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Research Paper on Internet Language

Internet Language

Many people have heard of the myth regarding children not being able to read or write anymore.  Bauer and Trudgill say that this myth is false and that there has never been a time within written history where there was a set way in which grammar was taught properly—a “Golden Age” (Bauer and Trudgill 66)—and instead, “What has happened is that the modern world requires a much higher level of functional literacy from a greater proportion of the population than in the past.  We are expected to meet higher standards” (Bauer and Trudgill 61).  They go on to further state what actually occurs and has actually happened:

“… children normally learn to read and write at school, they do not learn to speak at school.  The idea that schools are responsible for teaching the basics of spoken English is therefore a myth.  Spoken language is acquired without explicit instruction, and by the time the child goes to school, the basic grammar and pronunciation of the variety of language that the child is exposed to has been largely acquired.  The complaints about declining standards of speaking are not normally about the child’s ability to ‘speak English’ (although they are often phrased in this way), but about the variety of English that he or she speaks… What is at issue is not the child’s competence in speaking English but his/her competence in speaking a variety known as ‘standard English’.  This is equated in the public mind with ‘correct’ English” (Bauer and Trudgill 63).

To get at the heart of the matter, children learn the basic skills of language competence, not from school, but through social encounters: “In a sense, children are the best linguists, analyzing an unknown language and discovering its grammar based solely on evidence presented by experience” (Bonvillian 246).  In this paper I would like to explore the social implications of the Internet.  To me, it is logical that if children learn the basic skills of language competence through social encounters then the Internet, through forms such as instant messaging and chat rooms, and even cell phones, through the use of text messaging, would be socializing children in a new and different way when it comes to the uses of spoken and written language.  I will explore two sides of my created myth:  first, if the Internet has evolved its own language and grammar, and second, if it is influencing individuals when they are disconnected.

First, is the issue of Internet evolution itself? Upon research, I discovered that the Internet is just the culmination of the evolution of language technology, referring both to writing technologies and speech technologies.  Naomi Baron states that, “Technological developments have long affected the nature and use of written [and spoken] language” (Baron 7).  She goes on to speak about the establishment of the printing press fostering standardized grammar and that the invention of the typewriter led to the decline of handwriting.  She explains that the telephone affected speech in that it allowed for a speaker to become freer, more anonymous: “Many speakers [become] less hesitant expressing themselves on the phone than when in physical proximity with their interlocutor” (Baron 7).  Now, in the age of the Internet, these same characteristics are emerging with even greater intensification—with the exception of standardized grammar.  My mother, an English teacher for thirty years, has been steadily noticing the decline in her student’s handwriting and grammar skills:

“When I first started teaching, students always had trouble with comma rules, who doesn’t?  Now, not only do a majority of my students not know comma rules, but capitalization seems to be entirely at random; even their own names don’t appear to deserve to be capitalized.  To a majority of students, there is no difference in levels of usage—whatever they might express to their cohorts in the hallowed hallways (with the exclusion of four letter words), appears to be good enough for the classroom.  Many students don’t even write expressing complete thoughts in a formal paper.  To them, a formal paper is FCAT writes and anything goes, including ampersands rather than and.

Anonymity on the web is the dominant theme due to Internet users utilizing screen names instead of their real ones and the fact that they can be disconnected from their place of origin.

So, there is definite proof that through language and speech technologies that the Internet has evolved, but has it evolved to the point that it has created its own language?  There is proof that the Internet has spawned new words such as google which can be used as an adjective or a noun.  This word’s usage as a noun is obvious, as it is a name for a search engine; however, as an adjective its meaning can be more confusing.  An example sentence would be: “You should go google the Internet to learn more.”  It has also created abbreviations and acronyms to shorten sentence length.  The example would be, “Gr8 but I g2g now!”  Translated, this means, “Great, but I got to go now!”  Baron calls this form of communication SMS meaning short messaging system (Baron 15).  SMS is any form of communication that allows for quick (short) informal conversation with the additional characteristics that they use, “space-saving devices such as abbreviations and truncated syntax” (Baron 15).  There is also evidence that this SMS form of communication is creeping in to actual everyday speech.  I have often heard and used abbreviations such as: “lol” (laugh out loud), “brb” (be right back), and “btw” (by the way).  I usually use this type of language when speaking with my close friends who hold the additional quality of being the people I talk to on the Internet.

A point that still needs addressing is, if the Internet is forming a new language then this language is still based in English because all of the points so far mentioned have been in regard to English words.  A good place to start analyzing this idea is to look at where and who was first using the Internet.  Geofrey Nunberg, author of the article Will the Internet Always Speak English? Language in a Wired World, says, “The Internet was basically an American development, and [it] naturally spread most rapidly among the other countries of the English-speaking world” (Nunberg).  He goes on to state that English will not always dominate the web, that the Internet is a, “…much more decentralized medium than print, particularly if we include the use of e-mail, discussion lists, and other forms that have no real print equivalents [SMS].  And it’s far more efficient than print or broadcast in reaching small or geographically dispersed audiences…” (Nunberg).  He states that that the, “The economics of distribution make multilingual publication on the Web much more feasible than it is in print” and that even in United States based websites there are options to view the web page in more than one language (Nunberg).  Finally, he makes the important claim that,

“As more and more people in a language community come online, content and service providers have a strong interest in accommodating them in their own language… speakers don’t have to leave their linguistic neighborhood to consult an online newspaper or encyclopedia; hunt for jobs or housing; participate in discussion about horticulture, stocks, or soccer; buy air tickets, books, perfume, furniture, or software….

My use of his points is to illustrate that it is not about what language is used on the Internet but the reasons and types of people who use the internet.  Any language is capable of creating a SMS based language.  In the book, The Multilingual Internet, French teens use French Language based SMS to illustrate the growing phenomena of written dialogue (4-115).

However, the question still stands as to whether the Internet is forming new languages in helping people to communicate with one another or if it is just forming a new type of slang.  One definite thing that can be said is that the Internet has created a new form of body language.  As Baron states, the problem is, “unlike traditional written communication, CMC [Internet language] that entails dialogue has a greater sense of immediacy… many users argue that… the written CMC medium [Internet language’s use as a dialogue tool] is inadequate for expressing nuances of meaning… that facial expression and/or vocal features typically convey in face-to-face communication” (Baron 20).  The solution came with Scott Fahlman in 1982 who proposed using character sequences and reading them sideways to express emotions in Internet dialogue; he called these emoticons (Baron 20).  To better explain the idea of an emoticon first a sentence is needed in which the emotion behind it is ambiguous: “Are you leaving?”  This sentence has the potential to be a simple statement and, therefore, the recipient of the statement could miss the emotion intended behind it; however, by typing: “Are you leaving?” and then adding the characters: “:-(“ the reader learns that the typist wants them to stay and chat some more.

As earlier mentioned regarding the evolution of the Internet, standardized grammar is not following suit with the other characteristics mentioned.  This might be best explained by what type of language is being fostered when a person uses the web.  Baron states that the Internet is intended for “natural language usage” and that the, “overwhelming majority of natural language appearing on the Internet is written”(Baron 4).  Most importantly, she points out that, “Internet, especially in email or now instant messaging (IM), is more like speech than writing (Baron 4).  In other words, the transmission of ideas and thoughts are done with written word, but grammar is no longer required to transmit a coherent thought.  Grammar sets standards for how a sentence can be formed.  This is important when, “…writers typically strive to make a good impression on both known and unknown readers” (Baron 6), but grammar becomes far less important when the idea is not to make a good impression but to just communicate.  I believe that this might be where students get confused.  They understand why writing is important, but they fail to make the distinction between formal (where grammar is important) and informal writing (a form of writing in which the written word is closer to the spoken word).

In review, the Internet has not created its own language but is a product in the evolution of speech and communications technologies.  Although the Internet has not formed its own language, it has formed its own of body language in the form of the emoticon.  The internet has also formed its type of shorthand, or slang, called SMS which is most used by teens.  It may be this very use of SMS that has increased teens’ writing problems as written dialogue blurs the line between formal and informal writing (where grammar needs to be used and where it does not).  Overall, there is no definite proof that the Internet is influencing individuals except for added slang in everyday speech.

Works Cited

Baron, N. S. “Language of the Internet.” The Stanford handbook for language engineers (2003): 59-127. Print.

Bauer, Laurie, and Peter Trudgill. Language Myths. London: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.

Bonvillain, Nancy. Language, Culture, and Communication : The Meaning of Messages. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997. Print.

Danet, Brenda, and Susan C. Herring. The Multilingual Internet : Language, Culture, and Communication Online. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Nunberg, Geoffrey. “Will the Internet always Speak English? Language in a Wired World.” American Prospect 11.10 (2000): 40-3. Print.


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