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Chris Harman. The Language of the Internet

 

 A Case Study

As already stated, the internet is helping to create new words at an incredible rate. To prove this, I decided to study a message board closely over a number of days in an attempt to pick up any specialist language or interesting features on display. I chose to look at the BBC 606 Sport message boards. These boards are used in particular by football fans; every team is given their own separate area but users are not confined to their favoured team’s board – they are allowed to post anywhere, creating heated debates between rival fans. I felt that this would be likely to produce interesting results.  

A common term used on this website was the initialism ‘WUM’ which I found out stands for ‘wind-up merchant’ i.e. somebody who posts derogatory things about an opposing team in order to get an angry reaction from their fans. Also, it became clear that on this message board, fans of big teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea are often termed ‘gunters’ by fans of lower league clubs. This is an amalgamation of the term ‘glory hunter’. Terms like this can make the website difficult for ‘outsiders’ to understand. When you consider that unique words and phrases like these are appearing on millions of websites every day, it becomes apparent that it is almost impossible to be an expert on internet language. 

It has been said that, while the internet is beginning to have a noticeable impact on written language, it is unlikely to have the same effect on spoken language. As the internet is by nature text based, much of the jargon you use online will not be said aloud. Online, you may well use sets of words and codes that have only been in existence for a few weeks, but when speaking to your friends in real life, you are unlikely to say things like, “Rofl, brb m8” (roll on floor laughing, be right back mate).

If this is true, will we eventually get to the point where we have two sets of languages – one for speaking and one for writing? This may be a little farfetched but already young people are learning when to use different codes in different situations i.e. ‘text speak’ to friends in MSN, Standard English in school presentations. Interestingly, the two codes don’t appear to be mixing together very often. Occasionally you will hear someone say ‘lol’ in friendly conversation but this is often done out of irony, a mocking of the fact that it is not usually acceptable to use such a term in spoken discourse. 

To conclude, new internet based domains including message boards, chat rooms, emails and online games are opening up a huge new world of possibility in terms of language. The fact that young people tend to use language differently to the way the adults of today would have used language in their childhoods does not mean either is right or wrong – the English language has a history of change. William Shakespeare would scoff at what we consider to be Standard English today in the same way that parents scoff at the way their children communicate in chat rooms. With this in mind, it is highly likely that the internet will gradually change the way we all use language; it is really only a question as to what extent it’ll change. Whatever happens, the next few decades promise to be a very interesting chapter in the history of the English language. 

Bibliography

  • Crystal, D. (2004) The Stories of English. London: Penguin Books. 

  • Crystal, D. (2001) Language and the Internet. Cambridge: CUP.

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THE LANGUAGE OF THE INTERNET

  The Language Revolution

  Internet Language Rules

  A Case Study

  Bibliography

BEST ESSAYS

  The Language of the Internet

  English Reasserts Its Status

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