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What Are Internet Linguistics?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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Internet linguistics is the study of how languages are affected and how styles of speaking have changed as a direct result of the Internet. In general, linguistics is a discipline that evaluates trends in language. Specifically Internet linguistics is concerned with how new forms of communication such as blogging, texting, and social networking have affected how language works on a practical, person-by-person level. Linguists engage in numerous case studies, web searches and Internet interactions to draw conclusions about what has shifted or changed in response to emerging technologies.

The use of basic linguistic principles in analyzing computer-mediated communications, such as those that happen online, is a form of applied linguistics. Internet linguists use basic language study and vocabulary rooting techniques across a wide canvas of communications that individuals have with each other online. In most cases, the work is not concerned with what is said so much as it is with how it is said. Grammar and style are not nearly as interesting to the linguist as are form and general flow.

Most research in Internet linguistics pertains to the English language, because the vast majority of Internet communications happen in English. The discipline is by no means limited to standard English, however. One of the goals of Internet linguistics is to determine how, if at all, the Internet has created a more global lexicon. Patterns developing on English language websites also appear in dialogues and conversations in other languages. Internet users also coin more globally accepted terms, many of which have consistent meanings from place to place.

The majority of Internet linguistics research is performed by people who have devoted their lives to the understanding of how languages spread and develop. David Crystal, a professor at England's University of Reading, was one of the first to advocate dedicated studies of the Internet’s role in language development and progression, and he has championed Internet linguistics studies as a regular facet of modern linguistics at institutions all over the world. Others outside of academia also have use for the discipline, however, particularly as it relates to advertising.

Advertisements are ubiquitous online, and they are one of the driving reasons that so much of the web’s content is free of charge to users. To be profitable, however, ads must be effective. This usually means that users must click on them, and they often make a purchase or spend time perusing a sponsored website. Many advertisers seek the advice of Internet linguistics experts to determine ways of phrasing ad content that is both consistent with the lexicon of most users and in touch with the reigning language of the Internet.

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Discussion Comments
By Certlerant — On Feb 01, 2014
Although, as the article says, grammar and style are not the primary concerns of those who study Internet linguistics, the negative effects frequent texting and chatting have had on our ability to write effectively is troubling.

English teachers frequently see papers using poor grammar, otherwise accepted abbreviations and purposefully misspelled words.

It is important to teach our children that there is a place for conversational writing, so to speak, and a place for proper English and more professional style.

By Telsyst — On Feb 01, 2014

It is not hard to see the impact Internet linguistics has had on the English language.

Each year, when new words are added to the dictionary, a handful of them come from Internet-based terms that have come to be accepted in everyday language and conversation.

You do not have to be a frequent Internet user or tech savvy at all to know the meaning behind abbreviations like lol or to know what a tweet is.

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