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How Social Media Has Wrecked Language. Or Has It?

Posted by Lee Densmer on Mon, Mar 04, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Social MediaTechnology-enabled communication channels have changed the English language as well as how, when and why we communicate. A lot.

The biggest factor (result?) may be the ever increasing velocity of communication. You can communicate quickly – efficiently, effectively – because written exchanges have condensed. Written online communication in various social media outlets truncates – and speeds up – what we say in at least four ways.

  1. Texting makes available only as many characters as you can type while at a stoplight. (Funny, or maybe not).
  2. Twitter only offers you 140 characters. You gotta be brief!
  3. The use of acronyms – LOL, TTYL, IMHO, TMI, OMG – alleviates the need to type long phrases, and reduces space. Acronyms arise every day, and have even moved from personal communications into business language. (It is another question as to whether it is appropriate to write ROTFLMAO in a text to your boss). Here are the top 50 acronyms; see if you know all of these.
  4. Emoticons summarize how you are feeling or what you think about what you are saying. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then an emoticon is worth at least 10.

Thank Social Media for That

Social media has spawned new words, and morphed old ones. If you say 'Facebook me' I know how to get ahold of you. If I call you a 'tweep', you know I am referring to you as a frequent user of Twitter. If you say 'I pinned it', I know to find your content on Pinterest.

Social media has changed not only the form of our language, but how we interact. People now relate to each other in communicative bursts. I don't actually talk to my friends anymore. It's weird when they call me (is something WRONG??). My friends (all 30-something moms) joke about how we talk to each other only in texts. We don't have time for much else, and most of our interactions involve carpooling to sports and questions about school events.

This is not pathetic, it's efficient. It's easier and quicker to set up a girls' night via text than by calling each of your friends. Is it good enough? Are our relationships the same? I feel that I am talking with my friends more often and I know what is going on in their lives. I check Facebook if I feel out of touch or I send a text. (In fact, please don't call me. I have had my ringer off for 3 weeks. Just text me.)

Texting as 'Fingered Speech'?

A professor of linguistics at Columbia U named John McWhorter argues persuasively that texting and talking are actually the same. He wrote an intriguing blog describing how texting can be described as 'fingered speech'. It is not a written language at all. He also discusses how some think that is indicative of language in decline, but he and I agree that this is not the case.

Texting (and by extension tweeting and facebooking) is a new method of communication with its own rules, structure and purpose. (Think of the communication purpose and style differences between speech writing / formal speeches, newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, emails and now tweets). Technology and social media have expanded our ability to communicate, not shrunk it. But no, it certainly isn't grammatically correct high-quality prose, and we need to get over it.

We All Have to Adapt

The language of social media is evolving daily and seeping into the mainstream. The velocity of change will not abate any time soon. Language is alive, vital, highly mutable: we all have to adapt. Even you grandma, especially if you want to talk with your pre-teen grandkids. OK, and with me too.

I can extrapolate from the effect on the English language that social media has affected all languages in which social media is the social commerce. How has social media changed your native language? For the better or for the worse? Share below.

For the article that inspired this blog and for a discussion of how social media affects marketing, go to this interesting article on the Yahoo Small Business site.

Topics: social media

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