How the Internet and Social Media are Changing Language

There is no doubt that in its short time in existence, the Internet has already had a profound impact on the everyday life. Never before has information been so readily available with just a few clicks. Keeping in touch with friends and family across the planet is made so easy, we’ve come to take it for granted. Considering how fast this medium of communication has taken hold, it’s perhaps not surprising that it has already also had a rather drastic impact on the language we use.

So, today we’re taking a closer look at how exactly social media and the Internet are affecting our everyday communication.

Rapid Introduction of New and Alternative Vocabulary

In 2013, Oxford English Dictionary declared “selfie” to be their Word of the Year – this might be a fitting example of how much vocabulary that got its start on the net has seeped into everyday use (the first known use of “selfie” was in 2002, when the word was posted on an Australian Internet forum, but it started gaining wider popularity in 2013).

In addition to “selfie”, “to Google” has become a widely accepted verb, “photobombing” is a known phenomenon and We have Facebook to thank for „unfriending“. This list goes on and on.

But more common than inventing new words, is appropriating existing vocabulary to stand for something different. Think about “wall”, “wireless”, “tablet” and “like” – while these words have traditional meanings stretching back for decades (if not centuries), they’re now used in a completely new setting.

While creating new vocabulary and evolving is something languages have always done, the Internet serves to hasten this process considerably. Another curious aspect is the speed at which new vocabulary is introduced, used, overused, and discarded in the Internet Age. Again, although every decade has its own Zeitgeist with more and less popular words flowing in and out of public use, this trend has never been so rapid and widespread.

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A Cross-Cultural Mesh

While the Internet makes it easier than ever to consume the works of your favourite authors, or cat pictures (whichever you might happen to prefer), there might be a price to pay. Half of the content available online is in English. With more than a quarter of Internet users being between the ages of 15 and 24, this is having a stark effect on the language teenagers and young adults are using even outside of the English-speaking world.

English, as the most dominant language on the Internet, is seeping into everyday use, to start creating a new type of Pidgin. Playfully, this phenomenon is named differently across cultures – think Franglais or Denglisch. But, while the bigger languages have the option of absorbing this effect, the smaller ones are under threat of being overwhelmed by English technology-talk.

A Relaxing of Rules

The Internet has been a springboard for all forms of informal writing. The ability to gather a large following doesn’t require so much eloquence and proper spelling as it did in the day of the paper- or hardback. Most online bloggers have no one looking over their shoulder to make proper language use an issue to take into consideration. In an era where anyone can be their own author, editor, and publisher, it might not be surprising traditional grammar rules are being replaced by something more flexible.

And this doesn’t even start to take into account how much other innovation is going on in language used on the Internet. From impressive word plays to a whole new form of language, the change is quick and drastic. An interesting example is the evolution of “LOL” which is discussed further in this article.

With such a big part of communication changing rapidly, it might not be a surprise when some of the more traditional fields might feel left behind and instances such as the CEO of 4chan explaining Rickrolling in a courtroom can become commonplace.