Does “Rick Rolling” Ring a Bell?
What does it mean that some people, instead of just saying “by the way,” use its acronym “btw” (which actually takes fewer syllables than saying the entire phrase, fyi)? Some may say that it’s sad evidence that our language is being polluted, while others may say it’s just a reflection of modern times. Which ever side of the language debate you’re on, there’s no denying that the Internet has changed how we speak and talk. Here are a few things that have happened to the English language, thanks to the wonder of the world wide web.
1. It’s Creating a Cultural Divide
During the trial of the man suspected of hacking into Sarah Palin’s email account, 4Chan creator Christopher Poole was called to the stand. The judge preceded to ask him a bevy of questions about certain Internet terms the lawyers didn’t know, such as “rickrolling,” “lurking,” and “trolling.” Internet lingo is something that constantly grows and evolves, and only the most dedicated Internet users are the most fit to keep up. This causes a cultural divide between different groups. And as tech reporter Zoe Kleinman points out, just as the lawyers in that courtroom had their own special language, Poole was representing a group with a different language of their own.
2. It’s Creating New Language Communities
Within the vast world of Internet vocabulary, there are also subgroups with their own distinct words. The Economist writes that more regional dialects are now being preserved, thanks to their use on social media sites—being written down is giving them a staying power that they lacked before.
3. Its Vocab Is Creeping Into the Dictionary
If a word sticks in society’s wordbank for at least five years, then it wins a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary. Therefore, abbreviations such as TMI and WTF are there, but OMG is not. But Fiona McPherson, the editor of the new words group at the dictionary publisher, points out that abbreviations are hardly a new introduction to the dictionary’s pages. “TTFN [ta ta for now] is from the ITMA (It's That Man Again) radio series in the 1940s."
4. It’s Creating New Words
The Internet is also now a breeding ground for new words—ones that have been tweaked or combined to become something new altogether. Leetspeak, for example, uses numbers for l3tt3rs in some of its words. “LOLcats”? That term would have raised many a confused eyebrow if it were seen in 2001. “Google” is now a verb, but once upon a time, it was just the humble name of a search engine that was giving AskJeeves a run for its money. And with the rise of Twitter, there’s an entirely new way of communicating. Hashtags allow people across the world to sound off on a particular topic and expand on the content of their Tweets while still remaining in their 140-character limits.
5. And Reinventing Old Ones
Words that we commonly use today when talking about the Internet had a different meaning, once upon a time. “Wireless,” for example, was used in the 1950s to talk about a radio. Likewise, “social networking” often meant the face-to-face kind; it didn’t conjure images of Facebook statuses and Tweets. “Spam” usually now conjures up images of emails saying you’ve won $1,000, instead of the canned stuff in the grocery store.
6. It Spells Things Out for Us
Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without talking about the Intenet’s effect on spelling. There hasn’t been much recent research on this topic, but what’s been released is unsettling. According to a 2010 study conducted by the English Spelling Society, more than 20% of young people ages 18-24 reported they wouldn’t feel comfortable writing an important email without a dictionary or spellcheck. With the rise of Google’s auto-fill-in and our use of autocorrect, it remains to be seen how children growing up with these conveniences will be affected by them.
7. It’s Blending English With Other Languages
English is currently the most common language on the Internet, and non-native speakers are blending it with their mother tongues to create hybrid versions of English: Hinglish (Hindu and English), Konglish (Korean and English), etc. The Internet is also preserving certain regional dialects, such as Southern English, that previously would have faded. This is because the Internet lets these dialect speakers write down their unique words and phrases.
The Internet has spawned a language revolution, the likes of which have never been seen before. With new technology and advancements being made every few years, it remains to be seen how language may evolve even more as we continue on to the future. And since these advancements change so fast, it may only be a matter of time before words such as “OMG” are quaint relics of the past.
How do you think the Internet has changed English?
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