Department of English and Literary Studies,
College of Education, Katsina-Ala, Benue State.
The dominance of the Internet as the widest and fastest communication medium has introduced a new form of English that has further collapsed the economic, social, political, cultural and linguistic barriers. Facilitated by globalization, there is the fear that the wide spread effect of the internet would lead to degradation and decline of the standard of English language with serious implications for language education. This article examines the nature, form and style of the emerging linguistic domain in contrast to the standard of English. It concludes that though it will degrade the standard of English language, it cannot be eliminated. As such, standards should be enforced in academic fields.
The informal use of English language in economic, social, political, religious, scientific and cultural transactions has given it a prime position in the world of communication on the Internet, which has called for a careful analysis to ascertain whether it is in conformity with Standard English. Globalization has collapsed barriers. This has facilitated the spread of English language on the Internet and reduced it to a global village.
The Internet language otherwise referred to as the Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), Internet Mediated Communication (IMC) or Internet Slangs through the use of Short Message Service (SMS) with unconventional abbreviations, acronyms, words, phrases and clauses has undoubtedly ushered us to an emerging form of English language. To this, linguists have a contributing role to moderate, improve, control or reject its conceptual form, content, organization, translation and Web usability in order to maintain the standard of English language.
English, like any other language has norms and standard which give it a status. The uniformity of this status has to be maintained and preserved for the integrity, survival and prestige of the English language. However, when norms and standards are compromised, it becomes imperative that the standard of the language will be eroded and debased.
The English language used in SMS and chats on the Internet has come to stay. This has given rise to the following questions. Is it proper to refer to it as a linguistic domain? Does it have a negative impact on the English language? Or how acceptable is it? If acceptable, what position does it occupy in the English language? These questions will be answered in this article.
The Concept of Globalisation
The term globalization has been subjected to a variety of interpretations. To some, it is a product of interconnectedness. It includes a number of inter- linked and complex economic, technological, cultural, social, political and now linguistic processes. To this author, it is growth without barriers in communication at a world-wide or global scale.
Globalization has been viewed as the increasing interaction or integration of national economic systems through the growth of international trade, investment and capital flow. This perspective has expanded to include cross- border social, political, cultural and technical exchanges among countries, particularly between people.
Giddens (2000) sees globalization as separation of space and time, emphasizing that with instantaneous communication, knowledge and culture could be shared around the world simultaneously. Therefore, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is a vital linguistic medium that forms one of the features of globalization.
Mc Luhan (1962) adds, “…Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is one of the features of globalization. As a result, the Internet has become an important linguistic medium. It has been added to every aspect of human life, including the learning of language”. He further coined the word, “global village” to refer to the geographic barrier the Internet has collapsed to make communication available in all homes in the world.
Warschauer and Healey (2000, p.63) says, “the rise of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and Internet has more than any other thing else reshaped the uses of computer for language learning at the end of the 20th century”. This development opens the need to study the English used on the Internet.
The Internet Language
Internet language is the use of emoticons, acronyms, abbreviations and archaic or uncommon dialectal lexicology of the English language in communication on the Internet. This is mostly through the Short Message Service (SMS), Web Chat, e-mail etc.
Crystal (2001), who also referred to the English language used on the Internet as the Internet Slang has identified it as a kind of linguistics which he tagged as Internet linguistics. He identifies it as a sub- domain of linguistics derived from a new language style and form that has risen under the influence of the Internet and other new media. Others refer to it as the Internet Mediated Communication (IMC).
Internet language or slang came at the emergence of the Internet and its evolution is spreading fast like wide fire. Its development is now in chat-rooms, Online, video games, Social Networking Services, and to a greater extent, the communication networks, especially the Usenet, have devised their short codes.
The use of Internet language or slangs varies among the class of users. There are, however, some common words, letters, abbreviations and acronyms that are used such as: u, 2, 2nite, 2day, 4, luv, +, -, >, @, &, c, CUL, OMG, IJN etc. which stands for: you, to, to night, today, for, love, plus, minus, than, at, and, see, see you later, oh my God and in Jesus name respectively. There are various reasons why people use the kind of language they use on the Internet.
A prime reason for the rapid growth in the usage of Internet language is the space and character limit on the net. Space and character limit for a written communication is very short. For instance, the character limit imposed by the cell phone is 160 and the Twitter is 140. The writer is bound to condense his message within the specified limits.
The same constraint applies to time availability on the net. The shortness of time motivates users to use conventional and unconventional words, acronyms, abbreviations and written signs to communicate.
Internet users are also motivated to use a coded language on the Internet to curve, create or foster group membership with a distinct communicative style. This means an avenue is created that lubricates our ability to communicate in ways that are fundamentally different from those found in other semiotic situations.
Another factor that motivates Internet users to indulge in the use of Internet slangs is for convenience and incompetence. In fact, rules and standards are difficult for humans to keep. We are more convenient with illegalities and shortcuts. Since Internet slangs have no defined or strict rules, low educated, untrained and non proficient users of the English language are more inclined to the use of this Internet language.
Suffice to state that the Internet language saves space, time and it eases communication for users, but its different classes or types, unconventional and uncommon forms may take a longer time for the recipient to decode.
Types of Internet Language
A linguistic study of the English used on the Internet indicates that there are different classes and types depending on the class of users. This Internet situation has created a dear need for analysis.
Crystal (2001) identifies the English used on the Internet as a linguistic domain and he classifies them into five Internet situations as follows: the Web; E-mail; asynchronous chat (for example, a mailing list); synchronous chat (for example, Internet relay chat) and the virtual memory.
Among these types, the electronic characters of the channel influence the language of the medium. Therefore, the user is inhibited by the hardware in terms of the characters on a keyboard, size and configuration of the screen coupled with the Internet software linking the hardware.
This indicates the presence of a style guide – a form of prescriptivism. Since it is not strictly adhered to, it is in itself a heterogeneous language variety manifested in the following categories, Thurlow (2001).
In this group are acronyms and abbreviations. Acronyms are a form of abbreviations that are formed from the initial components or letters of words, for example, IJN, LOL, ILU etc. that stands for: in Jesus name, lots of love and I love you. Abbreviations are shortening of words, for example, u, btw, pls etc. that stands for: you, between and please. These and more English words are commonly used on the Internet, particularly in Nigeria.
Capitalization, Punctuation and Symbols.
Capitalisation is the upper case form of a letter in a word, which is used to lay emphasis or express emotions. For example, the word, “win” will be written as, “WIN”, just for emphasis.
Periods or exclamation marks like, “ “, “….”,!!!!!!! etc. are used because grammatical rules are not observed. In the same way, E-mail is expressed as “email”.
This is an act of spelling words as they are pronounced, sometimes even wrongly. It is popularised on the Internet. It takes a cue from poetic writers, for instance, “tatata”, the sound of a gun stands for the word, “gun”.
Keyboard- generated emoticons and smiley.
They are mainly found in Web forum, instant messengers and online games. They are not found in all languages and have a cultural inclination. Keyboard characters are used to generate emoticons on CMC and ICM.
This form or type of CMC is prevalent in online games and Internet relay chat (IRC) where the identity of users may be hidden. For instance, this writing, “ur A/ S/ R/ L/” simply refers to request for, “your age/ sex/ religion/ location”. The language is highly coded.
Perspectives to Internet Language
Stated earlier, Crystal (2001) identified this emergent English used on the Internet as a new domain in linguistic studies. Crystal, (2011) further classified it into four main perspectives. These perspectives are inter-linked. They are: sociolinguistic; educational; stylistic and applied perspectives’.
This is concerned with the views of the society on the impact of the Internet language on languages generally. The Internet has altered and at the same time increased the ways of communication. This is included in the inclusion of classroom discussion, corporate bodies hooking their Laptops / computers wirelessly on the Internet and the use of employers email accounts to facilitate communication.
These avenues have altered the formal ways of language usage. There is concern that the rising profile facilitated by globalization may degrade the standard of English. There is therefore a crucial need for an in-depth analysis of its impact on the society. The sociolinguistic perspective is analysed through the following concepts:
Multilingualism: it looks at the prevalence and the status of various languages on the Internet.
Language change: this looks at how language change is influenced by technological advancement and globalization.
Conversational discourse: it examines changes in the pattern of social interaction and communicative practice on the Internet.
Stylistic diffusion: this aspect studies the spread of Internet jargons and other linguistic forms that become widely used.
Meta language: This analysis is based on the change of linguistic forms that are used on the Internet. Standard English is used to discuss, analyse and label the different forms of Internet slangs. For instance, the result of the loss of apostrophe and capitalization.
This perspective examines the language used on the Internet to assert its impact on the standard of English particularly and on language education generally.
Internet language is informal and inconsistent in written styles. Baron (2008) asserts that these informalities are evident in the academic works of students. This threat, it is believed will have an adverse effect on the standard of English language and language education generally.
This perspective focuses on how the Internet language has given rise to new and varied forms of creativity in language usage. Its interest is in the study of the blend of both written and spoken language. Such creativity is at variance with Standard English.
Standard English (SE) refers to the form of English language used and accepted as a national norm in any English speaking country. It includes grammar, vocabulary and the spoken form. In England and the Wales, it is associated with the Received Pronunciations (RP), Throne (1997).
There is however a distinction in the written and spoken forms of English language. According to Smith, (1996), the spoken form of a language is more flexible and quick to accept new grammatical and vocabulary forms than the written form.
Since the Internet language is basically written on one hand and Standard English is not loose and flexible to new kinds of changes on the other hand, it is imperative to assess the impact of Internet language or the CMC and IMC on English language and language education.
The Impact of the Internet Language on Standard English
Globalization and the Internet with the CMC and IMC have encouraged, assisted, facilitated and accelerated the spread of Internet language or slang as an emerging linguistic domain that is in contrast to Standard English. We will examine its relevance and implications on the standard of English and language education.
Internet language has evolved from being mediated by the computer to other domains. These domains include interactions where interlocutors need not be geographically proximate to each other. This is prevalent in telephony and where Internet is not used, Crystal (2001).
This popularity has grown among online and offline users and created an Internet slang literacy globally with published textbooks that have documented the content and meanings of some Internet slangs, (Hale and Scanlon, 1999 and Baron, 2000). The updated Merriam Webster dictionary (2013) has included significant body of slang jargons.
In fact, this slang that began as a way of “opposition” to Standard English has spread globally. Currently, the globalised literate population has shifted it to be a part of everyday language, (Baron, 2008). Various reasons have accounted for the entrenchment of Internet slangs in everyday usage among online and offline users.
Users of Internet language find it to be fast, convenient, efficient and economical to use. This is because the tariffs are low, the delivery is almost immediate and the response also immediate.
In addition, the cell phone has created a new literary genre, the cell phone novels. Though not subjected to editing under the standard form of the language, they are read and authors receive feedback.
From a linguistic perspective, blogs in their unedited forms have been, “the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of the written language on the Internet, (Crystal, 2001).
These conveniences account for the increasing number of Internet users. For some stated reasons above, CMC is important and crucial to current and future students, though not without varied implications on the standard of English. Once they internalize it, the ease and convenience will erode emphasis on the standard of English. I have found these characters (u, d, 2, and 4) in students scripts though minimal, it is a negative signal. But, Baron, (2008) says, “students writing suffer little impact from the use of ICM”. At least, he acknowledges a degree of influence on Standard English.
It is difficult to accept the notion that CMC aids language learning by allowing interaction between language learners and the native speakers of English. Secondly, that it also provides an opportunity for greater error correction.
It is pertinent to examine this through the traditional approach of analyzing languages. In the study of languages, Crystal (2001) suggests a traditional prescriptive and descriptive approach to the study of language. We shall use these approaches to assess the impact of CMC on the English language.
Prescriptivism states that a variety of language is higher than others. It prefers the written form of language which reflects the literary style in a language. Its users are believed to be users of the correct form of the language.
The descriptivism does not condemn the usage that does not conform to the standard rules of the language. Rather, they describe the variations found in the usage of the language and explain or advance reasons for the variation.
The prescriptivism believes that Internet language has a negative influence on the future of the English language, and it will lead to the degradation and declination of the formal or standard form of the language, (Crystal, 2001, Hawisher and Cynthia 2002).
The descriptive school’s counter argument is that the internet allows a better expression of language against established linguistic conventions. They add that it is a reflection of personal test in the use of language. Hale and Scanlon (1999) assert that because users are “writing the way they talk,” there is no need to insist on standard English users.
The prescriptive and descriptive argument is an age long one. They have not shifted their positions. Globalization and the Internet spread in the use of unconventional English have just refueled it. The issue here is not to follow one school of thought and totally disagree with the other. Society and language are dynamic so, in this article, tenets of both schools have been employed to accommodate and accept changes in a language to facilitate language development and education.
Suffice to state that culture, language differences and linguistic habits among users globally are rapidly being brought to the Web, and this will positively enhance the future of Internet linguistics. It will be a more diverse multilingual Web that is unstoppable.
Internet users would remain under pressure to alter the informal style of language used on the Internet, but the convenience will continue to increase its users.
Internet language will definitely degrade the standard of English if not regulated.
What should be of interest to language educators, teachers, learners and linguists generally is to maintain a bent which is naturally descriptive, egalitarian and accommodative in character, while recognizing a prescriptive position to impose a regularity and consistency on the English used on the Internet in order to maintain the standard of English, which otherwise may spiral out of control (Crystal, 2001).
Teachers and learners of English language should intensify the teaching and learning of the standard form of the language from the primary to the secondary level of education to ensure its dominance over the fast growing Internet slangs.
Learners of English language should be barred and penalised for using CMC and IMC in academic works.
Learners should be discouraged from using IMC language even in informal situations.
Linguists should set a standard on the language used on the Internet by various chat groups to avoid its encroachment on the Standard English.
Baron, N. S. (2000). Alpnabet to Email. London: Routledge.
Baron, N.S. (2008). Always On. London: Oxford University Press.
Crystal, D. (2001). Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, D. (2006). Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, D.(2011). Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide. NewYork: Routledge.
Davis, B.H. & Brewer, J.P. (1997). Electronics Discourse: linguistics Individuals in Virtual Space. New York: New York State University Press.
Giddens, A. (2000). Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping our Lives. New York: Routledge
Hale, C. & Scanlon, J. (1999). Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the
Digital Age. New York: Broadway Books.
Hawisher, G.E. & Cynthia L. S. (Eds.) (2002). Global Literacies and the World–
Wide Web. London: Routledge.
Mc Luhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Smith, J. (1996). A Historical Study of English Function, Form and Change. London: Routledge.
Thorne, S. (1997). Mastering Advanced English Language. Basinstoke: MacMillan.
Thurlow, C. (2001).’ Language and the Internet’ in R. Mesthrie and R. Asher (eds.) The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics. London: Pergamon.
Warschauer, M. & Healey, P. (2000). Language Identity and the Internet Race in Cyberspace. New York: Routledge.