Language has evolved and the appearance of digital technology is one of the factors responsible for it. Here are 6 ways the language has changed:

The emergence of abbreviations:

Everyone uses or has used abbreviations such as LOL (laughing out loud), TGIF (thank god it’s Friday), XOXO (hugs and kisses), OMG (oh my god) in a chat group, text message, email or in a social networking site.

The question here is when and why they were created? The 90s brought the world the introduction of the text messages. These played an important role in the creation of abbreviations. Essentially, an abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase.

Back then, individuals had a limited number of 160 characters permitted in a message. They would also have to pay a small fee for every text message sent and the text speed was much slower than today.  Gone are the days we had to press the same button of the keyboard many times to get to the right character.

At that time, abbreviations were essential in order to save money, time and space. Although nowadays the text message length has increased, abbreviations are still popular because people like to communicate faster.

Hand holding old mobile phone

Image from (no attribution required)

The development of emoticons/emojis:

In 1982, Dr Scott Fahlman created the first emoticon, a smiley face. There are two types of emoticons:

  • the western emoticons (-:
  • eastern emoticons (^v^)

The western emoticons are read sideways. The eastern emoticons were developed in Japan in 1986 and need to be read upright. In Japan, emoticons are called 顔文字 (pronounced as kaomoji in English. Kao (顔) means face. Moji (文字) means letter or character in Japanese.

Little did Fahlman know back then that emoticons would develop into emojis and become so popular. Emoji or 絵文字 is a Japanese word. ‘E’ (絵) means picture. But what is the difference between emoticons and emojis?

Emoticons are basically punctuation marks, numbers and letters used to express emotions. Emojis are pictographs of faces, buildings, foods, animals, among others. Just like abbreviations, emoticons were used to save time, money and space in text messages. Today emojis are used to add meaning and clarification to our messages.

The rise of existing words with extended meaning

The word ‘traffic’ is a good example. Traffic comes from the French word trafique and from the Italian word traffico. The word is used to mention the movement of ships, aircraft, vehicles and pedestrians. Nowadays, the word gained an extended meaning to describe the messages or signals transmitted through a communications system.

In addition, the word ‘follow’ means to move behind someone or something. With the appearance of social platforms, ‘follow’ means that you are not following someone physically but virtually. That is, you can see everything a person posts online.

The growth of existing words with a new meaning

‘Spam’ is a tinned cooked meat product. Online, ‘spam’ is when you receive unwanted messages or emails. Similarly, ‘drone’ means a continuous low humming sound. Today the word is used to refer to a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft.

Moreover, the noun ‘meme’ means a type of behaviour or cultural feature passed across generations. On the internet, a ‘meme’ is a humorous image, video or text spread online. Below you can see one of the most popular memes between 2005 and 2006.

Image of a meme

Liné1, I just added the text [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nouns that developed into verbs

Due to the popularity of the Google search engine, the noun’ Google’ developed into a verb ‘to google’ and it is officially recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘To Google’ means to search the Internet with any search engine. The noun ‘friend’ also became a verb. ‘To friend’ is to add a person to a list of contacts on a social network.

Creation of new words

With the introduction of social media in our daily lives, being catfished became a reality. This term is used to describe someone who uses social media to create a false identity to pursue dishonest online romances.

The increased use of smartphones has also led to the creation of the word ‘selfie’. Selfie is defined as a self-portrait photograph taken by a smartphone and posted online.

Women taking a selfie

Image from (no attribution required)

There are concerns from the influence of technology in language. It is said that individuals will no longer know how to speak and write the standard English due to the emergence of the Internet slang. Consequently, this could lead to an increase in grammatical errors among students. However, David Crystal, a renowned linguist, in an interview to Macmillan Education ELT, said:

The language has become expressively richer as a result of the internet.

Therefore, the Internet slang is not replacing or “killing” words of standard English. It is rather allowing language to become more diverse. Even if technology didn’t exist, the language would still continue to change. Probably at a slower speed but it would still be evolving.

More about the topic of Internet slang and bad grammar will be discussed on The Digital Linguist next Monday at 6 pm.

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