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How Technology Is Shaping Language 173

Posted by Soulskill
from the tweets-are-for-birds dept.
An anonymous reader writes "This is an interesting article about how technology is shaping the English language, which touches on the fate of the current crop of (sometimes silly) tech-inspired words, and anticipates an increased blurring of the line between the written and spoken word. Professor David Crystal, honorary professor at the School of Linguistics and English Studies at the University of Bangor, says, 'This kind of ludicity [linguistic playfulness] is very attractive for a while. People keep it going and then it sort of falls out of use. Exactly how long it will go on for is unclear but it's like any game, any novelty, any linguistic novelty — I can't see it lasting. If you look back 10 years ago to the kind of clever-clever things that were going on in the 1990s — MUDs and MOOs — all the early game strategies and lots of very interesting language features coming up as people tried to develop a style of language that would suit the technology. Well, that technology's history now and the language has gone with it.'"
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How Technology Is Shaping Language

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  • lusers (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tsingi (870990) <graham.rick@gOPENBSDmail.com minus bsd> on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:19PM (#38127294)
    f1r5t p05t
    • Re:lusers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dogtanian (588974) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:49PM (#38127740) Homepage

      f1r5t p05t

      Ho ho.... ironically 1337 5p34k is an *excellent* example of a playful linguistic Internet fad that rose (it was everywhere a few years ago) and fell (how often do you see it now except in an occasional half-arsed "ironic" comment?)

      I've said it before, but what (in hindsight) was its fairly rapid decline occurred around the time that mainstream newspaper articles explaining the phenomenom to every man and his dog started appearing- not a coincidence, I suspect. Many such phenomena rely on a mixture of geeky esotericness and fashion, and when some teenager's parents know all about it, it kills them both, along with such geeks' younger siblings wanting their *own* fads. This will probably explain- and predict- a major turnover of such phenomena.

      • I used to have a tiny application that was a leet translator. Could translate into or out of leet with three varying degrees of complexity.
  • funy (Score:5, Funny)

    by supersloshy (1273442) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:29PM (#38127474)

    i alwys thot tht tech had a negggative impakt on engrish... silly mee :) lolzorz

  • by Compaqt (1758360) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:33PM (#38127530) Homepage

    Basically, before, you used to have editors who'd mold everything into U Chicago style guidelines or some such.

    Now, everybody is his own editor. Is it web server or webserver? Web site or website? You decide.

    You'll probably also see stuff where editors once had their fingers in the dike (like preventing the spread of "snuck [wsu.edu]") deluge the linguistic landscape.

    Also people are free to verb nouns as they please.

    Finally, I've noticed people are a lot more comfortable spontaneously making up portmanteaus [wikipedia.org].

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Part of the deal there is that there hasn't been much understanding or respect given to language variety historically. To some extent it's just a continuation of previous forms of bigotry wherein people are judged for things of lesser significance.

      Which is unfortunate given that such prescriptivist rules just lead to a dull language which isn't capable of keeping up with the demands of communication. Language is for use and the use that people have for it is communication. Despite what some people around he

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Spelling loose as in "I need to loose a few pounds" is ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things and not a valid reason for grammar based bullying.

        It's okay until you get a phrase like "I loose a cannon ball". Generally you'll be able to work it out from the context, but it is just inconsiderate and rude to cause that amount of potential confusion and work for your reader.

    • by asylumx (881307)

      Also people are free to verb nouns as they please.

      I see what you did there... Clever...

  • The Jargon File (Score:5, Informative)

    by ideonexus (1257332) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:33PM (#38127534) Homepage Journal

    It would have been nice to include a little deeper history in this article, like maybe talking about the Jargon File [catb.org], the dictionary for old school hackers that's filled with fascinating history about the technology and innovations behind some of the terms we still use online today.

    Or would that detract from the idea that cultural-shifts resulting in lexical shifts is some kind of totally new and unexpected phenomenon?

  • Texting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bobstreo (1320787) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:41PM (#38127636)

    Texting has probably contributed more to the degeneration of english than moos and muds.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by schlesinm (934723)
      Most studies (such as http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7910075.stm [bbc.co.uk]) have shown that texting actually increases skills.
      • by bobstreo (1320787)

        Most studies (such as http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7910075.stm [bbc.co.uk]) have shown that texting actually increases skills.

        Sorry, this has nothing to do with "english" , it's English.

      • by corbettw (214229)

        Most studies (such as http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7910075.stm [bbc.co.uk]) have shown that texting actually increases skillz.

        FTFY, HTH, HAND, LOL

      • by Dark$ide (732508)

        Most studies (such as http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7910075.stm [bbc.co.uk]) have shown that texting actually increases skills.

        So in your version of newspeak "most" means just the one article I found on the BBC website. That's not the same as my definition of most.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      Had you lived 150 years ago, you would have said the same about telegraphese
      • Had you lived 150 years ago, you would have said the same about telegraphese

        *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot*
        *dash* *dash* *dash*
        *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot*

        • by grcumb (781340)

          Had you lived 150 years ago, you would have said the same about telegraphese

          *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot*
          *dash* *dash* *dash*
          *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot*

          You've totally misunderstood him. Full stop.

          • Re:Texting (Score:4, Funny)

            by robot256 (1635039) on Monday November 21, 2011 @04:59PM (#38129458)

            Had you lived 150 years ago, you would have said the same about telegraphese

            *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot*
            *dash* *dash* *dash*
            *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot*

            You've totally misunderstood him. Full stop.

            *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot* = L
            *dash* *dash* *dash* = O
            *dot* *dash* *dot* *dot* = L

            Not that I've heard of it being used in Morse much. But it's funny when my (older) ham radio friends send text messages to their kids asking"QTH? QRX 1 HR" and get "????" in response.

      • Re:Texting (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:14PM (#38128062) Homepage Journal

        I have books (printed and handwritten) from both before and after the invention of the telegraph. The sample size is limited, but I can definitely say that English did deteriorate. In fairness, though, that's as much the educational system as the technology. By insisting on producing "marketable" people, it can never produce "capable" people.

        (Some people learn Computer Science away from the computer. They learn the theory, the logic, the reasoning, the methods and the actual science. Only then do they see how these relate to any given implementation of a computer or any given implementation of a language. These people are capable and a change in technology won't impact them in the slightest. Their skills will "just work" and their lingo will "just apply".)

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          Some people learn Computer Science away from the computer. They learn the theory, the logic, the reasoning, the methods and the actual science. Only then do they see how these relate to any given implementation of a computer or any given implementation of a language. These people are capable and a change in technology won't impact them in the slightest. Their skills will "just work" and their lingo will "just apply".

          I usually want to agree with statements like this, until I remember my CS Prof who slid one of those business-card shaped CD-ROMs into a slot-loading CD drive. There needs to be a little practical application once in a while.

        • by houghi (78078)

          Please elaborate on what 'deteriorate' means in a language? Language is not fixed. It changes. When I hear about language deteriorating, what I see is change.
          Old rules out, new rulez in It is change, not deterioration.

          • by jd (1658)

            If you have two distinct statements at some point in time, A and B, where at some subsequent time A and B can no longer be distinguished because of convergence in definitions, then there has been deterioration in regards those two statements. The same is true if you have just one statement, A, that can no longer be expressed at all.

            Likewise, if you have two distinct statements and at a PRIOR time they can no longer be distinguished, you have strengthening. The same is true if you have just one statement tha

            • Language drift might result in the conflation of certain words or the mutation of set phrases, but I don't think it has ever actually reduced the expressiveness of the language as a whole.

              I challenge you to provide an example of a concept which cannot be clearly expressed in modern English, but which could be expressed in any prior version of English.

              • by jd (1658)

                That's easy! "Thou" was singular "you" and "ye" was plural "you". The modern word "you" carries no information as to whether it is singular or plural. "You all" doesn't help, since that is still both singular and plural in South Carolina and other parts of the southern States.

                A few other examples:

                Zyxt - second-person singular past tense of "to see".
                Shew - plural of "show".

                It is not possible to construct an unambiguous sentence using modern English that handles these. Not exactly sure when English lost the e

                • by tehcyder (746570)

                  That's easy! "Thou" was singular "you" and "ye" was plural "you". The modern word "you" carries no information as to whether it is singular or plural.

                  You will be able to tell by context. It's like saying "how do I know whether the word "fool" refers to a whipped cream desert or a silly person?"

  • There is no issue with "textspeak" or anything like that. A good command of a language is needed in order to convey meaning in an abbreviated manner.

    The only problem is where the literacy level of the individual is low enough that they'll use this format in other forms of communication which don't necessarily require such heavy brevity. It's not Twitter's fault, or phone networks who limit SMS characters. It's education, pure and simple.
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:47PM (#38127712) Homepage

    Well, that technology's history now and the language has gone with it.

    Yes, because things like "LOL" and "WTF" have disappeared from the lexicon.

    On wait, no they haven't. Turns out this guy is wrong on all counts. The technology is still here, and has in fact spread, and the language it has inspired is not gone, and has in fact spread.

    To pull out a fact like, less than 10% of text messages contain LOL-speak like abbreviations does not mean that will not be a lasting part of the language, it just means it's not a new language. What percentage of text messages contain 'yacht' or some other word pertaining to watercraft? If it's less than 10%, does that mean those words are not part of the language?

    The article and research it's based on sound more like an undergraduate paper than mature research. Where are the comparisons to the telegraph and telephone? This is not the first time technology has changed the way we communicate and the language we use.

    • The technology is still here, and has in fact spread, and the language it has inspired is not gone, and has in fact spread.

      MOOs and MUDs may still be here but it's a tough argument to say they've spread - unless you mean their descendants MMOs.

    • If you read the article..... You'll see that he points to LOL and such as having staying power whereas the argot from the MOOs and MUDs and MUSHs has fallen by the wayside. Frankly, not too surprising. Those were frequented by quite a small minority of (very vocal) computer users. I'm a bit surprised tho that this guy doesn't mention that the way constructions like yr and sd and l8r were prevalent in Modernist and early postmodernist poetry. Creeley for example.
    • by grcumb (781340)

      Well, that technology's history now and the language has gone with it.

      Yes, because things like "LOL" and "WTF" have disappeared from the lexicon.

      On wait, no they haven't. Turns out this guy is wrong on all counts. The technology is still here, and has in fact spread, and the language it has inspired is not gone, and has in fact spread.

      Agreed. Only a luddite or linguistic saboteur would insist that technological change has no enduring impact on the English language. I'd suggest they'd gone completely off the rails and that they should shift gears and accept that technological jargon is always on the linguistic radar. Perhaps a mental reboot is called for....

    • Miss the point much? It's like companies throwing truckloads of patents at competitors, hoping something will stick. LOL and WTF and some of its brothers may have remained, but at the height of each such fad, such coined words number in the hundreds, if not thousands. What happened to the rest of them? Fell by the wayside. Just think about it. LOL and WF have retained their meanings. But will 'tweet' retain its meaning of post to Twitter 20 years from now when Twitter's no longer around? You want an examp
  • by Yaddoshi (997885) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:00PM (#38127864)
    And I refuse to stop using kewl. It's too kewl not to. Crap I'm old.
  • language that existed in MUDs still exist in modern MMOs -- words like proc and mob
  • What I have observed in the past decades is an erosion of language comprehension; a marker is the trend (as I observe it) towards time consuming video tutorials.

    CC.

    • by icebrain (944107)

      I wouldn't say an explosion of "time consuming video tutorials" is a sign of eroding language skills at all. No matter whether you're trying to teach someone abstract physics, equipment maintenance, or anything else, the majority of people find such instruction much easier to understand when it is accompanied by some kind of visual aid. Seeing a picture of something aids comprehension; seeing a video or live presentation can help even more.

      Further, it is often much simpler (and more importantly, faster) j

  • Of course, an example of one of the ways language is moving is the word "anticipates" itself. From the Latin meaning "to take before", it originally meant "to foresee and prepare (for) in advance"; it's now been made a synonym for "predicts" or "expects", without the presumption of any action being taken in advance. My theory is that people originally wanted to use the word "expects," but were afraid of confusing this with its near-homonym "aspects," so they avoided both words and found a slight misuse of

  • by bmo (77928) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:10PM (#38128014)

    So we name them (sometimes from their marketing terms) and then we verb them.

    "Verbing weirds language" but it works for the time being, and then it gets accepted through repeated use or misuse.

    I think we lost when I found "irregardless" in the dictionary.

    The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.[5]

    - James D. Nicoll

    And...

    "Getting upset about marketing speak is like getting upset about the finer points of pig Latin."

    - Christiana Ellis

    Jeg opgiv.

    --
    BMO

    • by robot256 (1635039)
      James D. Nicoll...awesome quote. And I expect he is right--I can't think of any at the moment, but I'm sure that the usage of a borrowed word in English has managed to change its meaning in its original language, which would seem to be the literal equivalent of what he is talking about.
    • by Spykk (823586)
      I hear noun verbs them adverbly.
    • by ThePeices (635180)

      Wait, what?

      Pigs speak Latin?

      Citation please.

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      And the second good laugh. Beautiful quotations.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I think we lost when I found "irregardless" in the dictionary.

      Which one? From the OED online "rregardless means the same as regardless, but the negative prefix ir- merely duplicates the suffix -less, and is unnecessary. The word dates back to the 19th century, but is regarded as incorrect in standard English."

      Just because a lot of people use "light year" to mean a very long time rather than a very long distance doesn't make it acceptable.

  • Technology isn't just adding new terms to the language, it's also changing, and in some cases erasing, idioms that already exist. Take for example the phrase, "you sound like a broken record". How many people under the age of 25 even know what a broken record sounds like? As time goes on I expect that phrase to become increasingly rare, and to be replaced by a similar phrase, thus completing the circle of life :P
    • by Kelson (129150) *

      Technology isn't just adding new terms to the language, it's also changing, and in some cases erasing, idioms that already exist. Take for example the phrase, "you sound like a broken record". How many people under the age of 25 even know what a broken record sounds like? As time goes on I expect that phrase to become increasingly rare, and to be replaced by a similar phrase, thus completing the circle of life :P

      Maybe, maybe not. People still talk about putting the cart before the horse, but I'd bet most Americans don't have personal experience with horse-drawn carts. Never mind making silk purses out of sow's ears. "Broken record" might fall out of favor, or it might linger on like "the quick and the dead" (pretty much the only place in modern English where "quick" still means alive instead of fast).

      Hmm, do TV commercials still say "Don't touch that dial!"?

      • Well, I've never heard of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but putting the cart before the horse probably stayed alive because it's quite easy to visualize. However if you have never heard a record before then you would have no idea that a "broken record" repeats continuously, and thus the phrase is likely to go away as time goes on.
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I've never heard of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear,

          Is English not your first language? Seems surprising otherwise.

      • by Kittenman (971447)

        "the quick and the dead" (pretty much the only place in modern English where "quick" still means alive instead of fast).

        You've cut me to the quick with that remark.

    • by grcumb (781340) on Monday November 21, 2011 @04:31PM (#38129044) Homepage Journal

      Technology isn't just adding new terms to the language, it's also changing, and in some cases erasing, idioms that already exist. Take for example the phrase, "you sound like a broken record". How many people under the age of 25 even know what a broken record sounds like? As time goes on I expect that phrase to become increasingly rare, and to be replaced by a similar phrase, thus completing the circle of life :P

      I think language is more arbitrary and unpredictable than that.

      We still 'dial' a number, and our phones still 'ring', even though the actual dials and bells haven't been around for a generation. We still drop someone a line, even though operated-assisted calling hasn't been necessary for longer than this old grey-hair has been alive. We still go full steam ahead even though ships haven't burned coal for over a century. And people are still POSH centuries after 'Port Outward, Starboard Home' lost its original meaning.

      Some phrases do drop out of currency, but others, for reasons too complex to fathom, seem to endure for centuries. Envy, for example, has been 'green' since Elizabethan times. Beautiful women have been compared to the sun since the Italian Renaissance. And ass-kissing has been around since Chaucer's time.

      • by Kelson (129150) *

        Thank you - you came up with much better examples than I did.

        On a related note, I wonder how long we'll keep using pictures of floppy disks as the toolbar icon for "save."

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          Thank you - you came up with much better examples than I did.

          On a related note, I wonder how long we'll keep using pictures of floppy disks as the toolbar icon for "save."

          Yes, we should replace it with a little cloud raining 0s and 1s like slashdot uses.

      • by Kittenman (971447)

        And ass-kissing has been around since Chaucer's time.

        You're referring to the Miller's tale? That's a different type of ass-kissing. The tale uses ass-kissing as a joke (the comedy is in the confusion of a bearded man) not in a pandering-to-the-boss sense. But if you know Chaucer, you know this.

        • by grcumb (781340)

          And ass-kissing has been around since Chaucer's time.

          You're referring to the Miller's tale? That's a different type of ass-kissing. The tale uses ass-kissing as a joke (the comedy is in the confusion of a bearded man) not in a pandering-to-the-boss sense. But if you know Chaucer, you know this.

          True, the specific context has changed, but the reason we laugh at the act in the Miller's Tale is because one person debases himself by kissing the ass of another. Part of the comedy is that he's willing to do that even to a woman in order to win her affections. The ass-kisser is a risible creature from the start.

          And by the bye, the green-eyed monster is hardly ever referenced any more, but envy is still associated with green. We don't go in so much for comparing women to a summer's day any more, but we st

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        And people are still POSH centuries after 'Port Outward, Starboard Home' lost its original meaning.

        That is a highly debatable etymology you know, one of the classics along with OK.

  • This isn't limited to English. Apparently, it's the new chik thing in Japanese to use obscure kanji just because the IME can display it. (Shit, some of them can't even write kanji without typing it out in the IME first. [wikipedia.org])Even more oddly, some of the teenage Jap girls that I cyberstalk replace `I'\`E' with `Yi'\`Ye', even though, or because, `Yi'\`Ye' is archaic and isn't even part of the language anymore, officially. Guess it looks cute.

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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