Saturday, 18 February 2012

Instant Messaging and the Future of Language

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) provides young users opportunities for social affinity and control over when and with whom they interact, but its long-term influence on language remains largely in the hands of parents and teachers, their traditional linguistic role models. Are email, instant messaging (IM), and text messaging on cell phones degrading the language? This question surfaces in debates among language professionals and, perhaps more important, among parents and their teenage offspring. 

If some traditionalists are correct, we must take swift action now, before these children are reduced to marginal literacy. But if those celebrating linguistic innovation are correct, adults should get out of the way of normal language change. Families and educational purists have an obvious stake in the outcome of this controversy, but so, too, do the makers and marketers of computer-based software and devices—from IM platforms to predictive text programs for cell phones. 

The problem with viewing CMC as linguistically either good or bad is twofold. On the one hand, such a dichotomous perspective ignores the variation in online communication, reflecting age, gender, education level, cultural background, personality, and years of experience with the CMC platform (listservs, for example, do not function like IM) or the purpose of the communiqué (a well-crafted email message applying for a job vs a hasty blitzmail note arranging to meet at the library at 10). On the other hand, many evils attributed to CMC, especially as practiced by teens, can be traced back to ARPANET days. (...) 

However, the linguistic novelties cropping up in CMC are as pronounced in Stockholm and Seoul as they are in San Francisco. If we look at the history of written English over the past 1,200 years (roughly from the time of Beowulf ), we find shifting patterns in the roles speech and writing play in society. Up through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, writing was essentially a handmaiden to speech and was generally rather formal. Preachers read the Bible aloud; written speeches were memorized and delivered orally; plays were intended to be performed, not published. Not surprisingly, orthographic conventions were not strict; even Shakespeare spelled his own name at least six different ways. 

Gradually, with the spread of literacy and the rise of print culture, writing became a distinct genre. Spelling began to matter, and even those with a grammar-school education knew the difference between formal and informal writing style.


Friday, 10 February 2012

What are the notable linguistic features of Computer Mediated Communication?

1. Orthography
informal (“phonetic”) spelling
do wot I did
luv from SD
dunno how easy it’ll be
speed-writing (esp. with mobile phones), combination of informal spelling with letter omission
thx 4 yr txt
absence of capitalization (even with pronoun I and proper names) 
got your email. i’ll be over later on in the day. 
2. Vocabulary 
If you give it to me to look at in the summer hols, I’ll be able to have a peek at it myself sometime.
I thin the N lot managed to dagger it quite effectively.
Oh goody... Even goodier.
use of interjections
At last — phew!
This was the last bid with N, oh, ages ago. 
Not back till Saturday: grooh.
use of “in”-terms and abbreviations (BTW, ROTFL, PTB)
BTW have you heard an update on the continuing saga?
3. Grammar
“telegraphic” language
Have forwarded the N email.
Will do, but am not back in office until Tuesday.
“chaining” (multiple coordination/subordination in sequence)
4. Discourse and Text
use of interaction features (e.g. questions)
i’ll be over later on in the day, ok?
The main trip up seems to be that what we were thinking of is not in this call, am I right?
“stream of consciousness” writing
just one more thing, do i want to go to england to teach in a school??? do i? oh well, i’ll decide that when i have to.
message-comment structures in e-mail, etc.
— Have just had your payslip and returned tax card.
— Oh goody.
hypertext (in the WWW)
5. Paralinguistics and Graphics
spaced letters
in case you’re wondering why things went R E A L S L O W just now
multiple letters
alternative markers for emphasis
*now* or _now_
capitalization (“shouting”)
little or “excessive”punctuation 
do i want to go to england to teach in a school???
“smilies” (emoticons)
Sue’s hedgehog followed Tim round the building :—)
Anyone wanna buy some CPROS lottery tickets? :—) 

What do these features tell us about CMC? 

CMC demonstrates a mix of features drawn from prototypically spoken and prototypically written media (including sub-types of these — e.g. telegraphic language) 

Text-type has an important role in determining the nature of the language used in CMC. Overall, however, the trend is towards a more informal, “spoken” style of writing. This is especially obvious at the paralinguistic/graphic level, where additional means have been developed to represent effects that are possible in face-to-face interaction but not in writing. 

The constraints of real-time interaction seem to be responsible for many of the features of CMC language. These seem then to have diffused into asynchronous text types. 
Socially, there seems to be some trend towards group solidarity amongst users of CMC. Several linguistic choices appear aimed at reducing social distance and emphasizing group membership.