The other English language

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Although many other subjects may be in the forefront of current events discussions, one subject circulating strongly in the background is the use of internet or online lingo in standard writing.  I was first directed to the issue through a New York Times article, which reported the findings of a recent study on internet shorthand in students’ writing.  Although the study reported, among other things, that the use of shorthand was on the rise, my initial response was that this was an issue of decorum; to solve this problem, I argued, students and all internet writers simply need to differentiate between formal and informal situations, which in most cases would translate to seeing a difference between educational/professional situations and causal, intimate situations.

However, on a second and more detailed investigation I believe the root of the issue reveals something deeper.  Although the Times article alluded to the fact that the subjects studied didn’t consider their online writing “real writing,” there is evidence that people don’t consider online communication writing at all, real or otherwise. In an expansive study sponsored by MSN Canada, Dr. Neil Randall found that internet-speak constitutes its own unique language.  In short, internet communication is greater than the sum of its parts; it is not merely writing like we speak, it is a combination of writing and speaking that has evolved into something completely unique from writing or speaking.

Evidence of this “unique language” concept abound.  For instance, Google “internet lingo” and a countless number of teaching sites and definitions are at your fingertips.  One blog even caters to parents, and offers to teach parents some popular internet-speak in hope of facilitating communication between them and their college-age children.  It is complete with a quiz!

However, Dr. Randall's report also drives home the point that conventional forms of communication, like traditional writing, still have a permanent place in society.  As in the blog entry by Writing for the Internet professor Dr. Jerz, the explosion of internet lingo is facilitated by its social implications, namely how it can increase the speed and strength at which people, especially teens, can establish social ties.  Thus, the unique form of internet communication isn’t attempting to push out traditional writing, but rather is trying to co-exist in a world where one must use it in conjunction with a differentiation of situations.

It seems as if an odd symbiosis may even be developing between the new internet language and the traditional English language.  Professor David Crystal, who has devoted a book to the effects of electronic communication shorthand on English, says that electronic communication (he centers on texting) has added a couple hundred words to the English language and spurred creativity in expression.

So we’ve got a brand new language on our hands.  Now what do we do with it?  The advent and use of academic blogs certainly speaks volumes about how the academic world is embracing the concept.  Moreover, the development of concrete evaluation and grading techniques shows how online communication and language is emerging as its own unique form. However, educators again stress the need for  traditional grammar and form, but none-the-less encourage internet language through the use of blogs. 

Although some conflict may still remain about the definition and value of internet speak, it is undeniably a force that is impacting modern developments and gaining more and more popularity. I stand behind the idea that it has developed into a unique language that can coexist with traditional English when applied intelligently to appropriate situations.  But as for its longevity and future use, time, and technological development, can only truly tell.



Andy Lonigro said:

I agree with you Jackie. I like what you said at the end, "I stand behind the idea that it has developed into a unique language that can coexist with traditional English when applied intelligently to appropriate situations." I share that view, however, I feel certain individuals, such as MS located on Denamarie's blog, feel this new language is destroying the English we already have. I find this impossible, especially when we look at when and where we should use this new lingo. I believe that it is perfectly fine to take advantage of it when in the write context, just not on an academic essay. I feel that more people need to realize this, especially the "old school" teachers that seem extremely stuck in their ways about any changes, let alone ones in language.

Alex Hull said:

You are the first that I have read that refers to web shorthand as its own language entirely. I agree. It has become it's own sort of language that, in your words, can "coexist with traditional English." Just the fact that there are sites to help parents with online lingo is proof that it is continuing to grow is use.

I agree that it will not override our "traditional" English language. As I mentioned in my comment on Denamarie's blog, secretary shorthand and abbreviations have not conquered our English language yet.

Anne Williams said:

This was an interesting take on the mixing of traditional English language and our development of Internet Language, and how they can coexist together. Many people lay a firm hand on the uses of any so-called internet language in any academic language. But I feel that as long as you explain it or use it in the right context that makes sense with what you are writing about, then it shouldn't be as big of a deal. I have read books where authors purposely use that "unique language" you talk about to make a point in their story, or say it how their character would say it. It definitely catches the readers attention; whether thats in a good way or not is up to the reader.

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