Why Does My Dad Text So… Weird?

I’m sure many people my age can relate to feeling like their parents text in a weird way (if they even text at all). They always capitalize the beginnings of their sentences, they use ellipses in weird places, and they definitely don’t understand what certain emojis mean. But how come they have a completely different notion of texting than we do?

It would be easy to just justify the way older people (for the sake of a better categorization) text by just saying that they don’t understand or don’t follow trends the same way younger people do. This might be partially true for some, but it’s not the whole story.

What’s up with the way parents text?

The biggest difference between our generations is that most people my age were born when informal written communication had already been established as a “real thing”, or, at least, something very common. We learned it subconsciously when we started to use the internet and to communicate via texting or online chatting at quite a young age. For most of our parents, however, online communication was a skill they had to learn probably somewhere in their twenties, when emailing became a part of people’s everyday lives. Before that, most of the written communication that was present in their lives was much more formal than we are used to, like letters sent through snail mail that had proper conventions for how they should be written. When our parents’ generation moved on to using online communication, they took these conventions with them. For example, as I’ve discussed with my dad, for him, it “feels right” to type in a grammatically correct way even when texting – after all, that’s how he was taught to communicate through writing when he was in school.

A classic text conversation with my dad

In this text conversation with my dad, for example, you can see how he finishes even one-word answers with a full-stop when he responds to my questions. For most people my age, this comes off as cold and as if the person writing this is mad or unhappy when answering the questions I am asking, but for my dad it just feels like the polite way to answer in written communication. Doing some research on the phenomena of using a full-stop in written communication, and why it has such connotations of seriousness, I came across many articles discussing text speech. The consensus seems to be similar to what I already had heard from my dad – that for older people, the conventions for texting are similar, if not the same, as the conventions for other written communication; thus, they are not very comfortable with being “informal” in written communication.

Is online communication ruining written language?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard people (who are usually a bit older) complaining about how teenagers and young people are “ruining” language, especially when it comes to using slang, abbreviations in texting, and many other things. A quick Google search will show article after article debating this idea that not using “proper grammar” (whatever that means…) will somehow lead to the extinction of “the right way to write” or even language as a whole.

However, if you ask any linguist, they will reassure you that this, in fact, is not the case. So, what exactly is happening in online communication that is pushing people to not write “grammatically correct”?

Though there are many answers to this, what it mostly comes down to (when talking about informal communication) is that we are trying to imitate real-life spoken communication. In his video on texting, Tom Scott talks about how people try to imitate intonation in written communication in order to have a more realistic conversation. This means that new conventions have come about that have become a part of the way we communicate through texting, which look much different than what our parents’ generation are used to. Capitalizing certain letters conveys stress, using capital letters means that what is being texted would probably be said loudly, and spelling doesn’t always matter. In short – online communication could be classified as its own way of speech; an online dialect.

A text conversation with my friend (from about a year ago, complaining about quarantine life)

These new conventions can be hard to understand if you have not been exposed to them; for someone like my dad, it probably looks like my friend in this text communication hasn’t paid enough attention to type correctly, when, in fact, what she has texted has been written in her “online dialect” that I am able to read in the intonation that she probably was trying to convey. For younger people nowadays, this has become the standard way to talk online, and, as long as we understand it and use it, it is probably not going anywhere.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, for one, what we should all keep in mind when texting is to be aware of our recipient’s use of language online. Your dad probably won’t understand the newest internet jargon, but that does not mean that you should feel discouraged from using it with people who do understand it. Written online communication is a prominent part of our daily lives now more than ever, and if you want to use it to its full advantage, you probably shouldn’t feel too ashamed of your “online dialect”.


Why Your Parents Suck At Texting by Answer in Progress

why texting like this is sometimes okay. by Tom Scott

Is it The End For Full Stops by Trisha Dunbar