A clash of languages over IM (bilingual? trilingual? quadlingual?)

I’ve been IM’g in a work atmosphere for over a year now, with internal and external folks, and still actively networking for tech info, support, etc. That peer group has a fairly well-defined set of etiquette, jargon, and style. In my new company, we are rolling out enterprise IM, and for most folks (including IT!), this is a “foreign language”. (I’m “jpm1234” in the conversations below …)

Challenge #1: I think faster than I type, so I get a bit sloppy and make liberal use of abbreviations; however, “smb” is picking up on the abbrev‘s and translating to “eliminate all vowels” …

jpm1234: uder?

smb2468: I nd a hr or so to fnsh chgs frm ystrdy..i wl lt u kn

jpm1234: k

smb2468: hope u lk

smb2468: grt wkn u hv plnned

jpm1234: nice abbrevs, super hard to read HHH LOL

At which point, I had to stop and call up “smb”, because I’d no idea what he meant by grt wkn.

Challenge #2: The jargon is definitely a leap for some; here’s another exchange with “tlb”, a deeply technical guy who nevertheless has never played with this stuff.

jpm1234: would anubody bust a clot if we installed this IIS app with MSDE SQL Server on a desktop, and allowed the desktop owner’s neighbors to access the guy’s machine direct?

tls5678: Yep. Why would you want to go around the process like that unless you are talking temp until we can go perm.

jpm1234: temp / speed to implement, plus we’re only talking about 5 users total – not a major app

tls5678: Maybe not; but, how does it get supported ? Too many one-offs create a real tough situation

jpm1234: hhh yy

jpm1234: k tx l8r

tls5678: wtf ?

At which point, I had to stop and call up “tls”, because I’d just lost him with the abbrev’s. I cracked him up when I told him what hhh yy meant; it’s more a sound and an attitude that really doesn’t translate well when spelled out (“he he he, yes yes“). At least he knows the important jargon <g>.

The really eye-opening exchange came next. I work with the local IT group in our facility in Mexico, and I’m appreciative (and a bit self-conscious) of “ezz”‘s efforts in learning and speaking English. I’m dredging up my high-school Spanish, and listening to CDs in the car, and it’s sort of coming along. Anyway, we’ve realized that IM is now Yet Another Conduit for communication, but I’ve quickly realized I need to change my style!

Challenge #3: Bilingual text messaging with two folks at different levels of fluency in each other’s native language. This requires less fast-typing in English sentence fragments; when I can work en Espanol, do it, else type out very simple and clear sentences en Englais:

ezz4321: We have problems with e-mail

jpm1234: si, y aqui

ezz4321: So you have problems also

jpm1234: si

ezz4321: ok

jpm1234: I am not sure how long until they will be fixed

jpm1234: I do not know the nature of the problem yet

So far so good – now, I need to watch the abbreviations …

jpm1234: (but [IM] works here, so something must be specific to e-mail)

ezz4321: well is good to know that we are alone with this situation

jpm1234: y

ezz4321: excusme I try to say we are not alone

jpm1234: (i understand) also – sorry – when I type “y” in IM, I mean “yes”, not “and”

jpm1234: I will have to learn to IM en Espanol (ha ha ha)

At which point, I had to stop and call up “ezz”, so we could discuss what I was trying to type, and how to abbrev similarly en Espanol

ezz4321: ok JA JA JA (in spanish)

jpm1234: bye

jpm1234: ad

ezz4321: Adios

jpm1234: ad

jpm1234: jjj

ezz4321: Hasta la vista

jpm1234: jjj

jpm1234: sss

jpm1234: hhh

ezz4321: jjj

jpm1234: ad

So here’s an idea for you hackers out there – how about a plugin for Trillian that calls out to Babelfish and translates for you? A quick google search shows others have asked, and that this may already be in the works.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.