How Technology Is Changing Written English
English is one of the most widespread languages around the world. Being spoken in different countries, it can go through a variety of changes every day. That is why there is nothing surprising that spoken English is changeable. Every nation produces its own word-stock and word blends that can even enhance the language. Written English goes through the constant changes, as well. What is more, it is done predominantly via modern technologies like computers and mobile phones. Text messaging has become one of the most convenient ways of communication in the 21st century. At the same time, many people worry that instant text messaging puts a language under the threat. New tendencies in writing ignore the basic punctuation and grammar. This “online lingo” is full of abbreviations, acronyms, and misspellings. Of course, using technology affects the written English negatively; nevertheless, the consequences are not as bad as many people think.
To start with, the fears about the horrible impact of text messaging on language are often exaggerated. The target audience of online messaging is mostly college students. Many people blame them for language distortion. Meanwhile, researches show that their language abuses are comparatively infrequent. In particular, Baron’s study of college students’ instant messaging conversations showed that abbreviations and acronyms took only 0, 26 percent of their word choice (Baron 131). A similar situation was with lexical shortenings. Meanwhile, Lenhart’s study showed that the younger academic audience (high school students) is perfectly aware of the correspondence between the appropriate language and context (Lenhart et al. 42).
All changes that written English language overcomes can be divided into minor shifts and serious transformations. Minor shifts are related mostly to vocabulary and sentence mechanics. Though people who worry about negative influence of electronically mediated communication insist that it is dramatically changing traditional speech and writing, these changes are insignificant. Firstly, technologies incorporate some acronyms into spoken language. Youth tends to use acronyms during conversation. For instance, “lol” (laughing out loud) became one of the most commonly used acronyms. Yet, coming of lexical shortenings into the general use is a common linguistic process and it should not evoke anxiety among the language defenders.
Secondly, mediated communication blurs the distinction between strings of the words. In written language it becomes difficult to distinguish between compounds, hyphenated words, and one word forms. For example, one can take the word timetable. Though everybody knows that this word should be written as one word, some doubts may appear. As a rule, majority of words go through the same way of development starting from separate pairings (time plus table), to hyphenated forms (time-table) and to compounds (timetable). However, writing of timetable separately in an e-mail will not possibly evoke any negative reaction from the recipient. The main reason is that nobody checks people’s online messaging on grammar. Often URL addresses for Web sites also contribute to the problem as they do not require spaces between words at all. Usually the names of Web pages are written as a single line and nobody pays attention to grammar. Comparing to that, appearance of these inconsistencies in an ordinary text would strike one’s eye immediately.
Thirdly, technologies lessen speakers’ worry about punctuation and spelling. As a matter of fact, there is a spell-check installed or incorporated into many websites and search engines. Spell-check decreases the necessity of grammar literacy of the internet users. It activates as soon as the user types some word in a search line, therefore, the users do not have to think. Before they finish typing words with errors, spell-check would automatically correct the word. Similar systems works at Google search engine. The spell-check, therefore, leads to avoiding of punctuation marks (for example, apostrophes). It leads to users’ carelessness for them. For example, it creates a tendency to write such constructions as isn’t or doesn’t without the apostrophes. Mentioned effects of technology on written English can be considered as minor. These can be temporary or become the new norm in the future.
However, some serious linguistic changes are going to take place in the nearest future. These shifts are not related to vocabulary, spelling or punctuation. They refer to the attitudes of language carriers toward the language structure. Firstly, it evokes carelessness in the language usage and its regularities. Language is based on rules. Naturally, there are always some exceptions, but the rules do not change their meaning in accordance with the exceptions. Instead, mediated communication sometimes implies disagreement of subjects and verbs in number. Furthermore, it happens so often that a language community stops paying attention to that. Thus, grammar mistakes may remain unnoticed.
Secondly, instant text messaging affects the level of speakers’ control over their linguistic interactions. Human communication is unthinkable without some degree of control. It means that the speakers can always choose when to start their conversation and when to end it, whether to return to it or forget it forever. It is all about exercising some control over communication. Meanwhile, text messaging implies other forms of control. Those who communicate online can have several dialogs simultaneously. In case they would like not to speak to somebody anymore, they can just block that user. As for the social networking sites, these offer additional forms of control. Their visitors are welcome to exercise control over designing their own pages. Additionally, social networks allow users to remain connected with their friends doing a minimum for that. In particular, “staying in touch” does not require personal communication anymore. Instead, users can monitor profiles of one another by following their photos and status reports. It saves time and, hence, many people prefer instant text messaging rather than talking. This way of communication helps them transmit the most important information in a short-spoken manner. As Naomi Baron describes the consequences, “… technology enhances our ability to manipulate our communication with others. As the arsenal of control devices continues to grow, we increasingly come to see language not as an opportunity for interpersonal dialogue but as a system we can maneuver for individual gain” (Baron 46).
To conclude, there are minor and major changes in the written English due to the technology development. Technology has a short-term effect on vocabulary and sentence mechanics. Electronically mediated communication incorporates some acronyms into everyday spoken language and blurs the distinction between strings of the words. In written language, it becomes difficult to distinguish between compounds, hyphenated words, and one word forms. New alternative spellings or acronyms cannot be immediately incorporated into written language. In fact, speakers feel they are not appropriate for every language situation. There is still a hope that a language development goes through cycles. What is proper today can become improper tomorrow.
Baron, Naomi. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It’s Heading. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
Baron, Naomi. “Are Digital Media Changing Language?” Educational Leadership 66.6 (2009): 42-46. Print.
Lenhart, A., Smith, A., & Macgill, A. R. Writing, Technology, and Teens. Washington: Pew
Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project, 2008. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.