Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. April 2006

4.2. Virtuelle Gemeinschaften | Virtual Communities
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Gerald Ganglbauer (Sydney)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Coding & Decoding The Chat World

Anca Irinel Teleoacă ("Lower Danube" University, Galati, Romania)


Human-computer-interaction engenders new English which arise among e-mailers and chatters, both delivering electronic messages which are blends of two different forms of communication, namely, spoken and written and which display many properties of oral conversation.

The present paper concerns the language of computer-mediated-communication and the unique features it displays at three levels: lexicological (the use of acronyms), pragmatic and semantic (the use of the paralinguistic, nonverbal features, viz. emoticons, as well as special lexis like lurking, flaming, or spamming,) and spelling (other kinds of graphics), etc.

The key words used in this paper are: speak-combined forms that point to an interpersonal communication different from our general knowledge of face-to-face conversation. Therefore, the paper will also look at the possibility of conversing with multiple anonymous, or not, interlocutors at a time thus breaking Grice's maxims of conversations.

It will conclude that the language analysed may be characterised, above all, as extremely original and spontaneous. A distinction between real versus virtual worlds has been highlighted in the sense that what is considered non-standard English in day to day life has become standardised and acknowledged 'when escaping reality and evading into virtuality'.

In this section, I will identify different chat constructions and introduce various data which exemplify a range of syntactic, lexical semantic, and discourse-level constraints on the language of chat jargon and slang. The lexicon analysed below is of interest because various terms have been transported via Internet to ordinary language and, consequently, it hints at another kind of exchange of information that has become significant to human experience due to another kind of environment. Consequently, there is a need to highlight these newly-formed language origins and characteristics that can only be captured through the interaction of syntax, semantics, pragmatics and contextual influence. This section also explores the nature of everyday deviance on the micro level, within the context of the chat room culture and the changing aesthetics of writing as playful performance in synchronous chat modes. It focuses on the normative structure of the Internet chat culture through a thorough examination of the processes of informal social sanctioning of behavior that is defined as deviant within that culture. It is suggested that the nature of cyberspace produces environmental conditions analogous to social disorganization models of deviance and crime. It also examines this particular culture in order to identify the mechanisms of sanctioning deviance within cyber cultures in general. The data for this study were collected via participant observation in the Internet chat room over the course of several years. Since my report is based on different speech levels of formality, the key words used like speak-combined forms and chat suggest an analysis of interpersonal communication apart from our general knowledge of face-to-face conversations and its reinforcement by non-verbal clues, like body movement, eye contact or different gestures.

The present study is greatly influenced by the readings of computer-mediated discourse theorists and researchers like: Susan Herring, Howard Rheingold, David Crystal, Brenda Danet, Joe Lockard, Levy Steven and Eric Raymond and their studies on the human-computer interaction.


1.1 Of Jargon

What we know about jargon, generally speaking, is that it represents the language used by a group of people who belong to a particular trade, profession, or any other group bound together by mutual interest, e.g. legal, military, medical, computer jargon. Each and every jargon has its own set of words and expressions, which may be incomprehensible to an outsider. In other words, it is a label for speech varieties associated with social groups whose members wish to or must conceal some aspects of their communication from non-members.

With reference to computer jargon, we are now in the position to differentiate several types of jargon due to our awareness of the split spaces in cyberspace and, consequently, of the split user groups (chatters, Unix groups, Mud groups, etc.).

Therefore, the first jargon to be named is one strictly related to computer software and hardware. Though related, computer jargon is different from Internet jargon, on the one hand, with reference to time, in the sense that computer jargon has appeared earlier and has been developed constantly ever since, and, on the other, in point of the users and their affiliation to the system. The jargon of computer professionals or, as David Crystal has named it, the techspeaks(1), labels both the computer terminology and the Internet technologies. Thus, such terms as modem, disk cache, log on, offline, etc. are meaningful examples of the two distinct jargons under discussion.



1. bit

1. a single digit in binary;

2. bmp = Bit Map

2. a method of storing a picture or a graphic image in a computer file;

3. Cobol = Common Business Oriented Language

3. name of a programming language;

4. curly braces:

Don't use curly braces; use the brackets.

4. special characters: {}

5. download:

The information is downloaded.

5. to receive a file from another computer using a modem;

6. e-mail = electronic mail:

Check the e-mail for me, please.

6. sending and receiving personal letters on the Internet;



1. http = Hyper Text Transfer Protocol

Use the http address to get to where you want.

1. a method of connecting to the Internet;

2. input: Input data now.

2. a method of providing information to a process running on a computer, either from keyboard, disk, modem, or other devices;

3. log on

Would you like to log on now?

3. when connecting to a service provider, typing your user ID and password;

4. modem

Unless your computer has a modem, you can't be online to either use a Web search, or a telenet.

4. device used to transfer data between computers via a phone line (e.g. Xnet,)

5. online

5. being connected to another computer via modem;

6. telnet

6. method of connecting to another computer system, normally using software which controls how information transfers are made;

7. UNIX: Unix is an operating system used on powerful stations only.

7. multi-user computers;

8. Web

8. a system of Internet servers that support specially formatted documents and graphics;

The fact that the Internet language cannot be treated under the computer jargon umbrella is proved by published versions of specialized dictionaries that always make separate references to the kind of terminology they provide entries for, as the following: Computer & Internet Dictionary(2),

Dic ţionar de Calculatoare & Internet(3) or Dic ţionar Internet & Tehnologii World Wide Web(4).

My opinion about how to name these various jargons that users deal with when connected to or working on computers is much looser, since computers and the whole world that their development has generated, like the births of the Internet and of the Web, are related to electronically inputs and outputs signals, the jargon used to describe these electronic processes would be thus peculiar to a whole electronic environment comprising the language inputs for processing the data needed. Therefore, we should talk of the jargon of e-language or, better, e-jargon since this reflects the language used between humans electronically influenced and mediated.


1.2 Of Slang, and Netspeak(5). Of Chatters' Slang

At the opposite pole, a language of a highly colloquial type consists of either new words or of current ones employed in some new special sense and typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. This is what we generally know as slang which was first attested in English in the mid-eighteenth century(6). To put it differently, slang is the informal or non-technical language different from mainstream English, used by subcultures like bikers, rock fans, surfers, chatters, etc.; its main characteristics are that slang is more metaphorical, vibrant, jokey, and transient than ordinary language.

Because the Internet represents a instant global connection between people no matter what their locations, it has developed its own particular language, combining spoken with written forms. This has happened as a consequence of developing such technologies as Internet Relay Chat(7), Bulletin Board, Multi User Dungeon worlds, and many others, where different social groups - teenagers, gamers, hackers, etc. - build up a highly original way of expressing themselves freely without concerning about whatsoever language restriction rules may be. The Internet slang reveals a remarkable expressiveness and creativity in its forms, making considerable use of linguistic innovations and semantic developments such as word importation (guru), derivation, abbreviations (GIGO, asl), clipping, blending (gork, morf, sorg), sound symbolism (gril), metaphors, analogies, accent, etc. My study is based on a fully participant chat activity,initially as a guest and later as a member within this particular culture becauseit is necessary, due to the nature of chat rooms, to participate as a full member in order to truly understand the normative system of the new society and the defining and sanctioning processes of deviance within the culture.

The reason why the Internet slang is so expressive, creative and continuously evolving is due to the presence of instant, live and interactive chat systems which are populated by young people whose imagination and most hidden desires (sexual, linguistic, etc.) are at loose in cyberspace since no authority is there to watch over them and, consequently, impose behavioural or linguistic constraints. Such instances as P911 are funny and, at the same time, linguistically codified because if you do not belong to the chatters' groups you are considered a newbie or a pona(8) (newcomers) unable to understand their language. Thus, P911immediately sets off the alarm and the chatters' subject needs to be dropped at once because the capitalized p stands for 'parents in the room' and 911 is a request to change the topic. In other words, you either drop the subject, or watch your language. The acronyms POSand POTS suggest the same behavioural awareness because: Parents are looking Over Shoulder.

Other instances of linguisticcreativeness are represented by letters and numbers that often become interchangeable. Because of their phonetic appropriateness, 1 is won or e1 is 'everyone'; 2 may be 'too', 'to' or 'two' as in the following combinations: 2BZ (too busy), 2day(today), 2moro, 2G2BT (Too good to be true), F2F (face to face), g2g (got to go); 3oak is 'three of a kind'; 4 is 'for', 'four', or a prefix or suffix of 'fore', as in: b4 (before), 4warned (forewarned), 2BZ4U (too busy for you); similarly, letters become lexical morphemes by the process of overgeneralization, like C is 'see' and U stands for 'you' in: ICU ('I see you'), CU SOON; R becomes 'are'; the mixed letter and number combination as L8Rcan be read, for instance, 'later'. If you are not an addicted chatter, you can not comprehend any of these lines below:

Chatter one:g2g cul gle1
Chatter two: hagn tc hb

Here's the translation of what chatters becoming speakers in a real environment are saying:

Speaker one:Got to go. See you later. Good luck, everyone.
Speaker two: Have a good night. Take care. Hurry Back.

The extensive use of symbols gets new connotations in chatters' slang. For example, the symbol & replaces the syntactic coordinator 'and': b& would be read band or h&k would be read hug and kiss; the % symbol stands for double'o', so if we have an IM (instant message) like T%K on our screen, we shall read it as 'took'.

To conclude, on the one hand, chatters chiefly create this language for the sake of shortening their messages in order to maximize and even to hide content from other peeps.

On the other hand, it is an obvious fact that these 'chat-texts' or netspeaks have changed the way of talk-transactions within daily chat use because it represents a false image of what we know about conversational rules; this means that chatters make use of verbally communicated language features like fluency and impossibility of self-correcting into a medium that requires orthographic knowledge and very fast typing skills. But at the same time, they lack the basic ways of expressing themselves non-verbally as they would do in real time oral communication: posture and position, eye contact, gaze direction. Moreover, facial expressions, and gesticulations like shrugging the shoulders, giving a thumbs-up sign, showing a happy face or pointing are replaced by the use of emoticons in an IM environment.

Fig. 1

But again, I need to emphasize that these chat exchanges are faster than, for instance, asynchronous interactive networking; as a consequence, we need to observe the use of so many symbol-letter combinations, abbreviations, etc. On the other hand, typing is slower than spoken exchanges; therefore, it is even possible that genuine mistakes occur due to an erroneous, fast dispatch typing that might have resulted in such linguistic drawbacks of the chatters' slang. To support my argument about misspellings, I shall exemplify with the erroneous instances of leaving out vowels as in wrd: this could be read either 'word'or 'weird', depending on its context. Typing words fast, and sending messages back and forth, leads to common spelling errors that have become linguistic coinages in every chat room (e.g. This is gng 2 B fun). Thus, we may distinguish blending forms of spoken-written language (instant messages also known as IMs) by highlighting the entirely visible new system of spelling and punctuation replacements; connectives are eluded, while breaking the rule of the cooperation principle can be noticed, too. Therefore, last but not least, I shall embark on analyzing the way the Internet chat environments and their inhabitants break H.P. Grice's maxims of conversation: of quality, of relevance, of quantity and of manner.

Finding out what is happening to these maxims is not an easy task in the Internet world. The most difficult problem to tackle is the status of anonymity which can be inherent in the electronic medium because, once connected to the Internet, people can hide their identity and status, especially in the chatrooms and virtual worlds. The most important reason to operate behind a false persona, like nicknames, seems to be the loss of inhibitions; information about sex, age, location is asked for and given. Gender still remains a sensitive issue of the 21 st century technology; therefore, it has given rise to the blended terms: morf(male or female), and sorg (straight or gay). Multiple and conflicting notions of truth therefore coexist in Internet situation, ranging from outright lying through pretences of which the communciators are mutually aware, to playful trickery. Here are some circumstances which undermine the maxim of quality(9).

The first odd situation would be the action of spoofing(10) (1). A spoof is any message whose origin is suspect. Unattributed utterances may be introduced into world conversation, leading the users - generally, virtual gamers - into a total confusion, or worse, disrupting the conversation. Some groups insist on displaying the identity of the spoofer, such as making the sender add his/her nickname afterwards. Because there is no way of knowing whether the content of a spoof is going to be true or false(11), such utterances introduce an element of anarchy(12) into the co-operative principleof conversation. Similarly, bogus newsgroups(13) (2) represent unauthorized postings that do not belong to any of the Usenet collections of discussion groups and, therefore, they are automatically erased by programs specialized in detecting such software errors or in identifying sneaky users' way of keeping away from official procedural methods to create these Listserv mailing lists.

A third situation would refer to playing tricks on the newbies, i.e., trolling(14) (3) a group of chatters or an entire on-line conference. To send a trollmeans to send a message for the purpose of causing irritation. For example, someone who wants to troll a group of pet lovers might send a message consisting of minutely describing tortures to dogs, then sit back to enjoy the mostly expected reactions. This is undoubtedly false information, deliberately introduced into a conversation to see who falls for it. On the one hand, people who do respond and do not correct the misinformation are mostly conscious of the communicative disruption that can result; on the other hand, if the users feels too bothered with the troll, they laconically reply: 'nice troll' (similar to the ordinary expression, 'nice try') to the instigator. Similarly, a message like, 'you have been trolled' (YHBT), can be sent to the responder.

Another case in point worth mentioning here is the chatfly(or cyber barfly) event (4) which refers to users hanging out in a chatroom and chatting up a storm with anyone who will respond. The purpose of a cyber barfly is not for the sake of starting an interesting debate on a certain topic but just for the sake of spending more time online. Last but not least, there are several actions that can undermine the maxim of quality like the host's strong wish to 'kick, freeze, spec or ban' impolite chatters. If any chatter does not comply with the common rules of chatiquette, he can be temporarily removed, that is, he is kicked from a chatroom, or specced, meaning that hewilllose the permission to type in the respective chatroom. The worst thing that can happen is the host's decision to block (temporarily or permanently) the chatter's authorization to chat there and to ban his 'presence' (under the same nick, because a smart chatter can sign in again under a new nickname). Individuals creating problems for prolonged time periods will be considered for a long-term ban, lasting up to a week, with a month being the most common length. Inappropriate behavior, topics, or language are the most common causes of these actions. Another fine example is the action to 'blammo' any user when he is misbehaving, and it means that the respective user/chatter is forcibly removed from the interactive system.

There is another case of not being able to chat properly because you may be disconnected from the Internet and/or the chat for no apparent reason. This type of action that breaks the maxim of quality when chatting is called moof (5)in the unique world of chatters that has developed a new terminology and applied chat-specific meanings to familiar words.

The maxim of relevance(15) refers to the fact that contribution should clearly relate to the purpose of exchange. Then, what is the purpose of the Internet exchange? The Internet is intended to provide an infinite amount of information: for example, its purpose is to search for information about a specific topic on the Web. The maxim of relevance on the Internet is broken by the process of spamming or junk e-mail abuse (6); it refers to the sending of unwanted messages (esp. of commercial, advertising or religious interest) of excessive. Spams represent off-topic(16), abusive means to advertise something on the Internet; the result of getting them into one's inbox is the so-called electronic product of 'junk-mail'. Junk e-mail is often sent as 'spam' - a single e-mail message broadcast to hundreds or thousands of unsuspecting recipients - and is also usually 'anonymous' in that you cannot write back to the address that is listed as the sender of the message in most of the cases. Junk e-mails as well as spams - the latter has recently grown and developed into an awfully exasperating e-phenomenon - are considered to be an intrusion in any Internet user's life because either directly or indirectly, we are paying for every junk e-mail message we get. Another great disadvantage would be that the more junk e-mail that gets sent, the more time and space it takes on a service provider's network and the more Internet traffic it creates.

Another illustrative situation of unsolicited mails that breaks the relevance maxim is represented by the so-called meatloaves (7) consisting of jokes and anecdotes circulated to friends or office colleagues via group e-mail lists. Unlike spams, they are defined as unsolicited personal e-mails because they reflect the fact that most messages are 'homemade'.

The maximof quantity(17) is also often undetermined in Internet situations. A good example may be the action of lurking, i.e., a refusal to communicate (8). Lurkers or the so-called ghosts are represented by people who access a chatgroup and read its messages but, who, for different reasons (reluctance to be involved, voyeurism, academic curiosity or even shyness), do not contribute to the discussion(18). The opposites of lurkers are the so-called blatherers(19) (9) who need three screens instead of three sentences to express their ideas; although they make a contribution, it is more informative than needed since they keep on typing when writing a newsgroup posting or conversing in a chatroom. Similarly, the term, jabbers (10), points to transmitting meaningless information via networks. If you get bored and do not want to be bothered again, you may choose the ignore button which is the most useful feature of chat. When you put any chatter on the ignore button, you will not see any public or private messages (whispers) from this person as long as he remains in the chat room, as seen in the picture below. 

Fig. 2

In the same way, users have the option to block any unwanted incoming messages in their inbox. The bouncing command is another way to fool the abusers of your inboxes. Despite the fact that the message environments, be they instant or not, are constantly developing, there are situations, however, when these commands of protecting yourself from losing time and money unwillingly are totally and completely inefficient.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Similarly, the maxim of manner(20) is seriously challenged by the way some Internet situations operate. In this sense, Web designers constantly talk about the importance of 'clear navigation' around a page, between pages in a site, and between sites, with the aim of providing unproblematic access to sites, clear screen layouts, and smoothly functioning selection options (for searching, help, further information, etc.). But the amateurishness of many Web pages means that the maxim of manner is repeatedly broken. An angry fruit salad(21) (11), for instance, is used to characterize a Web site with too much animation and too many video clips that impede any user's quick search because of the long waiting times to download. An exhausting time consumer which is straining the Webers' patience is represented by the so-called burst pages (12) that make extensive use of too muchaudio-visual material on the Web. The opposite of such annoying interfaces is the so-called spiff and, because this program has a pretty, clever, and an exceptionally well-designed interface, it cannot be discussed here as breaking any conversational rules or maxims.


1.3 Conclusions

A final conclusion is that netspeaks or chat-texts are informal as we have demonstrated; experimental conversations between participants experimenting with various personae and with a new linguistic repertoire of codes and abbreviations are ubiquitous in this kind of environment. More than that, chatters have blended the expressiveness of natural language with its representational form. I mean chatters' conventions (the use of smileys or emoticons) for expressing feelings, gestures and facial expressions through writing, this proving to be a kind of interpersonal communication distinct from our general knowledge of face-to-face conversation.

The electronic language or e-jargon, the form here under discussion, does not only point to the discourse between message senders and receivers separated in time and place, but it may be used as an umbrella term for any kind of human-computer interaction, starting from any piece of language that deals with computers and their interface, whether it refers to the internet jargon, or computer-user jargon or chatters' linguistic interaction.

Thirdly, the study has striven to demonstrate the users' ability to adapt their commonvocabulary background to meet the demands of the new electronic situations and, more than that, to creatively exploit its potential to form new areas of expression. Consequently, two principles of language behaviour have been envisaged: minimal effort and performance principle to show the 21st century language dynamics.

More than that, the paper has forwarded a special (novel and above regulated common norms) way of thinking of the world in its fully active interaction with a new technology and its major participants: the Third Millenium teenagers and young people. Therefore, the language analysed may be characterised, above all, as extremely original and spontaneous.

Last but not least, human-computer-mediation envisages new English varieties that have been created between the e-mailers and the chatters. Due to this, chatters have learned to adapt new ways of command, to acknowledge power relations, and to have respect for skills and status (available, busy, on the phone, idle, offline, etc.). As seen, deceit, duplicity, and disguise have all become possible in the chat-texting world as the 'keyboard generations'(22 ) (credits to Dr. Randall, Lingo Online: The Language of the Keyboard Generation. 2002) and their environments have developed various strategies in representing and interpreting their actions because they are naturally "adapting to online communication and as a result have learned to speak with their fingers" (Dr. Randall, 2002).

© Anca Irinel Teleoacă ( "Lower Danube" University, Galati, Romania)


(1) David Crystal, Language and the Internet, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p.166

(2) Philip E. Margolis, Third Edition, 1999

(3) PhD Bryan Pfaffenberger, David Wall, Bucure şti, Teora, 1999

(4) Victor Pakondi, Bucure şti, Editura Kondyli, 2000

(5) Speech and writing altogether mediated electronically.

(6)The New Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford, Oxford University Press, Edited by Judy Pearsall, 2001, p. 1748

(7) It was developed by Jarkko Oikarinen in Finland in the late 1980s. (Philip E. Margolis, ibid., p. 290)

(8) Slang for a person who has never been online before. It is a chatroom acronym meaning: Person Of No Account.

(9) Try to make your contribution one that is true.
Do not say what you believe to be false.
Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

(10) escrocherie - procedeul prin care se realizeaz ă impresia c ă o transmisie este realizată de un utilizator autorizat. (D icţionar de Calculatoare , TEORA, 1999, p.470)

(11) In a fantasy-game environment, a message might say that a certain player has been eaten by a monster, whereas no such event has really happened.

(12) David Crystal, A Glossary of Netspeak and of Textspeak, Edinburgh University Press, 2004, p. 101.

(13) Bryan Pfaffenberger, David Wall, Dic ţionar de Calculatoare & Internet , Teora, 1999, p.71

(14) a face farse (D icţionar de Calculatoare, ibid., p.504)

(15) Make your contributions relevant.

(16) David Crystal, ibid., p.100

(17) Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purposes of the exchange.
Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

(18) Idem., ibid., p. 68

(19) Michael Quinion, ibid., 1996

(20) Be perspicuos, and specifically.
Avoid obscurity.
Avoid ambiguity.
Be brief.
Be orderly.

(21) Darrel Ince, ibid.,, p.13

(22) chatters


1. Crystal, David, Language and the Internet. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 2001

2. Crystal, David A Glossary of Netspeak and of Textspeak. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press. 2004.

3. Margolis, Philip E. Computer & Internet Dictionary. New York. Random House Websters. Third Edition. 1999.

4. Pakondi, Victor. Dicţionar Internet & Tehnologii World Wide Web. Bucureşti. Editura Kondyli. 2000.

5. Pfaffenberger, Bryan David Wall, PhD. Dicţionar de Calculatoare & Internet. Bucureşti. Teora. 1999.

6. The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Edited by Judy Pearsall. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 2001.

7. Bruner, J., Acts of Meaning, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1990.

8. Burbules, Nicholas C., Th. A. Callister Jr., "Knowledge at the Crossroads: Alternative Futures of Hypertext environments for learning". In Educational Theory, vol. 46. no.1, 1996.

9. Burbules, Nicholas C., Rhetorics of the Web: Hyperreading and Critical Literacy, Allen and Unwin, New South Wales, 1997.

10. Geeraerts, Dirk, Grondelaers, Stephen, Bakema, Peter, The Structure of Lexical Variation. Meaning, Naming and Context, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin - New York, 1994.

11. Goodwyn, Andrew, English in the Digital Age. Information & Communication. Technology & the Teaching of English, Cassell Education, London & NY, 2000.

12. Grice, P. Meaning. Philosophical Review. 1957.

13. Herring Susan (ed.), Computer-Mediated Communication. Linguistic, Social Cross-Cultural Perspectives, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 1996.

14. Mayer, Paul, (ed.) Computer Media and Communication. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 1999.

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Anca-Irinel Teleoaca ("Lower Danube" University, Galati, Romania): Coding & Decoding The Chat World. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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