OMG is the Internet changing English?
There are many arguments for and against language change. We need to adapt language to meet the requirements of new technologies or discoveries. This generally leads to new nouns to describe things, but can also result in new verbs. People then argue that new verbs is a devolution of meaning, we had perfectly good verbs before after all. Why google something when we can search for it.?
Some might say that new words or redirected meanings keep a language fresh and modern, they make it interesting. The counter-argument is that this can provide a generational gap, which can be alienating for the older generations. New words or reassigned meanings also dilute the language, making it impure, making people talk incorrectly by depriving the language of its historical meanings.
Change may be seen as a reflection of societal change, changes in culture, lifestyle, liberties, it can reflect positive aspects of human life.
Change can be difficult for some ESOL learners (and teachers) to keep up with.
Since the late 1970´s with the advent of bulletin board services, and in particular since the mid 1990´s with the development and availability of internet access something has been happening. Just a quick search on the internet reveals upwards of 2000 words and expressions which have entered the English language through the internet and technology. Could you imagine using any of these terms in the 1980´s? LMAO, NOOB, CUNT or GGP. (Laugh my ass off, a person who is inexperienced in a particular sphere or activity, See You Next Time and Got to Go Pee).
This has happened before. Many words from Native American Languages came into common use in English. What could we have called these things; Caribou, Chipmunk, Moccasin, Persimmon, Tomahawk or Wigwam? These words are just from one linguistic branch of native American languages, there are thousands of words in English which have been loaned by these languages.
Perhaps the amount of French words in English is the most staggering revelation. Twenty-nine percent of all words in English are borrowed from French. Another twenty-nine percent are borrowed from Latin, leaving only twenty-six percent of our lexicon with Germanic Roots. Yet English is still classed as a Germanic language. This is due to its origins among the Angles and Saxons who migrated to what is now England bringing their Germanic languages with them.
So throughout its history, English has evolved, borrowing words from almost every other language it comes into contact with. However, the internet is different. Internet slang, and latterly emoji are not languages. Merriam Webster define languages as “the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other”. In the case of emoji, I could tap “📷?” and you would understand that I was asking if you wanted to go for a beer. Could you reply, “No, I don’t really fancy a beer right now. Maybe we could go in an hour or two”. This would be a perfectly normal response in spoken English, but in Emoji we cannot infer possibility or abstract ideas.
Internet slang is however, becoming more prevalent in everyday speech. Children are often seen picking up a rubber to delete something which they have written, replacing the verbs “rub out” or “erase”. The word “noob” which I mentioned above is evolving too, initially it meant “a person who is inexperienced in a particular sphere or activity” now it has taken on the meaning of “idiot” or “imbecile” as a pejorative.
“LOL” has perhaps evolved the most. It has not meant “Laugh out loud” for a while now. John McWhorter studies LOL in some detail, noting: Referring to the phrases LOL it’s raining and LOL I’m inside the library; LOL I know, it’s been a long day, he points out that “no one guffaws that much. That’s not what these LOLs mean.”
If you look at the LOLs from the perspective of a geeky linguist looking for structure, what the LOLs are, are particles which indicate that the speaker – so to speak – and the addressee are sharing a certain context of interpretation, i.e., you know what this nasty day is like; You know what it’s like being in the library. That is a piece of grammar.
LOL is now a pragmatic particle. It’s a marker of empathy and emotion. It has been grammaticalised. This is a process by which words, which have a certain meaning, usually as nouns and verbs are changed, over time to become grammatical markers.
This has happened in French as an obvious example of grammaticalisation. In Old French, the preverbal “ne” from Latin “non” marked negation. Very soon, the preverbal could be emphasised by adding another word after the verb. The most common of these postverbals was “pas”. Others included gout, mie and point. Overtime, this was grammaticalised, that is to say simplified into “ne” and “pas” being used together to convey negativity. However, if you go to France today, you will find that when speaking, the French seldom use the “ne” preverbal. There is a complete grammaticalisation, and evolution of French negations. This can be seen in five stages:
Stage 1. je ne dis The negator is preverbal
Stage 2. je ne dis (pas) The negator is optionally strengthened by a postverbal element
Stage 3. je ne dis pas The strengthener grammaticalizes as part of a discontinuous negator
embracing the verb
Stage 4.je (ne) dis pas The original negator becomes optional
Stage 5. je dis pas The negator is postverbal
So what is the future? According to Professor David Crystal, “Today’s youth are much more aware of the social and stylistic uses and meanings of different genres and language types, and are able to discuss them using metalinguistic terms like meme,” he writes.
Crystal also says that Internet speak doesn’t take away anything from modern language — it’s only expanding it.
“It hasn’t changed what was already there,” he says. “We now have a wider range of clothes in our linguistic wardrobe than we ever had before.”
@TEOTD, IFAIK, BIO, B4K.
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