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Thursday, October 30, 2014 (read 2838 times)

SMS Texting in Spanish

by David


Hla, q tal? Xdon x scribr d sta mnera xo ste puede ser km hblamos n l futuro. Translation: Hola, ¿qué tal? Perdón por escribir de esta manera porque este puede ser cómo hablamos en el futuro.

This may look like some secret code from A Brilliant Mind, but this is, in fact, the language used today by people texting in Spanish. Today in Spain, according to the 5th annual Report on Apps in Spain, people are messaging more than they are talking by more than 2 to 1.  Thanks to the popularity of smart phones and cheap data plans, people enjoy free texting online using their cell phones to message rather than talk. Curiously, Spanish words and Spanish phrases continue to be butchered even though on most messaging apps there enough space to write a message without having to worry about running out of characters—something all too common in the days of normal texting when we were limited to 160 characters—and paying for each message that we sent out.

SMS texting began 22 years ago and was the newest of the new along with brand new Nokia phones that were the leader in function and design. But SMS technology wouldn’t be rolled out to all users until 1999. Around then, cell phone plans were (and in many cases continue to be) very costly, especially in Spain, and coverage was still sketchy. Sending a message was a cheaper alternative to calling, especially if the subject of the communication didn't require a conversation. Until the advent of online messaging services, the price for an SMS in Spain was very expensive and was even more costlier when compared to other neighboring countries. This was due to the virtual monopoly by the phone company Telefonica. When other companies like Vodafone and Orange finally emerged as competitive alternatives, the prices didn't fall as expected. In fact, in 2008 the justice system ruled that the three companies were guilty of collusion and in 2012, the three companies were sentenced to pay a fine of $159 million for price fixing from 2000 to 2009.

Today, with the surge in Virtual Mobile Operators (OMV in Spanish), which are discount phone companies that resell the larger companies' phone services, there is more competition and better prices for the Spanish consumer. The first OMV's appeared in 2001 but they didn't begin to gain traction in the Spanish market until the European Commission proved that the major operators in Spain had an unfair market advantage. In 2006, thanks to this impulse, the large companies were forced sell their services to OMV's without creating impediments in their services. The first to jump in was the supermarket chain Carrefour with Carrefour Movíl followed by Euskatel and Happy Movíl.  Today, there are around 25 OMVs operating in the Spanish market with most offering inexpensive rates for data and cellular communication.

The timing of this liberalization in the mobile market also coincides with the decline in use of the SMS as a principal form of communication. In 2009 there were a total of 11 million SMS messages sent in Spain compared to 8.9 million in 2010 (a 16% decline). In 2011 there were a total of 8.3 million messages sent and what was once a boon to cellular providers has since become a bust. Thanks to services like Apple´s iMessage app and cross platform app Whatsapp, the need to text with a cost associated to it has gone by the wayside. In 2011, while the number of SMS messages was in freefall, Whatsapp, which had just launched its messaging app, was already seeing 1 billion messages being sent per day in the month of October. In December of that year, its volume of messages per day had doubled to 2 billion. Due to this brutal change in the messaging market, operators around the world saw $14 billion dollars in revenue disappear practically overnight! Today, in Spain, there over 10 million users of whatsapp and worldwide there are more than 11 billion messages sent through this mobile application per day.

But let us not forget Apple since they are also an important player in the texting market. Even though iOS is only 15% of the total market share in the mobile market (40% in the US), Apple's iMessage is delivering over 2 billion of messages a day. This is especially impressive when we consider that, unlike WhatsApp, iMessage only works with Apple devices within the closed iOS environment. In Spain, according to the 5th annual study "Report on Apps in Spain" indicates that 96% of smartphone owners prefer to chat instead of use the phone for what it was intended—to make phone calls! Of these 96% an astonishing 98.5% use the application WhatsApp for their messaging needs followed by Skype, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and Line.

But if texting today is "free" (we pay for it as part of a mobile data plan) and we use it so frequently why do we still write as though we are limited to those 160 characters of the past 20 years? In apps like iMessage and WhatsApp there are no limits on the characters we can use (plus there are spell checkers and QWERTY keyboards). So it seems as though we could write normally since there aren't any more restrictions (economic or technical) on how we compose our messages. It seems as though TXTSPK is here to stay—for better or worse—and it is not a phenomenon restricted to any one language but instead it is a global trend.

All over the world people are using their thumbs to write messages that are part secret code and part shortcut. Here is a list of some common text speak terms in English to give you an idea of just how creative this system has become.
To see how this SMS language is used here in Spain, click here. Young people are having fun using something that is uniquely theirs and their parents have gone crazy trying to decipher their children's text messages. But what does this all mean? Is the language going to be forever transformed? Will the younger generations that have embraced this shorthand be orthographically illiterate? The jury is still out on how this is impacting the education of young people, but some people believe it won't. One reason is that when we read, our eyes (and brain) scans the text absorbing the familiar and stopping when we encounter something odd or new. By doing this, we have the ability to read around 400 words per minute.

You may have received in your Facebook feed a meme with a paragraph of text that has words that are missing letters, words spelled out of order or numbers substituting letters. Incredibly you can read the text without noticing these inconsistencies. This is an example our brain's ability to process text in a way that is fast and efficient. An article from Matt Davis from the Medical Research Council's Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University (UK) analyzes this popular meme and helps us understand why we are able to read so quickly. What makes textspeak different is that this cognitive reading dynamic changes when we read a message that has been written in SMS language. In these instances, the brain needs to analyze each element—forget scanning and understanding—and we end up having to vocalize the text which is a much slower process.

So while textspeak is probably not going away anytime soon, it probably will not substitute Standard English or Spanish in the long term. Thanks to a self imposed limit created by two engineers back in 1984 working with the E.161 telephone keypad, we have new languages that have developed around the fast and furious world of messaging. Will I ever be able to text like young people today? The answer is an unequivocal "No". I'm pretty much resigned to consult the textspeak dictionaries that I have bookmarked in my web browsers to understand the messages I receive from people half my age.

Do you textspeak or consult textspeak dictionaries? Let us know!

Keywords: spanish words,spanish phrases,sms texting,texting in spanish,sms language,textspeak

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