The Development of Internet English under the Influence of Communication through Social Media

Bachelor Thesis, 2016

20 Pages, Grade: A


Table Of Contents


Chapter I. Introduction to Internet English
1.1. Terms Used By linguists
1.2. The Need for Netspeak
1.3. Earlier Instances of Use of Abbreviations
1.3.1 Medieval Abbreviations
1.4. New Words and Abbreviations in Social Media
1.4.1 Internet “Slang” Abbreviations
1.5. Emojis and English
1.6. Other Internet Languages

Chapter 2: Negative Effects of Internet English
2.1. Deteriorating literacy
2.2. Overusage of Netspeak
2.3. Shrinking Vocabulary
2.4. Adults setting bad examples

Chapter 3: Positive Effects of Internet English
3.1. Social Media as a Preventer of Mistakes
3.2. Making Reading and Writing More Appealing
3.3. Reappropriation: Old Words, New Meanings
3.4. Merging of English with Other Languages
3.5. Netspeak Literature



Language is always evolving and the Internet has certainly speeded up this process. New technology has created the need for new words and ways of expressing and the change has been rapid. As we have become more reliant on our smart phones and computers, the way in which we communicate with each other in our everyday life has changed completely. It made it easier for us to interact with people across the world with a single touch through social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The wider Internet and social media have become the main influence in changing language, especially English, which is considered the “lingua franca” of the Internet. They have created a universally understood slang that not only has found a way into everyday conversations, but also coined new words and had a tremendous effect on the English language and the way we communicate. Although can it still be called “slang” when it gains such an official status?

The fact is that this is not a new phenomenon. Writing has always been dictated by the tools we use. Runes developed because straight lines are so much easier than curves to carve in stone or onto bone. Roman inscriptions are all in big capitals because they are easier to carve into stone. When quills and ink were developed, writing got curlier, but it was still slow. So when Internet came into view, we thought the faster, the better.

The use of different forms of English, like acronyms and abbreviations, has increased drastically and they have had a significant role in the new words that are being introduced on a regular basis. This emerging manner of communicating affects many different people in various ways. It is an interesting phenomenon that affects not only youth, but people from all age and social groups and across national borders. Since these changes have been so significant, there is disagreement on whether these changes have been negative or positive. The purpose of my thesis is to examine these views and present the arguments in support in support of each side.

Chapter I. Introduction to Internet English

Language is always changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If English had not changed,we would not have words to refer to modems, fax machines, or cable TV. As long as the needs of language users continue to change, so will the language. The change is so generally slow that from year to year we hardly notice it, except to complain about the "poor language" being ruined by the younger generations. Gerard Van Herk, a coordinator at the Department of Linguistics at the University of Newfoundland, calls this a common example of the "complaint tradition." Essentially, it is the case where the older generation thinks everything the younger generation does is worse because of new inventions, like technology. Let us not forget that reading Shakespeare's writings from the sixteenth century can be difficult. If you go back a couple more centuries,,reading,Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is not easy either, and if you went back another 500 years to try to read Beowulf, it would be like reading a different language.

1.1. Terms Used By linguists

When the Oxford English Dictionary recently admitted “OMG” and “FYI”, many people were likely surprised. Although just having become part of the OED, these terms do in fact predate the internet. For instance, the acronym OMG was first used in 1917 and FYI in 1941 (Oxford English Dictionary, 2011). But,language used on the Internet, i.e.,"Internet speak",,goes beyond these acronyms. Its definition would, be, put simply, language of the Internet and what is trending online in terms of linguistics.

It,is,difficult to pinpoint a popular Internet phrase's origins because of the infinite number of posts all over the Internet. As we communicate more frequently through electronic devices, our language has adapted, reflected in what David Crystal, the author of "Language and the Internet", and many other books and articles on this topic, has termed "netspeak" (Crystal, D. 19). ,Even though this term, “netspeak”, has become the primary one, a variety of other terms continue to be used by young people in electronic communication. Some of these are “electronic discourse” (Davis, Brewer, 2), “Computer Mediated Communication” (Herring, 1), “interactive written discourse” (Werry, 48), “Netlish”, “Weblish”, “Internet language”, “cyberspeak”, “netling” (Thurlow, 201), “cyberlanguage” (MacFadyen,, 19),and “virtual language” (Pop, 208).,Since Crystal is one of the few linguists who has studied and written extensively on this topic, his term "netspeak" will be the one I will use in this paper.

1.2. The Need for Netspeak

The transformation of the Internet language,occurs,because it involves online communication, instead of a verbal one. David Crystal, in his book "Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide", points that people can rely on “extralinguistic,cues”,during a face to face communication,,like facial expression and gestures.,But these cues are not present across online platforms. That is why the online community has created its own slang. The users of Internet speak make do with other means to convey their emotions and facial expressions. They invented linguistic devices, such as,onomatopoeia,(e.g. writing “haha” to show you are laughing) and keyboard symbols using smiley faces (e.g., :-) ) to make up for the absence of linguistic features of real time communication. One simple, but internationally widespread,example is the saying “I can’t even”. It may seem incomplete or meaningless, but it refers to a situation where you are so stunned that you have lost your ability to express your appreciation with complete sentences. This is a great example to show how language changes to adapt to various situations.

1.3. Earlier Instances of Use of Abbreviations

The way language is used today in posts - various spellings, abbreviations, new meaning to old words,, uncommon speech patterns – is not new in English. In fact, modern Internet speak is similar to the system of abbreviations present in medieval times. In his book "Historical Linguistics and Language Change", Roger Lass states that for the first 1,000 years of this language’s development, there was no "standard spelling" and hence, there were five or four spellings for a word. During the Middle Ages, scribes,in parchments,or dried,animal,skin,,(Khan Academy). The writing process involved preparing the parchment and hand-copying the text. This was both expensive and extremely time-consuming. So logically, they tried to write as much information in shorter time and smaller space.

One of the most important skills which any student of medieval manuscripts and early printed books had to develop is an understanding of the abbreviations which was common in these texts. “Scribes and Scholars”, co-written by Reynolds and Wilson, gives a detailed description of the scribe’s hard work. Because of the expense of parchment and the need to reduce the size of books which were going to be stored, “scribes developed for Latin texts an elaborate system of abbreviating words and for replacing some especially common words (or common, formulaic phrases) with shorthand symbols” (52). The authors also state that abbreviations were such an established part of writing and reading Latin for so long that the system was carried over into early printed books, and fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printed Latin texts “present the same challenges as Medieval Latin manuscripts” (116).

1.3.1 Medieval Abbreviations

There are two types of medieval abbreviations: marks to indicate missing letters (suspensions) and marks which represent a whole word (notae). Adriano Cappelli, an Italian historian, offers a dictionary of about 14,000 marks, and even this is far from complete, because his work is almost exclusively based on Italian manuscripts and not other parts of Europe. Instead of writing “et”, they used the ampersand, or @, same as we do now. Common phrases were severely abbreviated. Some examples are "I.e." for "id est" (that is) and "e.g." or "exempli gratia" (for example), which are still used in modern English.

The two most common suspension marks are a macron (short line) above a letter or an apostrophe-like curl after or part of a letter; both indicated that some letters are missing. The latter symbol cannot be found on a computer’s keyboard, so 9 is used instead. The macron most frequently indicated a missing m or n; the apostrophe a terminal u, such as "ver9" instead of "versus" and "Venus." It also is used in the middle and end of the word to denote e or er: p'iodic = periodic. This medieval suspension mark is the origin of the modern apostrophe to indicate missing letters in contractions, as in "don't." Other use of this apostrophe was to indicate a missing "com" or "con": "9fort" = "comfort"; "9ceived" = "conceived". A character in a word-final position and shaped something like a number "4" is frequently used to represent "arum" or "orum"; "line4" = "linearum"; "re4" = "rerum". This can also be used more generally for any cluster of letters which include an r: "A4" = "Aristoteles." Often scribes use "superscripts" to indicate abbreviations: "cao" = "capitulo"; "fore" = "forme"; "pim" = "primum"; "pia" = "prima"; etc.

Lindsay and Bains state that the systems of abbreviation never actually "die out" completely (Notae Latinae, 61). Despite the large number of medieval abbreviations, they were not as extreme as scribes in sixth-century Rome whose excessive abbreviation led to so much confusion and error that the Emperor Justinian passed a law regulating its use (Cooper, 665).

1.4. New Words and Abbreviations in Social Media

Today’s Internet abbreviations have developed because of their extensive use on social media. We share more personal information, but also communicate with larger audiences through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. According to The Statistics Portal, as of September 2016, Facebook is the “market leader with 1,7 billion users”. Next on this list are Tumblr , the blogging system, which has “more than 555 million active blog users on their site”, and Twitter with “313 billion active accounts”. Our communication style consequently has become more informal and more open. When writing on social media, we get to the point quicker and try to work within the creative constraints of character limitations, while creating our own modern system of abbreviations.

1.4.1. Internet “Slang” Abbreviations

The following examples are the most common words, abbreviations and symbols used in Internet “slang”:

Internet slang,differs according to the user and type of Internet media and setting.,One,way,is,replacing,entire,or parts,of words by,an,equivalent,represented by letters or numbers.,Some examples,are: 2 = too,,4 = for,,2moro = tomorrow,,4,u = for you,,gr8 = great,,2nite = tonight,,y = why.

Other common Internet,symbols,are,“<3” which resembles a heart and,means,“love”, using “@” in place of the word,"at",and using the number “2” instead of typing “to” or “too” (“I <3 you.”, “I’m @ the,school.”, “I’m going 2 school.”).

Letter homophones,include,abbreviations and acronyms.,Examples of abbreviations are,"CU" or "CYA" for "see you (see,ya)".,"LOL" for "laugh out loud" or "lots of love" and,"BTW" for "by the way",are common acronyms.,A,combination,of both,is,"CUL8R" for "see you later".

Certainly no abbreviation is more common or famous that "OK". According to the book "America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America", this word, phrase, acronym or whatever it may be, "is categorically the most successful of all time." (Metcalf, Bernhart, 103) Thanks to its use in a presidential campaign, what began as a joke became one of the most used expressions in the English language. First seen in 1839, it was one of many abbreviations trending at that time in Boston. This is where this phenomenon flourished, to then spread in newspapers all over New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans, to just mention a few. "OK", which at first was written with periods, was a funny take on the word "all correct", transforming it in "oll,korrekt".

These are some of the most common abbreviations used online:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Punctuation, capitalizations and other symbols,are used for,emphasis,and,to indicate something urgent or,stress. Periods or exclamation marks,used repeatedly show emphasis, such as "" or "!!!!!!!!!!.”, Almost all,punctuation rules are,ignored,on the Internet. "E-mail",is written,as "email" and apostrophes,are,dropped so that "Jack’s car" becomes "jacks car".,Capitalizations are only used to show strong emotion, such as "SHUT UP" or "GET OUT OF HERE".

Onomatopoeic spellings,have also become common ,on the Internet. One well-known example is "hahaha" to indicate "laughter".,These expressions are language specific and can differ.

1.5. Emojis and English

There is no arguing with the expressive power of emoji. And emoji function extremely well, often in language-like ways. Emojis —icons illustrating almost anything, from Santa Claus to a stack of dollar bills with wings — have become extremely popular with young people who communicate by texting and emailing. For the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year is the emoji officially called the “Face with Tears of Joy”. Although it has been found in English since 1997, usage more than tripled in 2015 over the previous year according to data from the Oxford Dictionaries Corpus.

The Western use of emoticons is,different from the Eastern usage, for example the Japanese equivalent of emoticons, kaomoji-meaning "face character"-,focus on the eyes instead of the mouth as in Western emoticons,(Kaomoji: Japanese Emoticons).

The best known Emoji artist in the U.S. is data engineer and NYU teacher Fred Benenson who, in 2009, when he was 29, started working on his translation of Moby Dick into emojis (The Creator's Project). He managed to translate the 200,000-word epic completely into pictures. In February of 2013, the Library of Congress welcomed it as the first ever emoji book in its collection.

Another good example is the work of the visual designer who has translated the classic story of Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, into emoji.

1.6. Other Internet Languages

It is not just the English-speaking countries which have seen changes in language thanks to the Internet. "Computer slang is developing pretty fast in Ukraine,",says,Svitlana,Pyrkalo, a producer at the BBC World Service Ukrainian Service.,Other countries have,adopted,their own versions of common Internet acronyms like "OMG" and "LOL." In France, the acronym "mdr" stands for "mort de,rire," meaning "dying of laughter." The Swedish write "asg" as an abbreviation of the term,Asgarv, meaning intense laughter. For those in Thailand, the number "5" signifies the Thai letter "h," so putting three 5's together, 555, translates to "hahaha” (Word Reference).

,It cannot be denied that the language of social media and the wider Internet is having an effect on the way we use English in our everyday life. All these words originating from them have become so common that they have now slipped into popular usage, and we do not even realize it. It's obvious that writing is taking precedence over speech. Researchers have conducted many studies, which will be further explained, and the results are contradictory.


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The Development of Internet English under the Influence of Communication through Social Media
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Danira Mushani (Author), 2016, The Development of Internet English under the Influence of Communication through Social Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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