Publication Title

Research in the Teaching of English

Publication Date


Document Type



text messaging, college students, IM, social media, communication, emoticons


Communication Technology and New Media | Discourse and Text Linguistics | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Reading and Language | Social Media


In this article, we examine writing in the context of new communication technologies as a kind of everyday literacy. Using an inductive approach developed from grounded theory, we analyzed a 32,000-word corpus of college students’ Instant Messaging (IM) exchanges. Through our analysis of this corpus, we identify a fifteen-item taxonomy of IM language features and frequency patterns which provide a detailed, data-rich picture of writers working within the technological and situational constraints of IM contexts to creatively inscribe into their written conversations important paralinguistic information. We argue that the written features of IM function paralinguistically to provide readers with cues as to how the writing is to be understood. By writing into the language paralinguistic cues, the participants in our study work to clarify, or more precisely disambiguate, meaning. Through a discussion of four of these features—eye dialect, slang, emoticons, and meta-markings—we suggest how the paralinguistic is inscribed in IM’s language features.


National Council of Teachers of English

Publisher Location

Urbana, IL