empirical data in form of text messages solicited from mobile telephone users in the Southwestern part of Nigeria. The empirical grounding of this book gives it an edge over and above similar works that are products of only theorisations as the book under review is thoroughly sustained by both theories and concrete data. Of particular importance is the author’s competence in demonstrating how text messages are being used to express cultural meanings and identities, making the book a good empirical study of SMS as a digital lingual-cultural expression in Nigeria (Southwest).

Much as important as the book is, it is obvious that it needed some tight editing as there are many editorial gaffes that undermine this otherwise wonderful attempt at a systematic study of texteese in Nigeria. Part of the problem of publishing in Nigeria is the fact that some of the publishing houses lack the requisite personnel and technology to do a good work and no wonder that they end up doing a bad work of good materials given to them for publication. This work, one must admit suffers from the inability of the publishing firm to do a thorough work on the manuscript before rushing the book out. The book is surely an introductory text to any one who desires to know more about the discursive issues on SMS usage in Nigeria. There are also attempts to engage in macro and micro analyses of language of SMS in Nigeria. It is also a useful hand book for scholars in English and Linguistic Studies, Social Sciences, Information Science and allied disciplines.

Uwasomba is of the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University,Ile-Ife.

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