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COMMUNICATIVE STUDY OF ELECTRONIC MESSAGING AMONG BILINGUAL UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Modern technologies, particularly, the new media, with their electronic messaging capabilities are changing virtually all aspects of human life around the globe. Advances in science and technology in the last decade – particularly micro-chip dependent technology such as computers, lasers, the internet, satellite, videophones etc. have helped in advancing the frontiers of globalization from which Nigeria is not isolated. The impact of these new emerging technologies is felt even in developing countries which are grappling with serious language problems as a result of socio-cultural and linguistic diversities. This new mode of communication appears to have captured a large clientele of the youths who adapt more easily to change. The youths of today live in a world characterized by the dynamics of electronic messaging which affects their communication mode as well as their writing and which also make their life more complex.
The complex situation in which the young people are struggling to find direction in their lives or simply to survive and improve their living conditions and develop and improve their identity has been given various names. Some call it the information age, while others prefer the term techno-culture or techcapitalism, global media culture or simply globalization, referring to the dialectic process in which the global and the local exist as ‘combined and mutual supporting principles’. The idea behind all these terms is that across the globe, ICTs are playing a vital role on young people’s lives and in the society at large.
Electronic messaging therefore came as a result of social needs which are anchored on easy and fast communication. It is perhaps the most consummate among the youths because of the common form of interaction it provides. They have learned to coordinate and indeed co-micro interaction via the mobile phone and internet. Electronic Mail, a new written-language register; In a study of with French speaking adolescents; Olga et al observed that “Adolescents seem to have largely appropriated these new communication tools, including electronic mail ‘Teens and technology’, a survey conducted by the New Internet and American Life Project on 1100 young people, “electronic mail ranked on top and was used by 89% of online teens”(2).This interprets that electronic messaging gives the youths a source of interaction that is not mediated by parents as in the case with the traditional landline telephone. The Nigerian youths as part of the global community have contributed to popularizing the social use of texting and have developed a linguistic and manual dexterity in the composition of messages.
Two aspects of the Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) text based communication which the youths employ for the purpose of fast and easy communication are those done through Social Network Sites (SNS) and Short Message Service (SMS).This they do using peculiar linguistic features that are drawn from their dual linguistic dispositions (bilingualism).Social Network Sites include Facebook, ICQ, Myspace, Skype etc, and according to Lee, C. while quoting Kats et al, Social Network Sites (SNS) have led to an age of ‘perpetual contact’.
Social Network Sites provide an increasingly important communication channel in facilitating social connections among Nigerian youths while SMS avails them with the opportunity of ‘on-the-go’ messaging. Awonusi in his paper entitled “Little Englishes and the Law of Energetics”, A sociolinguistic study of SMS text Messages as register and discourse in Nigerian English’ avers that senders of text-messages however, confront the problem of constraint of time, money and space. As a reaction to the constraint, text users devise various linguistic strategies to communicate comprehensively but briefly, thereby depending on the law of energetic.
The integration of internet services into Mobile phone has further made the convenience of mobile phone communication easier for students. This research therefore, attempts to examine the linguistic features of text-based computer mediated communication among Nigerian undergraduates using sociolinguistic theories; the study will among other issues explore the extent to which undergraduates accommodate their interlocutors in their SMS and Facebook. Finally, because modern technology has made it possible for youths to text and access Facebook through mobile phone, this study will henceforth use the mobile phone to refer to the two affordances of the computer-mediated modes of communication, namely: SMS and Facebook.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Many of the SMS text messages are couched in racy, semi-formal or informal telegraphic styles occasioned by the constraints of time and space as well as economic (monetary) considerations. Also, the use of languages in electronic messaging is quite obscure due to the use of peculiar bilingual abbreviations, phonetic representation, clippings, alpha numerals, Nigerian English, Pidgin English and indigenous languages which could be interpreted differently. These pose a problem of misinterpretation and misunderstanding hence, there is need to study specifically the linguistic features of electronic messaging as well the ability of undergraduates to accommodate their interlocutors by their language style.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
This research is based on the linguistic features inherent in Facebook (a social network site) and SMS which are specific to University of Lagos undergraduates. This study sets out to undertake critical examination of the linguistic features of the two chosen modes of computer mediated communication namely; SMS and Facebook. The objectives of this study are:
(1) To classify the degree of convergence in the SMS and SNS of undergraduates;
(2) To describe how undergraduates employ code-switching to accommodate their interlocutors in SMS and SNS;
(3) To identify how native languages affect the accommodative ability of undergraduates in SMS and SNS;
(4) To point out the type of code-switching employed by undergraduates in SMS and SNS;
(5) To classify the extent to which divergence is employed in SMS and SNS;
(6) To substantiate that undergraduates employ accommodation in SMS and Facebook.
1.4 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This study will be restricted to two modes of computer mediated communication SMS and Facebook in mobile phones or computer. The restriction to the two is imperative because it has been discovered that the University of Lagos students are often involved in SMS. Also, Facebook, which students mainly access for socialization reasons, has become a substantial communication pattern among them. Ten SMS messages and ten Facebook Messages extracted randomly from undergraduates of University of Lagos will be used as data for this study. In doing this Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) proposed by Howard Giles will be used as theoretical framework and the researcher will limit herself to the two major variables of CAT-convergence and divergence.
1.5 DEFINITION OF TERMS
To achieve the objectives of the study, we have attempted simple exposition of some relevant concepts.
The SMS is a contraction for Short Messages Service. It has become a very familiar and widely used form of communication. An online source revealed that “short message services (SMS), what Alabi V. rightly referred to as “the written language of GSM” (1994), is a communication protocol allowing the interchange of short text messages between mobile telephone devices”. Students make maximum use of SMS to communicate written codes from one person to another. In SMS brevity is the tool to comprehensiveness and comprehending information since it allows a limit of 160 characters per SMS.
The abbreviation SNS simply means Social Network Sites. It is an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, who, for example, share interests and/or activities and people with similar or somewhat similar interests, backgrounds and/or activities make their own communities. A social network service consists of a representation of each user (often a profile), his/her social links, and a variety of additional services. Most social network services are web-based and provide means for users to interact over the Internet, such as e-mail and instant messaging. Social networking sites allow users to share ideas, activities, events, and interests within their individual networks.
Facebook is one of the many emerging social network sites which students have discovered as another means of communicating. It has been defined in different ways by different people:
Facebook is a social networking website that is operated and privately owned by facebook, inc. Since September 2006, anyone over the age of 13 with e-mail address can become a facebook user (except countries where it is banned).
According to Wikipedia encyclopedia facebook has recorded “500 million active users in July 2010”. As a social network site, facebook has “implanted a wide variety of technical features” its “backbone consists of visible profiles that display an articulated list of friends who are also users of the same system”.
1.5.4 Computer Mediated Communication
Computer mediated communication (CMC) “is human to human communication using networked computer environments to facilitate interaction”. (Pearson et al 336). CMC differs from other types of electronic communication in the sense that communication is transactional. “Both people involved in the CMC event are responsible for simultaneously sending and receiving messages.”(Pearson et al 337). However, it uses electronic channels to facilitate communication.
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