How teenagers show emotion on social media

By Panos Perdiclones

In today’s social media-dominated world, communication has sustained considerable changes. The lack of face-to-face communication, however, means that our already existing llanguage resources need to be reconceptualized; we need to begin anew, to adapt or invent novel uses of this pre-existing linguistic arsenal.

Teens are major inventors of this new code as they use social media on a daily basis. But how do they convey emotions and relations in a rather impersonal context such as a chat room? 

Non-linguistic resources 

No one would ever imagine that facial expressions would once be supplanted by cute yellow faces which smile, laugh, and even throw up! Honestly, they can do anything and except for emoticons, all useful resources are there: meals, flags, animals and so on. You have probably used these tiny images to convey meaningful language without using words, which comes in handy. Apart from that, GIFS are also a valuable tool and oftentimes a pretty funny way to convey feelings. And when you like a message, choose to only read a message or even delete a chat, you probably have no time to spare or even worse, you show him or her the door in a very explicit manner. 

#emojis #emoticons #socialmedia
image courtesy of https://vivaldi.com/

Linguistic resources

It is of great interest how different chats signal different social relations and emotional states. A chat in which young users make use of punctuation, for instance, probably signals a rather formal relationship. Check this out: 

  • Hey. I don’t really know. Ask Ron, ok?
  • Ok sure, I’’ll do it as soon as possible.

Another case of this is when punctuation is used selectively. This would probably be an indication of a more semi-formal type of relationship. 

  • I’ll be there. Right next to the station
  • Ok, don’t be late because I have to leave early

Then, we have the case of informal chats. Teens make use of a variety of linguistic resources to signify their emotional state and intimacy: 

  1. Repetition of the last letter of a word: It seems that the more the last letter is repeated, the more extreme feelings the user has. For instance, a response like “yeahhhhh” and “yeahhh” would signal a rather exuberant user. “Yeahh” could show that the user is ok but not that excited and “Yeah” could be regarded as an abrupt response. So, usually users prefer “Whyy” to show that they are ok and they just ask you the reason why something happened and “why” to show that they are angry or uninterested in the conversation. Of course, this repetition can also be used to show shock, excitement, surprise or event anger as well. 

  2. Capitalization: This method is usually employed to show extreme happiness, surprise, excitement (HELL YEAH!, for example) or extreme anger (WHAT DID YOU DO?). 

  3. The use of full stop: Believe it or not, if a teen uses a full stop, it is not because they wish to signify the completion of a sentence; it is because you have probably driven them up the wall. It seems that because younger users do not use punctuation when writing in chats, they have found a way to show vexation by redefining the use of the full stop. So, a relaxed way to say no would be “Nopee” but “Nope.” strikes way too differently.

  4. Abbreviations: For sure, they are time-savers. Teens have learnt to live in a fast -paced world, so communication has to follow suit. But apart from saving time, abbreviations can also signal anger, or distance among users. Look at how “cold” this chat seems and how distance or lack of interest between users is shown: 
            – Happy Birthday
            – Ty

  5. Meaningless language: Last but not least, teenagers also manipulate capital or lower case consonants to show confusion, awkwardness, excitement, shock and any other extreme feeling. For instance, if you announce that you’ll probably spend your holidays in Eurodisney and you get a reply like “KFGHNMDHDL” or “kwcndvmnklp”, it does not mean that the sender has just fallen from the stairs while messaging you, but it rather signifies that the recipient of your message is excited, shocked or even surprised, to say the least. 

All in all, how some aspects of language have acquired a completely new function on social media is a hugely interesting topic, emerging directly from the constant rise of media usage mainly by teens. 

This should also be of great interest to language teachers – i,e. how quickly they can master this code and method of communicating because they need it and use it for real messages.

Perhaps it’s a message for us as to be more mindful of the need to structure our lessons with their lives and interests in focus…. 

Published by Panos Perdiclones

I’ve been teaching multiple levels in English (A2-C2, ESP, IELTS) since 18 in the private sector and at the age of 22, I graduated from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, attaining my Bachelor’s degree. My passion for methodology led me to attain several TKT certifications, namely TKT Modules 1-3, YL, CLIL and CELTA. Being an avid reader of articles related to linguistics and teaching methodology, I also contribute on a regular basis.

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