A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

Talking points

Posted by candacewhitehead on May 21, 2008

One of my first modules in my Linguistics class in first year was language change and variation. The lecturer suggested that in a matter of years written language could have moved from what we know today to shorthand “SMS” speak. Tracey has discussed this in her blog, so I won’t go into too much detail about it.


Much of what we consider “SMS” speak has developed from the language of the Internet – shorthand written language is extremely common in chat rooms, on forums and over instant messengers (IMs). And that has crept into the language that we use today – phrases such as LOL, WTF and pwned are all products of the Internet.


(And I won’t even go into l33t)


Language, as many linguists will tell you, develops differently according to the social group it operates in. All social groups may develop their own slang, catch-phrases or secret meanings in their speech. Eventually, accents and pronunciation may alter, turning their speech into a different dialect of a particular language.


The same is true of the language of the Internet, on a much larger scale, of course. Research has shown that the most common language of the Internet is English, with most Internet users utilising it for their websites, MySpace pages, IMs and forum personas.


Just as language develops and changes in certain groups and in certain contexts, the language of the Internet has changed, too, marking serious Internet users by the language that they use. For example, it is easy to tell who is a forum n00b by the language that they use. And, like most other groups, the n00b is ostracised until he or she can prove themselves to the larger community, at which time their n00b status may be revoked.

Kind of sounds like high school, but I digress.


Even the use of emoticons (what many people fondly refer to as “smileys”) can be considered an aspect of language use on the Internet (or, as my more computer-savvy friends assure me is the new catch phrase “the Interwebz”). I know people who have had entire conversations with just smileys, and maybe one or two words. 


What does this mean for English, then? Millions of people are on the Internet everyday, altering their language from “I laughed out loud when I saw that she had beaten him” to “I LOLed when she pwned him”.


Linguistic precedent would suggest that the fact that this is happening in Internet language usage now will eventually have an impact on English as a whole. Could this be seen as a development or a regression of the language? The general opinion seems to be that it is a regression. It seems to reduce English to a base form, removing some of the beauty of our language. This has been happening for generations though – slang has always been seen as a degradation of the language – and interestingly enough, some slang from the past has made its way to be accepted forms of our language.


What is most interesting, of course, is that where other languages develop from constant physical interaction with individuals of the same social group, the Internet does not have this. Much of the development of the language on the Internet has come from the written language of forum posts, blogs, IMs and chat rooms.


Internet society, like other social groups, has taken on a large number of its own characteristics, the most obvious of these being their language use. In the next few weeks, I’m going to start looking at the Internet as a social group, and how it could potentially develop to affect even non-users of the Internet.



2 Responses to “Talking points”

  1. What an interesting contribution! I am not sure that English is as widespread or useful as people claim – on the internet or elsewhere.. I would like to argue the case for Esperanto as the international language. It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. Take a look at

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years. Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. In the past year I have had guided tours of Berlin and Milan in the planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend it, not just as an ideal but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers.

    What do you think?

  2. candacewhitehead said

    I think that’s incredible! I had a look at the website you suggested, and it seems great. I’m an avid learner of languages – I can see the advantages of using and learning this. It really does simplify the more complex languages to something potentially more accessible for a number of different speakers. Having studied French, I think, and having some understanding of Spanish, makes the language a lot easier for me, I think.

    What fascinated me most was the fact that works by Shakespeare and other world greats have been translated into Esperanto – I’d really like to get hold of that and see how it works.

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