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Women Are More Expressive When Texting

February 2009 - An article in the quarterly journal Written Communication, authored by Indiana University researchers Susan Herring and Asta Zelenkauskaite reports that while men may talk more in public, women make more of text messaging in a public venue.

They examined 1,164 gender-defined messages posted on-screen during the real-time Italian music video television channel Allmusic and found that women:

  • push their messages closest to the character-count limit
  • use more abbreviations and insertions, and
  • implement more emoticons such as smiling and frowning faces

Susan Herring, a professor in the IU School of Library and Information Science. said:

"The messages are very flirtatious and have nothing to do with the television show. In the linguistic marketplace there have always been different values associated with standard and non-standard language, and here we have found results that are paradoxical, that are the opposite of the recognized socio-linguistic gender patterns."

According to Herring, the preponderance of research has shown that women use standard language more than men, partly because it is seen as a type of symbolic currency used to acquire upward mobility.

"Women have historically used standard language when they are social aspirers, or want to be perceived as above their station," said Susan Herring. "Men talk more; women are more polite."

Intriguingly, however, results with a new, convergent medium mixing interactive television (iTV) with SMS or texting show unexpected findings. While Herring and Zelenkauskaite were predicting that men would post more and longer text messages, and that men would also employ more non-standard techniques, the opposite was the case.

Asta Zelenkauskaite, a Lithuanian doctoral student who has spent more than two years studying at Italian universities, commented:

"Since iTV is based on texting, which was marketed extensively in Europe, it is extremely popular. Since cell phones in Italy experience some of the highest levels of penetration in Europe, it is an ideal country to study iTV."

Next, the researchers want to explore the incidence of non-standard language in text-messaging when other topicssuch as politics or news are available for interactive, public discussion.

"There are news shows in Europe where viewers can comment through iTV but we have not analyzed any of those yet," Susan Herring added. "There are different linguistic marketplaces, and politics is one of them, just like dating is."


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