Published: April 2, 2019

The language of texting may be taking romantic relationships into risky territory.

 By Anya Berlova
Course: Language in US Society
Advisor: Maureen Kosse
LURA 2019

Most of us text. A lot. With friends, coworkers, family members, Uber drivers. I bet you’re pulling out your phone right now to send your BFF that awesome joke you’ve been thinking about, or perhaps ask out your crush, or (if you take texting really seriously) break up with your S/O. Texting is everywhere, so it made me wonder: can it bring people closer or form a barrier between them? I decided to investigate the sociolinguistics of texting in the most risky territory possible: romantic relationships.

Brigham Young University researchers Schade and Sandberg (2013) argue that texting is a narrow form of expression that limits emotional understanding between the two sides and creates emotional disconnect. Research by Daniel Turello of the Kluge Research Center (2017) also reveals that the lack of “standardization in sign deployment” for emojis can lead lead to miscommunication. British linguist David Crystal (2008) echoes this concern, stating that the unique linguistic features of the texting language may lead to confusion and frustration if both users do not have an equal understanding of its features.


With this research in mind, I believe that the features used over text, abbreviations and emojis included, may be a form of slang; hence, a way to signify in-group status. A couple may develop certain initialisms, omissions, or emoji phrases that only they understand between each other, in order to discuss certain topics efficiently or prevent understanding by third parties.

Hence, texting may not be a constraint on the expression of thoughts or emotions, unless the two partners belong to different in-groups from which they draw their slang.

Overall, it is important to use texting carefully, as it may not be suitable for all communication purposes.  Shanhong Luo of the University of Northern Carolina (2014) states that partners who rely on texting as their primary form of communication have lower relationship satisfaction and a lesser connection. Noelle McManus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (2018) specifically points out the complex usage of “lol” in serious conversations as a potential signal of passive-aggressive behavior. This may take away the power and meaning of a text, hindering the importance of the conversation.

In order to prevent significant forms of miscommunication, it may be important for users to realize that texting is not necessarily a tool for deep and meaningful conversation. The value of texting lies in its ability to quickly and efficiently convey a thought or emotion, with emojis serving as virtual replacements for non-verbal dialogue and tone of voice.

I have concluded that the texting language may benefit romantic relationships if used with care, but may hinder them if neither side is aware of the potential negative effects texting can bring.