Monday, September 13, 2010

U save SMS?

When we arrived in Papua New Guinea, the use of cell phones was rapidly increasing.  It had been less than a year since B-Mobile, the national telephone company met it’s first competitor – Digicel – an international company offering mobile phone service.  Now, many parts (though not all) of the country are serviced by at least one of the two mobile phone companies.

Last week I attended a seminar presented by Malinda Ginmaule, a Papua New Guinean who we recently hired as an intern in our linguistics department.  She did a research project as part of her university studies on how mobile phones and specifically text messaging (called SMS here) is affecting language use in PNG.  It was very interesting.

Most people use either English or Tok Pisin (two of the national languages) to send SMS messages, but it is also common to use their local vernacular or a mixture of languages.  Texting is all about efficiency, and so people will use whichever language can say things more concisely.  For example, instead of using the English “come,” you would use the Tok Pisin word “kam.”  Likewise, as in English, numbers are used to shorten words.  The Tok Pisin word “sipsip” (sheep) becomes “sip2” when you are texting.

In Papua New Guinea, most cell service is pre-paid, and you buy “top up” cards to add credit to your phone.  The cell phone companies offer a free SMS service in which you can send a text to a friend, requesting that they donate some of their credits to your phone.  We have often received requests from strangers to send them 20, 50, or even 100 kina worth of credits.  But now people are taking advantage of this free text service to send free coded messages to their friends. 

For instance, requesting 10 kina means “Thank you” (10Q)
Requesting 42 kina means “call me” (a four letter word followed by a two letter word)

Requesting 43 kina means “love you” (a four letter word followed by a three letter word)

Requesting 99 kina means “Night-night” (Good night)

1 comment:

Luke Kabariu said...

awesome article. would you happen to know all the request me codes? from 1 - 99