'Netspeak' - a new way to
communicate or an abomination?
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
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
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
"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
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
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