Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Internet Linguistics

Worried that internet language might one day fundamentally alter the way we communicate? Montana Mosby says it's already happened. ♦

If you use the internet and smart phones to communicate as much as I do—for your sake, I hope you don’t—then you may have already noticed a slight (if creeping) transformation of your writing and even patterns of daily speech. The other day I was writing a letter, the old-fashioned kind on paper, and still had to stop myself from writing “atm” rather than fully spelling out “at the moment.” This wasn’t due to laziness on my part but, rather, to familiarity; in the age of the internet, the English language has been twisted and contorted and totally transformed to fit our quick media. Being able to communicate one’s thoughts at literally any time of the day through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media sites has caused us to cut corners when it comes to language. Whether you see it as a defacement of proper language or the development of a new dialect is up to you, but there’s no denying that the Internet has changed the way we communicate nowadays.
       Twitter, for example, by limiting us to a mere 140 characters, has forced us to come up with new, condensed ways to emote. One feature that allows us to do this is the hashtag, which allows the tweeter to separate a thought from the rest of the tweet, often enhance its context, importance, or basic meaning. Hashtags also allow us, of course, to forgo correct grammatical use by leaving out punctuation and melding words together #becausewhohastimeforpunctuation. Even though we are forced to reduce our thoughts, hashtags have given us the tool to crunch a lot into a little space.
       Hashtags have also become a way to express a second thought or explanations on Tumblr. Originally used to categorize posts, making it easier to search for specific types of posts, tags on Tumblr are also often used as a way to express a “sub-thought” or personal opinion that isn’t completely necessary to the post. Sometimes these tags are full sentences or thoughts, and sometimes they’re broken up into multiple tags, as in #i’m sorry i just had to #look at his face #just look. Tumblr is definitely one of the sites that has greatly shaped how we talk through the internet; different voices can be used not just by the words we choose to write but the way in which we write them. If you’re upset then WRITE IN ALL CAPS TO SHOW HOW ANGRY YOU ARE or use italics to indicate whispering or leave out all punctuation and grammar because youre too excited to slow down and correct anything and end with asdfghjkl. These different techniques allow our voice to be heard in addition to seen.
       Even more than using italics or caps, the internet has created new grammatical structures, using verbs as nouns and or nonsense lettering to describe something. Sometimes a jagged mash of letters can emote more than a well-constructed sentence, in that “Wzdfkbsnogi hnrfkl/ln” might express the same thing as “This is so unbelievable, I have no words to describe my emotions”; a simple “ouch, right in the feels” gets the point across better than “The emotion I’m feeling is so painful I feel as if I’ve been hit in the stomach.” A simple “THIS” can mean “I approve” or "I agree” or “this is important” or all of the above. And when you’re too overcome with emotion and have no words, the grammatically incorrect “I can’t even” will make the point. Internet culture has so morphed the English language that it might even be considered a distinct dialect—after all, it’s idiomatic, specific to an (online) geography, and accepted within the norms of that group.
       Except for the fact that—as I’m sure you’ve noticed—certain catchphrases or trends from the internet have begun seeping into our everyday vocabulary. If it’s a dialect, it’s one that's begun to spread outside its geography.

Here's an example: I sometimes I add a “hashtag” to the end of a sentence—I mean I speak aloud the word "hashtag" and then add something to it—before I even realize I've done it. Some popular hashtags have become a catchphrases out here in the real world in their own right: “sorry, not sorry” to name but one. Other trending phrases that originated through the internet but have become a part of daily speech include the previously mentioned “I can’t even,” which seems applicable in almost any circumstance, online and IRL; acronyms like LOL (or IRL) which have become words in themselves to people in this generation; and then there's that awkward moment in a conversation when, rather than saying “that’s funny,” one might just say “LOL” or “lolz," which has almost become a new way to laugh. Without, you know, actually having to.
       Besides popularizing phrases or acronyms, the internet is also responsible for the creation of words. A few years ago, no one had heard the word “selfie,” but thanks to Facebook. Instagram, and the speed of the internet, the word has been crafted to describe a certain type of photo. Also “shipping” or “to ship,” a phrase most internet junkies are familiar with—which means that you want to see certain people in a relationship, and whose origins go back to fanfiction for story and TV characters—is now often used when you want any two people to get together.
      For better or worse, internet language has begun to affect our communications offline. Don't believe me? Pull up the Oxford English Dictionary and do a search for selfie (a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website), srsly (short for ‘seriously’), and even TL;DR (abbrev.: ‘too long didn’t read’: used as a dismissive response to a lengthy online post, or to introduce a summary of a lengthy post).
     It’s natural for languages to gradually progress and change over time; as the world changes, language evolves with it. The internet has simply provided us tools that have rapidly sped up this evolution, though some may see these changes not as evidence of evolution but as shortcuts, laziness. But in the fast-paced world that we live in now, doesn't it make sense for us to find ways to communicate more quickly? Either way, it’s all but assured that this new dialect that the internet is responsible for will continue to alter and transform the way we speak and communicate, even away from the keyboard. #sorrynotsorry
  • About the Author
    Montana Mosby is currently finishing her second year at Miami University. She is majoring in Creative Writing and Spanish but dabbles in many different art forms. In her spare time she likes hanging out at bookstores, dancing, and playing her ukulele (although rather badly).

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