The pundits within us tend to think that spelling has, wholesale, gone down the toilet. Especially on the Internet, nobody can seem to spell correctly. But is that really the case? Let’s not be so dramatic.
Mark Sebba has pointed out a distinction between regulated and unregulated communication spaces, and this continuum is useful for determining the extent to which orthography tends to be flouted in the real world. At one pole, we have printed books, which are heavily edited, in terms of both style and subject matter. At the other end are the completely unregulated spaces, of which graffiti is the most representative. As you can imagine, online social networks tend to fall toward the unregulated end of the spectrum (though we could argue that a service like Twitter is less regulated than Facebook, and that both are much less regulated than LinkedIn).
I think it’s important to point out that the level of regularity of each of these spaces fluxes with each individual interaction. For example, I don’t tweet to strangers in the same way I tweet to friends, and I might take neographic shortcuts in an email to a family member that I wouldn’t to a professor. As we can see, communicative spaces are regulated in terms of social norms and expectations just as much as they are by the characteristics inherent in the platform, such as its history and brand.
So, if you only hang out on Yahoo! Answers, you may well come to the conclusion that the spelling you learned in grade school is dead. But crack open a book every once in a while, and you’ll be able to appreciate that that isn’t the case.
Males and females use language in different ways. Just as speech varies by gender, so do writing conventions. For example, males tend to prescind punctuation (especially the sentence-ending period and all those troublesome apostrophes) when writing in unregulated settings, whereas females tend to preserve punctuation. Females use more ellipses and exclamation marks.
Anecdotally speaking, it seems that females use emoticons more often than males (myself notwithstanding). Indeed, the presence of an emoticon in an unidentified piece of text is likely to be interpreted as a sign that the writer is likely female. But there are plenty of guys who use them. What’s the story?
Witmer & Katzman studied this back in 1997, and they concluded that, yes, females employ emoticons more frequently than males. A few years later, Wolf (2000), asserted that females don’t necessarily use them more often, but the genders do use them in different ways: Whereas females use emoticons mostly to indicate solidarity, males are more likely to use them for sarcasm.
But as emoticons have flowered from typographical arrangements to pre-built emoji, perhaps this research should be updated. Moreover, there’s plenty of stuff left to look into: In what environments do people use emoticons more, and do we see gender differences? (“Environments” here can mean both conversational situations and syntactical environments.) On what devices are people more likely to use emoticons? What about those sticker things—are people using those, and why? And let’s think globally: While findings regarding punctuation have been corroborated in multiple cultures, we haven’t yet compared emoticon habits across cultures.
Guess it’s time to get to work!