News / Science & Technology

Experts Divided Over Internet Changes to Language

web
web

Multimedia

Audio

Since the first web browser appeared on computer screens in 1994, the Internet has radically changed global communication.  With instant access to messaging and email, the ability to circulate commentary and opinion has revolutionized the way people communicate.  This has had an affect on language and writing, but people still debate the scope of these changes, and whether or not they're for the better.

Eleanor Johnson is a professor in the English and Comparative literature department at Columbia University who attributes a growing misuse of language to the explosion of electronic communication.

"I think that text messaging has made students believe that it's far more acceptable than it actually is to just make screamingly atrocious spelling and grammatical errors," she said.

Johnson says that her students, over the past several years, have increasingly used a more informal English vocabulary in formal assignments.  University-level research papers, she says, are now being peppered with casual phrases like "you know" and words like "guy" informal usages that were absent almost a decade ago.  She attributes the change to instant and casual communication.  She's also seen an increase in incorrect word use, with students reaching for a word that sounds correct, whose proper meaning is just a bit off from what they intend to say.  

"For instance, using the word 'preclude' to mean 'precede.'  Yeah, it sounds like 'precede,' but it means 'prevent.' And yet 'preclude' is not a particularly erudite term.  It just sounds a tiny bit fancier than precede and actually means something totally different," she said.

Johnson says this kind of inaccurate word choice is happening so often now that she devotes a section of her class to the problem.

David Crystal is a British linguist and author of over 100 books, including 2001's Language and the Internet.  Crystal says the dynamic nature of the Internet makes it difficult for comprehensive analysis of its effects to stay up-to-date.  He had to revise the book in 2006 to keep up with the changing technology.  But Crystal believes that the impact of the worldwide web on language remains minimal.  "When we look at the specific effect of the Internet on language, languages asking the question, has English become a different language as a result of the Internet, the answer has to be no," he said.

Crystal says linguistic changes caused by the Internet run parallel to changes in the existing lexicon.  What we are not seeing is an alteration, but additions to the language.  Crystal also points to several studies by scholars of the Coventry University in England and University of Washington that support the same theme.

"The main effect of the Internet on language has been to increase the expressive richness of language, providing the language with a new set of communicative dimensions that haven't existed in the past," he said.

Erin Jansen, founder of Netlingo, an online dictionary of Internet and text messaging terms, also says the new technology has not fundamentally changed existing language but added immensely to the vocabulary.  Jansen has worked in the Internet industry since 1994 and agrees with Crystal that what we're seeing is more ways to use language to communicate.

"Basically it's a freedom of expression," she said.

Jansen says that while she has heard from frustrated educators about the new kinds of mistakes in spelling and grammar in student work, the expanding means of expression brings benefits to the classroom as well.

"I always advocate, don't get angry or upset about that, get creative.  If it's helping the kids write more or communicate more in their first draft, that's great, that's what teachers and educators want, to get students communicating," she said.

Both Crystal and Jansen point to email as an example of people misunderstanding the Internet's overall effect.  They say that electronic mail is often informal, and so many people do not use proper spelling or grammar.  But they say this is more a reflection on the nature of the message then the writer's ability to use language correctly.

"If you say, just because I'm using abbreviated forms, as I do, and change my punctuation, as I do, when I'm sending email, that it's affecting the rest of my written language, that, I'm afraid, simply doesn't happen," he said.

While Eleanor Johnson believes there is a strong connection between widespread mistakes in writing and Internet usage, she concedes that the scientific evidence might not exist yet to confirm her suspicions.  As an educator, however, Johnson says that there is no other widespread cultural innovation to explain the radical shift in language usage she's seen over the past few years. 

While the Internet's use of language might change rapidly over the next few years, Johnson, Crystal and Jansen all point out that educators need to ensure that students maintain an academic understanding of the use and rules of language.

"One of the biggest things that should happen in relation to the Internet is that kids and adults, too, should be taught to manage it," he said.
 

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid