The winner of the 2012 United States National Texting Championship texted 149 words in 39 seconds with no errors. This competition and impressive feat by seventeen year-old Austin Wierschke is an illustrative example of the numerous ways social media has had an impact on our lives in today’s society. And, unfortunately, not all of us have such gifted thumbs, so we tend to frequently neglect using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation when communicating online.
This is where the problem comes in.
Since much written language we see today comes from a glowing screen, language has come to evolve partially through our interaction with technology. Social media and the internet have had a recent and profound effect on the English language, and not necessarily for the better. More and more people have found themselves writing in fragments, overlooking punctuation, and using obscure acronyms both in written and verbal language.
Punctuation has always been one of the most important aspects of language, telling the reader when to pause, conveying tone, and organizing words into ways that can be easily read. Through social media, though, a new attitude has formed regarding punctuation. For example, the period, the humblest of all punctuation marks, has been so far disregarded that it has taken on new meanings.
Rather than acting as a neutral way to indicate a pause or conclusion, Ben Crair notes that the period has recently taken a more aggressive tone, saying that, “‘I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.’”
This is a modern example of paralinguistic restitution, stylistic adaptations that do not involve words that are made in writing to account for the loss of face-to-face communication. The period being an indication of an eyeroll is the same phenomena as capitalization for emphasis, multiple punctuation for excitement, or an ellipsis for a trailing off. In texting especially, the period is commonly replaced with a line break, as the real-deal is saved for more passive aggressive interactions.
Though, styles of punctuation and paralinguistic restitution are derived from the mechanics of standard English and make no sense without them. How is one to recognize that “...” indicates a particularly long pause without previously knowing what “.” means? The neglect for even simple punctuation contributes to creating an online language nearly unrecognizable to formal English, as well as making it difficult to organize thoughts and coordinate understanding among large audiences.
In addition to our use of punctuation, social media has affected the words we use in our everyday lives. Abbreviations and acronyms commonly known as “text talk” have recently managed to weed their way into both spoken and written language.
How many times have you typed “LOL” in response to a humorous message? Referred to someone as your “BFF?” Exclaimed, “OMG!” during a particularly shocking event? As linguist John McWhorter points out in his article, “Twitterish” another one of these trends is the spoken hashtag. He writes, “The new thing, however, is using the word "hashtag" in conversation...you may be catching people saying things like, "I ran into that guy I met—hashtag happy!" or, in response to someone complaining, "My flashlight app isn't working," perhaps you have heard the retort, "Hashtag First World problems!" A college student not long ago reported a favorite witticism to be appending observations with: "Hashtag did that just happen?"”
Acronyms and abbreviations such as these are becoming increasingly popular as people strive for brevity in texts and struggle to meet word limits on Twitter, and the internet makes it easier than ever to change language. You no longer have to be published through physical and traditional means to bring word trends to public attention.
And like many other fads, others claim this plethora of new terms is a passing trend, and nobody will be using them within just a couple of decades.
With the evolution of language, old terms are bound to disappear and fall out of style, but newer and more obscure examples of internet jargon are bound to take their place.
The Oxford English Dictionary also begs to differ. In 2011, a slew of internet terms including, “LOL,” “BRB,” “OMG,” and “BFF” were added to the dictionary, making these acronyms official parts of the English language. According to them, these words aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Grammar has also suffered as a result of the rapid influx of a social media presence. The texts people publish onto the Internet are often raw, unedited, and informal--a sharp contrast to the formal, edited prose most often read just a few decades ago. Especially specific, nitpicky details in the grammatical conventions of standard English have largely been ignored or forgotten, such as using who verus whom, or a semicolon.
Scrolling through any social media feed yields many examples of poor construction, whether it be writing in sentence fragments, improper subject-verb agreement, or confusing certain words. Linton Weeks writes about examples found in the news, telling about a, “report from a radio station’s website about a thief who ‘had ran out of gas’ or (a) Fox News item about a dog owner who said ‘her dog had ran away.’”
Some scholars disagree. Matthew Gordon, a linguist at the University of Missouri, argues that such discrepancies are not new nor recent turns of events. He says, “People have always had trouble with homophones, and they have always used language creatively, coining new words or respelling established words.” The difference today is we see an exponentially larger amount and broader spectrum of writing thanks to the Internet and are therefore are more likely to notice any common mistakes.
Slang and shortcuts are so commonly used on social media and Internet platforms, though, that a slipping of grammar skills can be logically attributed to the informality and looseness of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media.
The words and mechanics you use in everyday life are a reflection of yourself, especially so on the Internet with the added absence of physical interaction. With the Internet and social media rapidly gaining popularity, soon your words may be all you have left. Make them good ones.