A lot of people text. 73% of cell-phone owners, to be precise, according to a Pew Research Survey. The younger the demographic gets, the more they text: 97%1 of young adult (18-24) cell phone users use their phones to send and receive text message, with the average among them sending 109.5 texts a day. Not only do a lot of people text, but people are texting a lot.
For an age group that grew up with instant messaging, texting seems to be the next step forward, only this time it can be carried out anywhere. Texting has become prolific enough that, in 2011, 55% of those aged between 18-24 would prefer to be texted than called, making it the more common form of communication.
Even though conversation may be steadily more often typed than spoken, forms of computer-mediated communication still retain many characteristics of traditional conversation, like code-switching and the use of be+like; while adapting others like repairs, reported speech, and pragmatic markers; and has its own idiosyncrasies like meta- and concurrent conversations possible only due to the unique nature of the medium.
The data, found in the attached appendix, is comprised of three conversations: Kirk, Bones, and Spock. Bones features a conversation between two brothers, Phineas and Ferb, aged 22 and 20, respectively, who currently live on different continents. The conversations in Kirk and Spock are between Chuck and Sarah, 22 and 19, a dating couple who both live in New York. All three conversations lasted between 20-30 minutes and were carried out using iPhones. Between the three conversations there were 231 messages/utterances across 146 turns, yielding an average of 1.6 messages per turn. All the participants fall squarely in the 18-24 demographic of the most often texters, making them a fairly ideal sample. All participants text regularly, though exact numbers are unavailable.
Conversations through text messaging can play out much like one held face-to-face or on the phone. The conversation Kirk reads like a transcript of spoken dialogue: it opens with a greeting, develops over time, and eventually ends with the speakers arranging a time to meet later. There are assessments (16), repairs (11-12), and adjacency pairs (20-25). For all intents and purposes these text messages read like an ordinary conversation.
Code-switching is present in text messaging. Line (142) of Bones has Phineas using Spanish during his conversation with his brother. No attention is drawn to it, rather he is just using Spanish for the one utterance. It’s spelt, of course, in Spanish. Phineas and Ferb are both proficient enough in Spanish that it can be treated as a normal part of dialogue.
As in normal conversation, reported speech can take different forms in text messaging. Line (2) of Spock has Chuck indirectly reporting the topic of Harry’s speech, for example. Be+like is common enough in text messaging too; line (125) of Bones has Ferb quoting Vanessa through a be+like format. It’s presented just as...