Is the Internet Creating New Languages? Posted by Transparent Language on Nov 9, 2015 in Archived Posts
With the expanding ability for people all over the world to connect with each other, the Internet has spawned an unprecedented language revolution. According to InternetWorldStats.com, English is currently the most common active language on the Internet. This makes sense, since English is recognized as the predominant language of international business, diplomacy, science, air traffic, and much of popular culture. Indeed, worldstudent.com estimates that about one in five people on Earth can understand at least some English. However, a significant percentage of non-native English speakers have managed to conjoin English with their mother languages, creating mashup versions of English.
We see examples of this everyday on the Internet, particularly in social media. There’s Konglish, a hybrid of Korean and English in which Korean speakers either borrow English words to commingle with Korean, or blend two or more English words to create new words with multiple meanings. Facebook and Twitter are filled with posts written in a wide variety of Englishes, including Spanglish (Spanish/English) and Singlish (Singaporean and English). Hinglish, a blend of Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, and English is so widespread that it’s being taught by the British Foreign Service to their diplomats and embassy staffers. There’s even a keyboard for it! While none of this kind of mix and match of languages is new to most cultures, the prevalence of this practice has made it the norm on social media platforms.
Forget about English as a second language. For many, it is now part of an invented language. British linguist and academic David Crystal has long argued that a form of Global English is evolving among Internet users. Indeed, he advocates the study of Internet linguistics, a scholarly approach to what many see as the evolution of English through technological advancement and not, as some fear, its dissolution. Students and proponents of Internet linguistics believe that this is a natural progression of globalization.
This kind of change isn’t limited to Web-based social tools. Whole technologies are being developed, aimed at tapping into the complexities of conducting business in a global community. There is a special role for English in every corner of the world which is being driven by the Web. Companies large and small recognize that English is the primary language of commerce, so new ways to help non-native speakers navigate the turbulent waters of English grammar and idioms are needed. However, it may be more expedient just to ignore the rules and invent your own.
Frankly, what matters to Internet users is that they can be understood. A text or a Tweet isn’t encumbered by a, perhaps, undecipherable accent. Your cell phone and other devices allow you to add words to their already hefty, built-in dictionaries. There’s nothing to say that those words can’t actually be invented by the owner of that device. Social media and texting, perhaps inadvertently, now support a unique kind of linguistic diversity.
On the World Wide Web, a general knowledge of English is enough to communicate with people of similar interests and concerns. After all, a limitation of 140 characters leaves us less concerned with grammar and spelling. Want proof? Just ask anyone with a Twitter account in Indonesia or Sweden what LOL stands for.
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