Perhaps, suggests Michael Erard, a linguist and the author of Babel No More, we’re simply trying to incorporate aspects of verbal speech into our digital communications. “When people talk, they use intonation in a number of varied and subtle ways,” he told me. “There’s a lot of emotional nuance that can be conveyed that you can’t do in writing.”
Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer, notes that elongations, like emoticons and initialisms (OMG! LOL!), tend to flourish in those venues most starved for nuance. “When you’re dealing with IM, texting, and Twitter, those discursive functions that add to the simple message are really crucial,” he said. These tactics suggest that the process linguists call “accommodation”—the way speaking styles converge when humans talk to one another, facilitating both conversation and a sense of common identity—is not limited to spoken communication. “We’re navigating different registers all the time, finding out what’s appropriate,” Zimmer said. But “when those registers don’t match our expectations”—when our best friend begins a text with “Dear Jennifer,” or someone responds Hello to our Hiiiiiii—“that’s when we wonder if things are running afoul.
[…] the brevity, improvisation and in-the-moment quality of e-mails and texts are those grand old defining qualities of spoken language. Keyboard technology, allowing us to produce and receive written communication with unprecedented speed, allows something hitherto unknown to humanity: written conversation. In this sense, they are not “writing” in the sense we are accustomed to. They are fingered speech.
A sense that e-mail and texting are “poor writing” is analogous, then, to one that the Rolling Stones produce “bad music” because they don’t use violas. Note that one cannot speak capital letters or punctuation. If we accept e-mail and texting as a new way of talking, then their casualness with matters of case and commas is not only expected but unexceptionable.