'Netspeak' - a new way to communicate or an abomination?
Mar. 27, 2005
WASHINGTON - Many teachers, editors and parents profess to be horrified by "Netspeak" - the distinctive language that young people are using more and more to talk with each other on the Internet.
Purists should relax, a panel of experts declared at a symposium on "Language on the Internet" in Washington. This rapidly spreading digital dialect of English is doing more good than harm, they contended.
"The Internet is fostering new kinds of creativity through language," said David Crystal, a historian of language at the University of Wales in the United Kingdom. "It's the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of the written language and a new motivation for child and adult literacy."
Netspeak is the language of computerized instant messages, Web logs (or "blogs"), chat rooms and other informal types of electronic communication. It also pops up in wireless jottings on hand-held devices such as BlackBerries and cell phones.
Some examples are "cu" for "see you," "bfn" for "bye for now" and "lol" for "laughing out loud." A popular feature is a colon followed by a space and a parenthesis to make a "smiley face" to brighten up a message - like this :) - or a sad face like this : (. To give a hug, the writer types ((((name)))).
Critics object that Netspeak ignores or violates the usual rules of punctuation, capitalization and sentence structure. It's peppered with odd abbreviations, acronyms and visual symbols. Its spelling can be original.
Professional linguists say not to worry. They claim that Net- speak has become a third way - in addition to traditional speech and writing - for people to communicate. It brings freshness and creativity to everyday English, they say. It's even reviving diary keeping.
"The Internet has permitted language to evolve a new medium of communication, different in fundamental respects from traditional speech and from writing," Crystal said.
Even Netspeak enthusiasts acknowledge that young people need to learn how to speak and write proper English to get ahead in school, hold a job or write official documents.
"Children have to be taught about their language," Crystal said. "They have to learn about the importance of standard English as a medium of educated communication."
As it's used on the Internet, Net- speak has some features of both spoken and written English. But even though it's typed on a keyboard, scholars say it's closer to how we talk than write.
Like conversational speech, it uses short, back-and-forth statements, sometimes just single words. Its vocabulary is relatively small. It's relaxed about the rules of grammar. The smiley faces and other "emoticons" help compensate for lack of face-to-face contact.
Instant messaging, or IM, "looks more like speech than it does like writing," said Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University who analyzed more than 2,100 such conversations at her university.
Contrary to purists' fears, only 171 of the 11,718 words she collected were misspelled. Unusual abbreviations and symbols were relatively rare. The most common was the letter "k" standing for "OK."