Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Linguistic features of language of selected teen magazines: general analysis

By Mahani Aris and Mafuzah Aris


Wardhaugh (1992) says that language is both an individual possession and a social possession. When a person behaves linguistically similar to another, we can expect them to belong to the same speech community. By sharing the same language, dialect or variety, individuals in this speech community are said to have achieved group identity and group differentiation from other speakers; creating a specific culture. Teen language is a sub-culture developed by teenagers to differentiate themselves from the mainstream culture, according to Ito (2006, cited in Olsen, 2006). It gives them a sense of identity with its shared codes only understood among them.


The language of teen magazines has always been informal and more personal and speech-like, riddled with slang, clippings and colloquial lexemes. The sentences also tend to be short; even long ones have dashes and commas.


The study focused on selected popular Malaysian teen magazines in English – Hot, Seventeen, and Galaxie. The research methodology for this study is corpus analysis, where the content of these magazines are put into digital format for the purpose of analysis.

Because there are many aspects of the language in teen magazines that can be analysed, the study focused on only linguistic features to create personal and speech-like communication – use of punctuation marks to create effect of pause, use of capitalization and exclamation marks to create effect of emphasis, use of asterisks to create effect of gestures and indicate curses, and use of interjections.

1.  Punctuation marks to create effect of pause

By writing convention, dashes are used instead of colon or semicolon to mark off a summary or conclusion, and to separate extra information, an afterthought or comment of the preceding statement. Dots, or a series of full-stops (usually three) are used to indicate omitted portion of a sentence and hesitation or interrupted speech.

In spoken communication, pauses usually indicate that the speaker is thinking of his/her next words, or for “dramatic effect” – making the listeners anticipate his/her next statements.

For example,

the most nominations this year – 10. To date, Em is busy the main source of entertainment – updating me on news
what happened to the red carpet – Cameron Diaz is wearing it
can always expect to see its stars – Robert Pattinson, Taylor
show with two change of outfits – a one-shoulder cocktail

much. As I look closely, nothing. It’s such a weird it’s all in vain, for any of usand I don’t think anyone
trying to get my attentionI ended up in detention
“Ladies and gentlemen we are officially done.
that they were assembling I would have done it
as they may be for me would be extremely problematic
C’mon, give me a break Please?

As we can see from the examples above, while the use of dashes follows the writing convention, the use of dots in the teen magazines are used to indicate a pause – contemplation on the part of the writer. In both instances, readers are required to pause at the punctuation marks, as how the sentences would sound like in spoken communication.

2.   Capitalization and exclamation marks to create effect of emphasis

Generally, in written communication, capitalization is used to indicate importance, calling for the attention of the reader to the statement. Exclamation mark on the other hand, is used at the end of the sentence of indicate anger, surprise, joy or other strong emotions.

Because the written words lack intonation and stress like spoken communication, to indicate excitement and emphasis, teen magazines are found to use capitalization and exclamation marks.

For example,

Calf-length skirts are IN! showing off skin is NOT the way you want to get his
to make a mind blowing first impression on ANYONE
You can NEVER go wrong with a SMILE…it’s the easiest
all this will help you to project CONFIDENCE
think I was gonna be the troublemaker? LOOK MA!!! No CUFFS!!!”
Dear tabloid media aka FILTH: pls note I expressed and
Most, if not ALL popsters welcome deals w/products
Once AGAIN stop pitting artists against artists for your

Exclamation mark
Imagine! One movie! Yes! It is my new jam! Obsessed! Can’t quit dancing on the set! Go check it!
Steven reiterated that he should be forgiven because he was busy touring!
Put it away! If it’s too much it’s just vulgar!
Whether as a vampire or human, Ashley Greene is dazzling!
Look, it’s Taylor Lautner’s long lost brother!
I’m so lucky! What are the odds of being in
why we haven’t heard about this film, given its disturbing theme!

From the capitalization examples above, we can see that capitalization is used to create the effect of emphasis. In its spoken equivalence, the speaker would apply stress to these words to bring attention to their importance.

Exclamation marks in teen magazines, as mentioned above, are used to indicate strong emotions. What type of emotions needs to be understood from the content of the entire article or sentence itself. Teen magazines are very clear when it comes to indicating what they are feeling – it’s a question of how much. Therefore, exclamation marks are used to tell the readers the degree of these strong emotions.

3.  Asterisks to create effect of gestures and indicate curses/profanity

If there’s one thing that written communication completely lacks, it is the use of gestures. This unique spoken communication feature, however, has found its way into the written communication with the use of asterisks. Originated from the internet chat, the use of asterisks this way is still considered informal.

For example,

someone behind him? *Turns*. Nope, it’s him Februalia which was meant to atone for sins! *gulp*
when your reach for that pretend lint on his shirt! *wink*
whose pants are on the ground! *wink*

We can see from the example above that to create effect of gestures, a verb is placed between asterisks. This is understood to indicate that the verb is not a content word as part of the sentence, but more as to specify an action that the writer “is doing” in the context of his/her writing. It creates a sense of spoken communication.

Asterisks are also used to in place of letters in curse words, except the first letter (and some cases, the final letter too). Given that it’s teen magazines in Malaysia, we would think that curse words would not have found their way there, but they did.

On being called a b****by one of her fans my music but I couldn’t give a s**t about what they think
sorry for calling Alan Shearer a s*** manager after the fact
Soon-to-be mummy still kicks a** in the pop charts
the other simply kicks a**! Hellcats?
“All of my songs are f**king amazing,” she explained.
“I like crazy people who don’t give a f**k,” he said
as she told Jimmy Kimmel: “I don’t watch that s***.”

From the examples above, readers can easily understand what the curse words are from their first letters. Although cursing is not limited to only spoken communication, it generally is not found in formal writing where extreme emotions or careless choice of words is not the norm. Therefore, the use of curses here creates a speech-like language – people say what they want to say according to what they are feeling at that time. An interesting point about this is, the curse word “fuck” are only found in quoted speech in these magazines. It could be because this curse word is considered to be the most offensive in English, and therefore our Malaysian writers would not have used it themselves in teen magazines.

4.  Interjections

While the use of interjections is not entirely unique to spoken communication, their use is very prevalent in the teen magazines.

For example,

Psst…she was even quoted saying Trust us, you are not the only one going “huh?”
Aawww…ok so tell us something or rather, anything
Psst…don’t underestimate the talent of our
he didn’t try to get in touch with me again. Phew!
to the judges being positive. (Ouch!) If you haven’t heard
I only have one thing to say to that. EWWWW!!!!

From the example above, we can see that the interjections used are somewhat like a short-cut to expressing emotions in written words. For example,

as opposed to writing:
the writer wrote:
“that was a relief” “phew”, to indicate exhaling (in relief).
“that was disgusting” “ewww!!!!”, to indicate extreme disgust.
“listen, I have more details” “Psst…”, to tell the listener to come closer and get this extra juicy gossip.
“I don’t understand” “huh?” to indicate confusion.
“that hurts” “ouch!” to indicate pain and hurt.

Expression of emotions like this is unique to spoken communication, where lengthy explanation of emotions is a rarity, especially in informal situations. Its use in the magazines creates a sense of informal spoken communication.


The language of teen magazines has always been informal, personal and speech-like. They use many linguistics features to achieve this. Even in the limits of the written language, we have seen that they have done this successfully.

Will this be the written language of the future?


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