Web is more a social creation than a technical one
Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, 1999
English is used for more purposes than ever before. Everywhere it is at the leading edge of technological and scientific development, new thinking in economics and management, new literatures and entertainment genres. These give rise to new vocabularies, grammatical forms and ways of speaking and writing. Nowhere is the effect of this expansion of English into new domains seen more clearly than in communication on the Internet and the development of ‘net English’. English language training and information technology skills are increasingly inseparable given the realities of globalization and recent advancements in educational technology. Both English and computer skills are becoming prerequisites for a real in-demand professional around the world, so being IT-friendly is seen as a big promotion advantage.
In studying language and technology, we look at how the technology influences the language use, but we should not assume that the use of technology to mediate the language necessarily changes everything. Generally speaking, English is the universal language on the Internet, but it has no official status, and it will never have. Linguistically, English is extremely unsuitable for international communication, and the actual wide use of English tends to polarize the world into Internet users and Internet illiterates. The position of English can only be altered by major world-scale political and economical changes, such as increasing importance of the European Union or a coalition between Japan and China. Such powers might wish and be able to promote a language other than English, possibly a constructed language, for international communication. Alternatively, or in addition to this, the technology of machine translation may allow people to use their own language in international communication . In its broadest sense, the notion language includes speech and writing, regional and class dialects, occupational genres (such as legal and scientific language), creative linguistic expression (as in literature), and a wide range of other styles of expression. Within the Internet literature, terminology also varies a great deal when discussing the different kinds of Internet situation, such as environment, interactive setting, and virtual space. The distinctive features of a language variety are of several kinds. Many stylistic approaches recognize seven main types, for written language.
1. graphic features: the general presentation and organization of the written language
2. orthographic (or graphological) features: the writing system of an individual language
3. grammatical features: the many possibilities of syntax and morphology
4. lexical features: the vocabulary of a language
5. discourse features: the structural organization of a text
6. phonetic features: the general auditory characteristics of spoken language
7. phonological features: the sound system of an individual language [6, p.7-10].
Spoken language currently has only a limited presence on the Internet, through the use of sound clips, films, and video; but the use of speech will undoubtedly grow as technology develops, and it will not be long before we see the routine use of interactive voice (and video) dialogues, speech synthesis to provide a spoken representation of what is on a screen or to give vocal support to a graphic presentation, and automatic speech recognition to enable users to interact verbally with sites. Grammatical, lexical, and discourse features of course play a distinctive role in all spoken varieties of a language, as they do in the written. The term ‘Netspeak’ is an alternative to ‘Netlish’, ‘Weblish’, ‘Internet language’, ‘cyberspeak’, ‘electronic discourse’, ‘electronic language’, ‘interactive written discourse’, ‘computer-mediated communication’ (CMC), and other more cumbersome expressions. Each term has a different implication: ‘Netlish’, for example, is plainly derived from ‘English’, and is of decreasing usefulness as the Net becomes more multilingual. Netspeak is a type of language displaying features that are unique to the Internet where the influence is mainly on vocabulary, with graphology affected in some written varieties. According to internationally renowned language expert, Professor David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor (who investigates the nature of the impact which the Internet is making on language in his book Language and the Internet.CUP.2001) technology bears gifts also for linguistic investigation: Netspeak is a new opportunity for academic study. A new academic study of ‘Internet Linguistics’ includes a comparative study of the style of different formats and the development of language change within these new media. He states that Netspeak is a fourth medium of linguistic communication (the first three are speech, writing, and signing) and that we are on the brink of a revolution in language [6, p.233].
Technology is always a good place to look for lexical change. The Internet, for example, has given rise to a lot of neologisms (new words or expressions or existing words used in new ways). There are a lot of new words and expressions that have become common, including the tech-friendly terms like mouse potato (someone who spends lots of time in front of a computer), ringtone (the ever-popular sound of an incoming cell phone call) and laptop (small computer that we can keep on the lap). We use them every day and don’t even think about them. For many Internet users, the word g o o g l e is a noun - the name of a popular online search engine. The first appearance of the word google dates back to 1998, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford PhD students, perfected an advanced technique for finding information on the Web and thereby founded Google™ Inc. And according to the makers of the 2006 edition of the venerable Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it's now become accepted as a verb, synonymous with searching the Internet. This makes terms like ‘google me’ part of the English language. ‘I’m going to google.’ ‘We are googling.’ And, of course, there’s all sorts of associated words that have come since - ‘we are googlers, if we google!’ And people who google a lot are ‘google-minded’. The word googlegänger (a person who has the same name as you and is discovered by doing a search on your name using the Google™ Internet search engine) that was voted 'most creative' word of 2007 by members of the American Dialect Society  or google cooking (looking for a recipe by googling the contents of your fridge or kitchen cupboards) and googlewhacking (trying to find search queries which return one single result). So the dictionary's editors claim that all those above illustrated examples, namely its capacity for derivation and extension mean that the public has adopted this term (so it's perhaps not surprising that again such a creation was recently named 'word of the decade' by the American Dialect Society ) which itself comes from a mathematical term, 'googol', a term meaning 10 to the 100th power, an impossibly large concept, indeed. And, of course, the Google search engine has also become impossibly large! When you go searching for a word on Google, you might get a million hits, or 10 million hits, or a hundred million hits. Of course, the penalty of success is when you have a word enter the language and it was originally a word that you thought you owned. In fact, the firm Google is very concerned over this use as a verb, because it is their trade mark - they like to keep the capital letter in the definition, for example - if you use it, they say, do use it with a capital ‘G’. But they’ve got a problem - no firm, no matter how big, can control language change! Like Hoover, Thermos andXerox before it, google is an example of what linguists refer to as an eponym, a name which begins to function as a generic description of a concept, i.e. brand names become ordinary words. [3, 4] Programmers have long needed special vocabulary to talk about their lines of code, and some of this has now spilled over into everyday speech, especially to handle the punctuation present in an electronic address. For example, d o t c o m is now a commonly heard phrase, as well as appearing ubiquitously in writing in all kinds of advertising and promotional material. In fact, written English shows developments well beyond the stage of the literal use of .com. This suffixis one of several domain names (with some US/UK variation) showing what kind of organization an electronic address belongs to: .com (commercial) and .org or .co (everything else). Dotcom has come to be used as a general adjective (with or without the period, and sometimes hyphenated) as in dotcom organizations. A similar ludic trend applies to the symbol @, now the universal link between recipient and address. It was chosen pragmatically by a computer engineer, Ray Tomlinson, who sent the first network e-mail in 1972. He needed a character which did not occur in names, and this typewriter keyboard symbol stood out, with the bonus of having an appropriate meaning (of someone being ‘at’ somewhere). It has been seen turning up in other settings where traditionally the word at would be used, for instance Bill Gates’ 1999 book is called Business @ the speed of thought. [6, p.78-89] Well now, the internet is giving us more. Any internet piece of technology that ends in x has been giving the ending ‘en.’ So, if you’ve got a f a x computer, and you’ve got a lot of them, you have got a lot of faxen, not lots of faxes, and there are several cool internet words ending x, and they all have the plural ‘en’. And to take another example, the plural z in English now, you’ve got some wares for sale, some wares, w a r e s, but on the internet, you will see warez very often. And this z meaning ‘pirated plural’, you might find quite a lot now any kind of download from all sort of circumstances. [6, p.94-96] But sometimes the etymology of the word is not obvious. As for computer term c o o k i e s that identify the data fragment reserved by the server on the client machine derived from fortune cookie, pastry with a prediction paper inside. Or s p a m originally referred to a brand of tinned meat turned into unsolicited e-mail. Moreover, the extension of this rather curious meat metaphor continues from spam to h a m, which by analogy refers to legitimate e-mail messages and b a c n which comes somewhere between spam and ham. How can a person who has never heard about the word background guess the true sense of it? International language of IT community is exceptionally English. This fact gives an advantage to English-speaking specialists and vice versa makes a problem for other people. Nowadays computer technology has become a major part of people’s lives. This technology has its own special words that affect the spoken language. The transition of new computer-related terms is an out of control process.
One of the big questions always with a language is: ‘how do new words come into being?’ We’re all fascinated to see how new vocabulary comes into the language. But where does it come from? And how many words are truly new? Since brand-new words - words which have never been seen before in any shape or form - account for less than 1% of neologisms, it's perhaps surprising that most of the words that are new entrants to the latest editions of Oxford’s ELT dictionaries are actually recognizable as having existed in some form already. For example, only in December 2007, it was reported that facebook the verb and F a c e b o o k, the trademarked noun referring to the popular social networking site, had been added to the latest edition of the Collins English Dictionary. The formation of new words is not a random process. There are several distinct patterns and paths by which new words come into the language, falling into 8 major categories or methods of word formation that in turn are subdivided and illustrated with examples of computer terminology.
- Compounding - joining two or more existing words together to make one word
- The term c o u c h s u r f i n g (and related forms couch surf, couch surfer) meaning travelling on a budget, using a broad network of contacts in order to get overnight accommodation for free first appeared in 2004 with the launch of website www.CouchSurfing.org, the brainchild of American web consultant, Casey Fenton. Although the capitalized variants CouchSurfing and CouchSurfer are registered trademarks of the website, the lower case variants, either as open or closed compounds, are now regularly used. The transitive/intransitive sense of the verb s u r f as 'randomly browse the Internet' has begun to enter dictionaries of British and American English during the last 5 years or so, still usually listed as a secondary or specialist sense after the established intransitive sense 'ride on waves with a surfboard'.
- Another example from the world of electronic communication is n e w s g r o u p. Both news and group are very common words that have been around for centuries, but it is only since the arrival of the Internet that they have been combined to form a new meaning - a place on the Internet where people can leave messages about a subject or activity that interests them, for other people to read.
- Abbreviations: Acronyms or Initialisms
Acronyms and initialisms are both abbreviations made from the first letters of a group of words, the former are said as a single word while the latter are spelt out. There is a tendency in the present world to use abbreviations as self-dependent words and replacement of expressions by another more simple and understandable combination of words and letters.
- An acronym w y s i w y g (meaning ‘what you see is what you get’) in this case it’s not spelt as it sounds. It came in the early 1980s in computing and meant that what you see on the screen is what you get in the output. It was especially found in desktop publishing. This type of acronym, when a phrase becomes a collection of initials is common in internet chat and mobile phone text conversations. But now the phrase has lost its technical specification and used since in all sorts of circumstances, for example Britney Spears had a song which included it - ‘because I can promise U baby what you see is what U get’ (album: ‘Oops!...I Did It Again’ (2000).
- V o I P (also regularly occurring as Voip and voip) is an acronym of Voice over Internet Protocol, and is now used as a verb which is synonymous with the idea of 'making a telephone call over the Internet'. VoIP is often referred to by non-technical descriptions such as Internet telephony or broadband phone.
- S M S is one that is made up of words that we understand, and we can recognize the meaning of the combination short message service. With others, we are happy to use the abbreviations - take WAP, LAN, URL or RAM for example - without necessarily understanding the technical meaning of the words that make them up.
- Some words aren't really acronyms, but are just shortened versions that are quicker and easier to say, such as ‘hi-tech’ for high technology. As for, w i-f i - wireless fidelity - sometimes it is written with a hyphen, sometimes not. Technically, it’s standard ensuring that equipment works on a wireless network. It’s an analogy with ‘h i-f i’, for high fidelity, that used to be common for recording some years ago. It’s an interesting usage because it shows the return of a word that everybody thought had gone completely out of date - ‘wireless’. It’s used now for all sorts of applications - TV remotes can be talked about as wireless, if you control your garage door, it’s a wireless control, mobile phones are sometimes referred to as wireless and GPS, satellite things in your car. Has a lot of associated terminology, of course, wi-fi is just one word of many that has come into usage in the last few years talking about the way in which we cope with the Internet.
- Have a look at F A Qs, you’ve seen them a thousand times on computer screens (they are computer text files containing a list of questions and answers, especially basic stuff on newsgroups where you want to find a quick reply). It’s not a universally spoken word. You don’t say I’ve got some FAQs because that could be very misleading, it could sound like facts, f-a-c-t-s. So most people use it as an initialism, they spell it out: F-A-Q. And it’s beginning to be used now in a more general way, outside the internet setting. People talk about FAQs in all kinds of non-computer circumstances.
- Conversion - using a word from one part of speech in another part of speech
- Although S M S is an English abbreviation, the more common word in everyday use is text. This is a new word that has undergone a further change, by acquiring a new part of speech. So the noun t e x t has taken on a specific new meaning relating to mobile phones, and then has also become a verb. This is a very common phenomenon in language change when words acquire new functions, sometimes without even changing their spelling, that’s why practically each described computer term undergo this way.
- Blending - mixing words together, using parts of them
- These words that already exist in the language also team up in new ways to describe new inventions:
Emoticon = emotion + icon (a visual character or sign which indicates emotion e.g. :))
Ezine = electronic + magazine (a magazine that only exists on the Internet)
Hacktivist = hack + activist (a person who changes or manipulates information on the Internet in order to convey a political message)
Screenager = screen + teenager (a young person who spends a lot of time using a computer)
Spyware = spy + software (a type of computer programme to get information from someone else’s computer system illegally)
Webcam = camera + World Wide Web (a video camera that transmits over the Internet)
- The noun p o d c a s t i n g and its derivatives are formed from a blend of the term iPod (a portable digital audio player manufactured by Apple Computers) and the verb broadcast. The new technology of podcasting first came into the public eye in August 2004, its development and promotion mainly associated with Adam Curry, a former presenter on the music video channel MTV. The noun podcast has already been coined to refer to such downloadable broadcasts, with websites like podcast.com offering access to hundreds of podcasts covering a wide range of topics and interests
· B l o g is interesting because it started out as the combination weblog, itself made up of an old word with a new meaning (web = Internet) and log, a record, formerly on paper. It then became abbreviated to blog, acquired a new part of speech (the verb to blog), and from it derivatives have been generated by the conventional rules of language (blogging, blogger, blogosphere, blook = blog + book - a book which is serialised on a weblog ) .
- On 8th January 2010, the American Dialect Society voted t w e e t (both in its noun and verb sense) as its Word of the Year for 2009. It follows a succession of Twitter-related neologisms born out of the explosion in popularity of this form of online messaging. The natural appeal of the word Twitter (and its association with the cute little bird logo), coupled with its capacity for metaphoric extension, has led to Twitter words anchoring themselves very successfully in the public consciousness. So from a simple trademarked name we get verbs twitter and tweet (and associated activity nouns twittering and tweeting), nouns tweet, tweetup = tweet + meet up meaning 'come together with someone' (the now popularly used term for either an organised or impromptu 'meeting' between people who use Twitter), twitterverse = Twitter + universe (the Twitter service and its community of users) and for the users themselves: tweeters, twitterers, tweeps = tweet + peeps (slang term for 'people') and tweeple = Twitter + people and even the twitterati (the twitter 'elite', those people whose ramblings attract large numbers of followers).
- Word Coinage - created to cater for new inventions, products or services
- The new sense of i n f o m a n i a was coined by a team of researchers led by Dr Glenn Wilson of the University of London. The word had existed prior to the research however, a blend of information and mania ('an extremely strong enthusiasm for something') used to describe an excessive enthusiasm for accumulating facts. A derived noun infomaniac also exists in this latter sense, referring to someone with an obsessive thirst for knowledge .
- Another recent coinage born out of the current preoccupation with male stereotyping is the noun and adjective t e c h n o s e x u a l (also with derivative technosexuality), which refers to a metrosexual with a strong interest in technology.
· Sometimes the word itself is old, but it gains a new meaning. One area where we can see this shift very clearly is the changeover to electronic correspondence. Words which once only referred to physical papers on a wooden desk have taken on a new life in the world of email and computers. Words like f o l d e r, f i l e and d i r e c t o r y are all examples of words for things in an office that are now also used to describe things on a computer which have similar functions in the new medium.
· We can see a combination of these two factors at work in an expression like drop-down menu. Menu has moved beyond the restaurant to acquire a new life as a list of options for operations that a computer can perform. It combines with ‘drop-down’ to describe a particular kind of menu, which appears as a vertical list when you click on a word. All the parts of the phrase are familiar components of the language, but a new combination is coined as a new invention demands a name. Often these new combinations get abbreviated.
- Affixation - adding suffixes or prefixes to existing words
- New technical terms are often a rather pleasing combination of ancient and modern. Prefixes like multi- or nano- that come from Latin or Greek, are combined with new words. The word byte was a truly new word made up in the 1960s, but since then it has been combined with Greek prefixes like giga- and kilo- or tera- (meaning 'monster' represents a factor of 1012).
· The use of a single letter prefix with a hyphen is unusual, but not for computing such prefixes as e- and i- gave a birth to a vast majority of widely used set expressions.
i. The term e-books as an abbreviation for electronic books takes inspiration from the use of the e- prefix as in e-mail, e-commerce, e-learning, etc. It differs from these examples however in that the e- prefix relates to electronic in its basic sense ('using electricity and electrical parts'), as opposed to denoting the idea expressed in the Macmillan Online Dictionary as 'on or using the Internet'. The prefix e- and its association with electronic data began life in the early eighties in the word e-mail, quickly assuming productive use on a range of expressions relating to emerging technologies. And of course it didn't take long before people started to complain about the way in which it was over-used. In fact a couple of years later, one of the big internet magazines said 'this is a word, this is a prefix that has to go! Everybody is using it too much.' Well, it hasn't gone - it's here to stay. E-speak is the future! [3,4]
ii. The term iPod is a trademarked brand of MP3 player designed and marketed by Apple Computers. The use of the letter i originated with one of the company's other products, the iMac, a brand of personal computer shipped with everything necessary for connection to the Web (where i stood for Internet). However, the use of the prefix i had such a positive impact on brand recognition that the company adopted it more widely (e.g. iTunes) and associated it with other concepts such as 'individual' and 'independence'. So far-reaching has been the social and cultural impact of the company's 'i-products', that the generation of young people born in the late 1980s is sometimes now referred to as the iGeneration, so why not to surf www.i-russia.ru.
- Prefixes net-, cyber- have built their own relationships with the spoken English language with the changing face of online environments.
i. When the Internet began, ‘net’ became a new prefix. We had words like ‘net news’ and ‘net speak’, and all sorts of things like that. And then it became a suffix as well: hyper net, news net and so on. Afterwards blends started to appear, with a familiar word changed. So we had ‘netizen’ that is, a citizen of the Internet, somebody who lives their whole life there. And these people are also called ‘netties’, or ‘netters’ or even ‘netheads’ .
ii. The term cyberslacking and an alternative form, cyberloafing, emerged during the late nineties among a proliferation of words created by productive use of the prefix cyber- to describe things relating to computers or the Internet, e.g. cybercafé, cyberspace, cybercrime. The verbs slack and loaf both mean 'to spend time avoiding work'. The term cyberslacker, acknowledged in August 2003 by editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, and its alternative form, cyberloafer, are used to describe employees who engage in the practice.
- Sometimes words add a new ending to make a new meaning, for example t e c h i e (also techy), a person who is expert in or enthusiastic about technology, especially computers or n e w b i e, a person who is new and has little experience in doing something, especially in using computers.
- Borrowing words from other languages
- R o b o t, which dates back to the 1920s, is in fact derived from the Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. Now robo- features more widely in English as a prefix suggesting that something (or someone) is automated or machine-like. A couple of contemporary examples are robomail (e-mail coming from automated sources that a user has subscribed to), robocall (an automated telephone call which plays a recorded message) and robotweet (an automatic message from a Twitter user, such as an automatic reply set up for when someone is on holiday).
- The term w i k i and the concept behind it were invented by Ward Cunningham, a computer programmer in Oregon in the United States. He derived it from the Hawaiian expression wiki wiki, meaning 'quick' (wikis are 'quick' because both editing and reading text can be done by using the same standard web browser). Wiki wiki was the first Hawaiian word Cunningham learnt when arriving at Honolulu airport, where he was directed to take the wiki wiki bus (shuttle bus) between terminals. On 25th March 1995, By the late 1990s, people were recognising the more general potential of wikis in the collaborative development of online information repositories, and in January 2001, Wikipedia was launched. As well as referring to an online knowledge base, wiki is also sometimes used to refer to the software that created it. Wiki has already had a very productive life as a catchy prefix in Internet-speak, for example wikitext, wikisite and wikipage. Wikis are increasingly being used in a wide range of business and educational contexts.
- Jargon goes mainstream
Some words are specific to a job (al desko - whilst sitting at a desk), or a particular area of science or technology (reboot). People who aren't familiar with specialized terms may think others are speaking a foreign language. But the terms may be adopted by the general public as well, with their original or a slightly changed meaning. In everyday conversation, terms from the underlying computer technology are given new application among people who want their talk to have a cool cutting-edge.
· Let’s go offline for a few minutes (i.e. let’s talk in private)
· I’ll ping you later (i.e. get in touch to see if you’re around)
· He started flaming me for no reason at all (i.e. shouting at me)
· That’s an alt.dot way of looking at things (i.e. a cool way)
· He’s living in hypertext (i.e. he’s got a lot to hide)
· E you later (said as a farewell)
Language and technology are continually evolving. In today's shrinking world of instant communication with far off places and people, as well as the effect of TV and movies on culture everywhere, there is so much more to life on the Internet. The Internet has become an essential tool for communication over the last few years. People go online for an infinite number of reasons - to chat with coworkers, check daily papers, research homework problems, send e-mail, even to playgames. With the advent of these communication interfaces, it’s no surprise that the language we use online has changed with the times. The variety of applications of new technology leads to new stylistic forms and increases the expressive range of a language, especially at the informal end of the spectrum. The language used online is that of real people of great diversity. English has become the dominant language of the Internet. To sum up, one should say that in the process of globalization it is impossible to stop formation of the new words. The transition is inevitable not only between language and technology but also between cultures.
1. American Dialect Society www.americandialect.org
2. Andrew Moore - Language and Technology www.teachit.co.uk/armoore/default.htm
3. BuzzWord section from Macmillan English Dictionary Online
4. Keep your English up to date series of talks on new and changing vocabulary, BBC Learning English – Blog, E-, Facebook, F.A.Q.s, Google, Netizen, Spam, Wi-fi, Wysiwyg.
5. Dave Wilton - Methods of Word Formation www.wordorigins.org/index.php
6. David Crystal. Language and the Internet. Cambridge University Press. 2001.
7. Jukka Korpela - English - the Universal Language on the Internet?
8. Kristen Philipkoski - The Web Not the Death of Language www.wired.com
- Language Development via the Internet
10. Wordlink series of free ELT dictionary resources, Oxford University Press