Language of the Internet: Evolving English

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Old English, the Anglo-Saxon root of the modern English language, is virtually unrecognisable to today’s native English-speakers, with the long-separated dialects sharing only about 15% of their words in common.


This shows just how much the English language has evolved over time. Languages develop naturally from generation to generation, but in the internet age, English has taken on some strange new forms – almost overnight.


From Blog to Doggo: The Story of Internet Language


Netspeak, or Internet Slang, predates the internet itself. When text messaging first took hold, character limits and awkward numeric keypads practically forced the English language to morph and distort.


Often, the acronyms and shorthand terms employed were indecipherable unless they’d permeated your social group – and this made them more appealing, like a set of codewords.


As the fledgling internet developed, chatrooms and instant messaging platforms took the “txtspk” model and expanded it. Number and letter homophones developed into a prominent feature and new acronyms appeared as active phrases, still in use today (LOL, for example).


But these phrases, acronyms and word/number hybrids were only the beginning of a shape-shifting new kind of written language, that would slowly make its way into spoken word.


As the next generation of mobile phones, chat and messaging services came into being, full touchscreen keyboards had become commonplace. Automatic spelling correction and unlimited character counts largely did away with the need for faster and more compact words. Among younger users, even those who’d grown up in the time of textspeak, the compact, chopped up language born of necessity had somewhat fallen out of vogue.


Ironic use of textspeak became fashionable for a time, perpetuated in memes (a topic for another day), but the shorthand, number-filled words of just a decade ago have been more or less phased out. Other language trends have taken hold since.


There was once a time of the acronym, the portmanteau and the suffix, when new words were created every day, and a surprising amount of them stuck. Some even made it into the dictionary (both LOL and OMG are Oxford English dictionary entries).


Doggo was already a word (an adverb meaning “still”), but now it has a new meaning. The cutesy new word for dog joins a raft of other words popularised by meme culture.


And this is how it tends to go now – a word already widely used takes on new meaning, with no creation, addition or cropping. “Salt” has come to mean displeasure. “Throwing shade”, a term borrowed from drag queen culture, is widely used on social media to describe the hurling of insults.


And it’s all still changing. These linguistic evolutions happen all over the world, and although it might seem that today’s technology is the driver of these changes, it’s really culture itself.


How This Happens to Languages


Language evolution is a fascinating avenue of study. Many consider the natural flow of language evolution to be a corruption – bastardisation – of proper, traditional language.


This notion is a little ridiculous, when you consider that language has barely sat still since we first opened our mouths to speak. It’s entirely natural for our communication to evolve, just as our bodies do. Without this constant change, we’d still be vocalising in the simplest forms.


It’s a linguist’s job to know how things are changing, and how to apply those changes to keep communication both proper and relevant. What’s proper depends on the audience – and what’s relevant depends on the daily changes in cultural weather.


Keeping your communications in line and knowing when the language of the internet applies to you can be tough. Translating Netspeak can be even harder.


What Internet Slang Means for Translation


That’s where professional language translation shines: intimate cultural knowledge. A certified translator knows the audience, what will and will not apply to them and even colloquial Netspeak terms.


The constant change and evolution of language isn’t just confined to English – the globally connected time in which we live might have homogenised culture somewhat, but language will always set cultures apart.

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