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5 Ways The Internet Is Changing English

Sep 2014

Language ,

English is incredibly adept at absorbing new words and phrases. Other languages are tasteful scarves – English is a giant patchwork quilt. WIth the biggest vocabulary of any language in the world, being an idiosyncratic mix of Germanic and Romance languages – the internet age is only adding to it.   


The original selfie.
He totes used a filter.

1. A Whole New Word

New technology often engenders new vocabulary. With the internet, coinage arises, generally speaking, in three different ways: from how people behave and interact online (linguist Anne Curzan calls this ‘electronically mediated conversation’), trolling and taking selfies; from how the technology facilitates behaviour, with people blogging, googling, liking, retweeting and unfriending; and from the technology itself, with people using apps, as well as all the arcane jargon in the backend of web-design.


2. Hijacking

In the fast-changing world of the internet, words are often repurposed. Most often this means altering the meaning of a word, but could also be using words in different grammatical ways. Ask anyone under a certain age what wireless means and they are not likely to reply that it’s another word for radio, and the term ‘social networking’ has been OED-approved since 1973.

A popular example of how internetspeak uses old words in new grammatical contexts is the because+noun/adjective/verb/adverb formation, with ‘because’ becoming a preposition rather than a subordinating conjunction. It’s a grammatical jolt normally used by bloggers attempting to be witty. I won’t explain further, because lazy.


The original wireless.
The original wireless.

3. Time Savers

FYI (for your information), internet acronyms are increasingly popular, with LOL (laughing out loud), OMG (oh my God), and, um FYI, making it into the OED (Oxford English Dictionary – not an internetism) back in 2011. These typing timesavers developed concurrently through internet chatrooms and mobile phone texting. It all started off with simple phonetic substitutions (Person 1: r u feeling OK? Scottish person 2: i, im gr8), as well as direct requests and dry explanatory slang on chatrooms and dating sites, like ASL (age, sex and location) and BRB (be right back). Nowadays that has evolved considerably, with the acronym YOLO being a slogan for a whole generation.

yolo only

Although uncommon, some people may now use these acronyms in real life, even if they take the same time (OMG) or considerably longer to enunciate WTF (the latter could be said out of politeness). Some might even use LOL in place of natural laughter, but then an enlightened judicial system would ensure that such a person would face a lengthy prison sentence.

Increasingly, academics are interested in these types of abbreviation. A University of Tasmania study showed that while acronym slang saves time for the writer, it actually takes twice as long for the reader to understand. Further research has demonstrated that this actually helps improve literacy skills, especially in younger people. Apparently having to sound out the words phonetically not only aids comprehension and reading ability, but could also improve spelling.


grammar nazi4. Mistakes

a controversial area – the internets responsible for changes too language largely due to peoples’s borderline illiteracy and the way what technologies forces them to communicates. As well as a whole host of unintentional spelin mistaches, it’s now common to see a manic overuse of exclamation marks!!!!! And needless……. ellipsis, with far too many periods.

While linguists and language-lovers are, on the whole, excited by the evolution and recontextualisation of words discussed elsewhere on this list, there is far less enthusiasm for the slow erosion of grammar and standardised spelling. Research by suggests that technology encourages this linguistic decay. In particular, they discovered that microbloggers often sacrifice grammar and spelling as they struggle to fit a thought into Twitter’s 140 characters. Their research further shows that women are the worst offenders, being more prone to type long, effusive ‘aaaahs,’ ‘oooohs,’ and ‘awwwws’.


5. Onomatopoeia

The bane of spelling bee contestants worldwide, onomatopoeia, in case you weren’t paying attention during Standard Grade English, describes a word that sounds like what it is. ‘Haha’ is probably the most common online and is used by people who would rather lose a limb than write LOL.


Let’s keep the evolution, and the conversation going, on Facebook and Twitter!

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