Saturday, September 28, 2019

Because Internet: The Bastardization Of English?

Do we communicate differently online than in person?  Do we write differently from how we speak?  Are online communications different than penning written litters or writing books?

Of course, to all of the above. A new book examines how we are now influenced by the Internet’s use of language and how our language is becoming more fluid than ever before.

Because Internet:  Understanding the New Rules of Language presents the view that the rules of language get bent by the Internet and therefore, rather than chide these violations, we must go with the flow.  Accept the changes at rapid speed or remain on the sidelines, voiceless and frustrated.

Gretchen McCullogh, a linguist with a podcast who writes a column for Wired magazine, highlights in her book just how the digital world will transform the English language.  In fact, it already has and will continue to do so.

You may not lol after reading her book.  You may want to tweet something with the hashtag #EnglishScrewed.  But you will feel like you understand the world that now lives on new words spurred by new technologies to describe a cyber-human experience.

The world is changing – quickly.  Perhaps no faster than in how we communicate online – and what we say – with letters, words, emojis, and punctuation (or their lack thereof).

“Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed, while we adapt our conversations to meet character limits and conduct our public debates via @replies," says the book's jacket copy. "But social media isn’t just an engine of linguistic change – it’s also a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch our language evolve in real time,” says the bock’s jacket copy."

Indeed, who needs a dictionary, grammar or style book anymore. Just let the world collectively show us, in everyday usage, how we should speak properly Emoji here, acronym there, cap letters, or slang there and look, you have shared what you wanted and someone understood you.  Or did they?

I agree that English and writing styles evolve over time but I don’t believe that we crash the system to evolve and pay hefty weight to how the ignorant choose to grunt at us.  Take your misspelled, emoji-laced, unedited, incoherent word vomits and filter them until they conform to not only the standards of English, but of how normal, sane, reasonable people talk!

Some sample excerpts from the book include these:
1.      “The Internet, then, makes language change faster because it leads to more weak ties, you can remain aware of people who you don’t see anymore, and your angst to know people who you never would have met otherwise.  The phenomenon of a hashtag or funny video going viral is an example of the power of weak ties when the same thing is shared only through strong ties, it ends up merely as an inside joke.”

2.      “The first year that over half of Americans used the Internet was 2000, according the Pew Research, although usage rates were already over 70% for those that were college-educated or between the age of eighteen and twenty-nine.  In 1995, a mere, 3 percent of Americans had visited a web page, and only a third had a personal computer.”

3.      “The first iPhone come out in 2007, and American smartphone sales first surpassed sales of non-smart cellphones inn 2011, with the same shift happening globally in 2013. Most of us find that it’s worth trading away some privacy for the sake of having a life.  Instead of embracing hermithood, we seek a balance: one study found that people differentiated between the kind of information that they’d share in a post versus in a chat message rating information about their hobbies or favorite TV shows as less intimate and therefore more likely to be shared in a post than their fears, concerns, and personal feelings, which they preferred to share in a private message, if at all.  In other areas people disagreed, such as about the privacy of political or religious opinions and life events like births or marriages, which probably explains why it sometimes feels like others are oversharing or overly reticent.” 

4.      “We’re used to the idea that language changes, at least somewhat.  One generation’s new slang is another’s tired cliché.  We don’t talk like Shakespeare.  And so on.  But what’s less apparent is that macrolevel conversation norms have changed and will keep changing.  Sometimes they change because new technology arises; sometimes the underlying technology is practically unchanged but its social context is different.  Telephones changed our greetings, and smart-phones changed them again.  Business communication spent a whole century getting less ornate, from memos to emails to chat.  Posts have a long and complicated relationship with the public sphere.  Chat became more intimate and conversational as more people started using it.  Videochat may be switching in the opposite direction: becoming more like a third place hangout with the rise of video “chilling” apps like Houseparty, which lets you drop in on a group videochat with whichever of your friends happen to be around.  The current configuration of sites that provide us with first and second and third places has changed before and will, in all likelihood, change again, but the appeal of having friends in your pocket is unlikely to go away.”

5.      “We know that language as a human ability is so very old – some hundred thousand years older than any form of writing – and what that means is that language is incredibly durable.  We know that we’ve met many societies without any form of writing system, but we’ve met any without spoken or signed language at all.  Furthermore, linguistic complexity is unrelated to the complexity of the material culture it comes from.  Language has existed with or without all kinds of technology – writing, agriculture, aqueducts, electricity, industrialization, automobiles, airplanes, cameras, photocopiers, televisions – and the internet is no exception.  In fact, language’s only known predator is other people:  many languages have been stamped out or imposed on others through war or conquest.”

6.      “The changeability of language is its strength:  if children had to copy exactly how their parents spoke in order for language to be transmitted, language would be brittle and fragile.  It would be losable, the way that ancient techniques for art or architecture can be lost.  But because we remake language at every generation, because we learn it from our peers, not just our elders, because we can make ourselves understood even though we all speak subtly different personal varieties, language is flexible and strong.

“But now that we can think of language like the internet, it’s clear that there is space for innovation, space for many Englishes and many other languages besides, space for linguistic playfulness and creativity. There’s space, in this glorious linguistic web, for you.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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