Online lingo: Is there a grammar of affective particles?
In instant messaging and texting, my students detect a clear distinction between the use of lol (laugh out loud) and a smiley : ) either standing on a line of its own (i.e., as a whole utterance) or at the end of an utterance, as in:
You’re a real stud muffin! lol
You’re a real stud muffin! : )
The lol version is ironic and makes it unambiguously clear that the writer is teasing. The same message but with a smiley at the end is more ambiguous—the writer could just be teasing, or might be expressing that he/she really does think you are a stud muffin and is expressing admiration. There seems to be a nascent grammar of affective particles like these.
However, when we change the matrix sentence, this distinctiveness seems to be lost. Consider this pair of messages, in which both lol and : ) function (I think) as hedges:
You’re a real jerk lol
You’re a real jerk : )
So, one question I have is whether this difference in value is due to the positive/negative pragmatic polarity of the message (in this case praise versus insult) or if there’s something else going on that would become clearer with more examples.
My second question is whether lol has a narrower functional range in speech than it does in writing. Over the years, written lol has spawned literally hundreds of variations (e.g., lololol, loooooolll, ;llooolll), I did it for the lulz, and so on), as well as whole genres of expression such as ‘lolcats’, in which photos or images of cats in humorous positions and circumstances are captioned in lolcat speak, such as i can has t3h kibbls plz?? Recently, lol has become increasingly used in speech, pronounced L-O-L or “lole” or “lall” or plural “lolz” (with variants such as lolsies or lolzors). When spoken, however, lol tends to be used only sarcastically or ironically rather than to mean that something is genuinely funny. And this seems to be the case in other languages (at Egyptian Arabic and French) as well. In your experience do you find this to be the case? Do you know of other languages in which lol can be used in speech?