Washington, May 15 : As a concerned parent you might feel like shouting OMG! (Oh, My God!) when you see your teenage kid submerged in the newest lingo in town, Instant Messaging (IM), but here's something that certainly will cheer many more like you - a new study suggests that the online shorthand actually represents "an expansive new linguistic renaissance".
Sali Tagliamonte and Derek Denis at the University of Toronto, Canada, say teenagers risk the disapproval of their elders if they use slang, and the scorn of their friends if they sound too buttoned-up.
But instant messaging allows them to deploy a "robust mix" of colloquial and formal language. In a paper to be published in the spring 2008 issue of American Speech, the researchers argue that far from ruining teenagers' ability to communicate, IM lets teenagers show off what they can do with language.
"IM is interactive discourse among friends that is conducive to informal language, but at the same time, it is a written interface which tends to be more formal than speech," says Denis.
He and Tagliamonte analyzed more than a million words of IM communications and a quarter of a million spoken words produced by 72 people aged between 15 and 20.
They found that although IM shared some of the patterns used in speech, its vocabulary and grammar tended to be relatively conservative.
For example, teenagers are more likely to use the phrase "He was like, 'What's up?'" than "He said, 'What's up?'" when speaking - but the opposite is true when they are instant messaging. This supports the idea that IM represents a hybrid form of communication.
Nor do teens use abbreviations as much as the stereotype suggests: LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my god), and TTYL (talk to you later) made up just 2.4 per cent of the vocabulary of IM conversations - an "infinitesimally small" proportion, say the researchers.
And rumours of the demise of you would appear to have been greatly exaggerated: it was preferred to u a whopping 9 times out of 10.
Tagliamonte and Denis suggest that the use of such short forms is confined mostly to the youngest users of IM.