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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora