This article appears in Family magazine February 2018.

As technology evolves, so does communication. “Textisms” are a newer and evolving form of getting a message across in the absence of face-to-face conversation.

“Textisms are the non-standard forms of English that texters sometimes use. These are things like emojis, irregular spellings (sooooo) and irregular use of punctuation (!!!),” said Binghamton (New York) University Professor of Psychology Celia Klin.

More than just shortening “laughing out loud” to LOL, textisms convey meaning and help replace expressive cues.

“In contrast with face-to-face conversation, texters can’t rely on extra-linguistic cues such as tone of voice and pauses, or non-linguistic cues such as facial expressions and hand gestures,” Klin said. “In a spoken conversation, the cues aren’t simply add-ons to our words; they convey critical information. A facial expression or a rise in the pitch of our voices can entirely change the meaning of our words.”

There is a tendency for people to believe that the evolution of language is all in the past, and whatever language was like when they learned it should be the end of the evolutionary process.

“Not so! We don’t speak or write exactly like our great-grandparents did, and our great-grandchildren won’t speak or write exactly like we do,”’ Klin said.

Textisms are constantly being created.

“People develop new words or expressions or textisms when they want to communicate something and don’t have the ability to do so easily. Some years ago, words such as ‘asap,’ ‘p.m.’ and ‘FBI’ contained periods, but their unpunctuated versions are standard today,” Klin said. “The ... divergence from formal written English that is found in digital communication is neither arbitrary nor sloppy. Because digital communication provides limited ways to communicate nuanced meaning, especially compared to face-to-face conversations, people have found other ways to do this.”