12 Sep 2014

Is the Internet Accelerating Language Development?

Our lives are now dominated by the internet. Communicating via emails and social media has become part of the norm in modern-day society in pretty much all four corners of the globe.

By and large, it’s our first port of call for everything we do, whether we’re looking for information or just enjoying some downtime, so it’s influence on our behavior, including how we speak, shouldn’t be underestimated.

Languages are constantly evolving, forever changing. A quick glance back in time is proof of this, but it’s usually a long-drawn-out process. The internet, however, has seen languages develop at a much faster rate.

People like to use wordplay to form groups and impress their peers, particularly the younger generation. It gives them a sense of identity – and the online domain is the perfect environment to do this.

There is a widespread view that the language of the internet will eventually lead to a loss in standards around the world, essentially ripping up the linguistic rule book and aimlessly tossing it on the fire.

But, if you look closely, the opposite could be true. You might even say the internet has encouraged a dramatic expansion in the variety and creativity of languages, enriching them in more ways than one.

What is the language of the internet?

Acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations have come to the fore since the conception of the internet.

Slang is everywhere online. Here are some of most common examples you’re almost guaranteed to come across on a daily basis.

  • LOL (laugh out loud)
  • YOLO (you only live once)
  • FYI (for your information)
  • OMG (oh my god)

The Oxford English Dictionary admitted ‘LOL’, ‘FYI’ and ‘OMG’ into the official lexicon in 2011, while ‘YOLO’ followed this year.

‘To google’ – the action of using the Google search engine to find information – has also become a universally understood verb.

The language of the internet takes on its own form, ignoring linguistic rules. It would therefore appear that anything goes.

Super slang

But English is not the only language feeling the full force of the internet.

In Ukraine, for instance, a written variation of the national tongue has sprung up on internet blogs and message boards.

Known as ‘padronkavskiy zhargon’ – in which words are spelled out phonetically – it is often used to voice disapproval or anger.

The Mac and Linux communities in the country even have their own word for people who prefer Microsoft Windows. ‘Vinduzyatnyky’ literally means ‘Windowers’ but the ‘nyky’ ending makes it derogatory.

The force-quit process of pressing ‘Control, Alt, Delete’ is referred to as ‘dulya’ – an old-fashioned Ukrainian gesture using two fingers and a thumb, kind of like giving someone the finger in Western cultures.

In China, meanwhile, internet users tend to use certain slang to talk about issues deemed as sensitive to the government. This includes using symbols to separate the characters of a word into another to avoid detection.

Elsewhere, abbreviations are popular in countries like Japan, France and Portugal. Each has their own language background and cultural differences, so they tend to have their own rules and motivations when it comes to the language of the internet.

The dark side

While the language of the internet has undoubtedly led to the creation of new words, there is a dark side that some – notably linguist purists – fear will destroy languages around the world as we know them.

As the first generation of people who use the language of the internet grows up and has children of their own – children who will no doubt spend more of their time online – the amount that internet slang infiltrates normal dialogue will become even more pronounced.

The fear here is that linguistic rules that have remained constant over centuries will soon become obsolete.

Sign of things to come?

The internet will continue to influence the way we speak as long as it’s an important part of society – and let’s face it, it’s here to stay – so we can therefore expect to see further changes to languages around the world.

But no-one is quite sure what will happen next.

It’s very much a case of watch this space. After all, it surely won’t be long before the next big thing comes along and takes the internet by storm, bringing with it a flurry of new words to expand our lexicons even more.

Words could easily drop out of use as well. Will the term ‘unfriend’ stick around once Facebook has gone?

Take the example of ‘bling’ – meaning expensive clothing or jewellery. West Indians frequently used it a few years ago. Then the white middle classes started talking about it and the West Indians pretty much stopped using it altogether.

Only time will tell if internet terms follow suit. We’re just 20 years or so into the phenomenon of the internet, so anything could still happen.


Sign up to our newsletter

Get our blog articles straight to your inbox.