Communicating on the internet is entirely different from communication in real life. It is full of strange abbreviations, jargon, and slang. The thing is that, anyone who doesn’t spend a substantial amount of time on the internet would be completely lost.
Yet, this is very much the case for many cultures across the English speaking world. A brief encounter with Cockney rhyming slang will convince anyone that the dictionary has been lying to us all these years. American truck drivers also use an odd language when speaking over their CB radios. Then there is the Glasgow patter that is apparently still considered to be speaking English.
Continues after the break.
The hallmark of internet speech is the habit of shorting words and phrases. This is a by-product of the limitations of the medium. Texting and Twitter provide limited space in which to say something. It therefore becomes more efficient to use an acronym to remain economical on character use. Online chats require prompt responses to keep the conversation going; a situation which again rewards the economical use of language.
We shouldn’t be surprised to see IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), AFAIK (As Far As I Know), and WTS/B (Want To Sell/Buy) being added to the dictionary within the next couple of years. Mostly because these are capable of standing in for some very common expressions and are very useful for classifying the kind of statement about to be made.
Plus, they wouldn’t look out of place next to LOL, OMG, and FYI in the dictionary; or more traditional acronyms e.g. QED, NB,. and RIP.
Portmanteaus are also very popular in netspeak. They are almost as economical as acronyms and easily communicate an idea. For instance the recently inducted ‘phablet’ describes a device that is too big to be a phone, but too small to be a tablet. A ‘brony’ is an adult male fan of My Little Pony, and a combination of ‘bro’ and ‘pony’. Even the word internet is a portmanteau of ‘inter-’ and ‘network’.
These words appear to be unique to the way that the internet expresses itself. But it isn’t. The English Language is littered with portmanteaus like carjack, brunch, and cyborg. Adding more of these words doesn’t change anything, it simply makes the language more efficient at expressing ideas.
Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013 is ‘selfie’. Before 2002 (the first instance of the word), you might as well have been spouting nonsense. Although to be fair, the first guy to use the word was definitely making things up as he went along. Nothing new there, Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll did it all the time. The word doesn’t belong to the internet anymore, but has instead escaped into the rest of the world.
Other words like noob, griefer, flamer, and gratz are very much still in the domain of netspeak though.
More importantly, linguists are beginning to recognise that netspeak has its own altered grammar. Probably much to the dismay of Grammar Nazis throughout the world. This comes in the form of changing ‘because’ from a subordinating conjunction into a preposition. Most netizens wouldn’t notice because this is how they are used to typing that way. Also, because internet.
What we have here is a community of people who all speak the same language. One that is difficult for outsiders to understand, which strengthens the bond between those who do. It also uses words in a manner that is different from the standard accepted definition, while also modifying words to fill existing gaps in the language. Using the Oxford English Dictionary’s own definition of the word, which is a particular form of language peculiar to a specific region or social group, the internet is very much giving rise to its very own dialect.
Instead of complaining about the deterioration of English, it might be more beneficial to sit back and watch what happens when a language evolves.