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You feel?: How the Internet transforms the English language

Sabrina Hartono
Sabrina Hartono

A self-proclaimed book-geek, semi-foodie and lexicon-lover

Jakarta | Fri, August 5, 2016 | 01:05 pm
You feel?: How the Internet transforms the English language

The advent of the Internet has transformed the way we use language today. (Shutterstock/*)

The grammar of doge: "much wow", "very amaze". The new because-proposition, "because" language. The incoherent incomplete sentences, like, "you feel?". 

The advent of the Internet has transformed the way we use language today. And to some traditionalists, this emerging phenomena is the biggest contributor to the demise of the English language since the birth of emojis.

More specifically, platforms like Tumblr and 9gag have generated “grammar-bending, punctuation-eliminating, verb-into-noun-morphing” linguistic conventions that have now leaked into other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and flooded into real-life conversations.

(Read also: Apple introduces women, water gun emojis)

Memes (pronounced “meems”) are concepts, catchphrase or pieces of media that are transferred predominantly on the Internet. Most memes are captioned photos intended to be humorous, sometimes as satire or social commentary. More recently, the word “memes” took on a broader definition to include verbal language structures.

Popular verbal memes include the phrase “I can’t even”, which indicates a feeling so overwhelming that one is unable to fully form coherent sentences. Another popular usage of Internet memes is conversational language adopting “doge-speak.” Doge is a meme of a shiba inu that supposedly “talks” in ungrammatical two-word phrases. Most of the time, these phrases involve mismatched quantifiers (like “many excite,” “very feels”) and usually insinuate sarcasm or add humorous touches to a serious topic.

As mentioned earlier, certain words have also assumed broader verb functions on the Internet, such as “because.” Linguist Gretchen McCulloch says that such adaptation “conveys focus. It means something like ‘I’m so busy being totally absorbed by X that I don’t need to explain further, and you should know about this because it’s a completely valid, incredibly important thing to be doing.’” The word “but” is increasingly experiencing similar treatment: “I have three essays, two projects and five tests to hand in tomorrow but sleep.”

Additionally, the brevity of a word can convey a sense of universality. Megan Garber writes in an article for The Atlantic: “When I say ‘the talks broke down, because politics,’ I’m not just describing a circumstance. I’m making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time.”

Many have expressed concern over the evolution of language, some even considering the phenomenona a degradation of language. But what is the purpose of language if not to adapt and convey what we mean as simply and effectively as possible? 

Conventional wisdom seems to portray this form of linguistic flexibility and playfulness as the end of intelligent human life. The Internet has been pinned as the culprit for tarnishing the state of modern discourse. 

(Read also: Instagram launches Snapchat-like feature: Instagram Stories)

Is it the Internet’s fault though? 

World-renowned linguist David Crystal said in an interview with Spark 220 that, “Whenever new technology comes along, people always get worried about it, as far as language is concerned. It’s not just with the Internet. […] what you see is an expansion of the expressive richness of language.”

Internet linguistics have opened up a new avenue for the experimentation of language. Even before the Internet, people have long been “playing” with language—through puns, accents, dialects—so what is wrong with this new form? Internet slang has brought communities together through shared reference points gained through immersive learning on common platforms.

To the unyielding conservatives of the English language, do not fret. Internet-speak will not completely overthrow the English language. But its existence is one that deserves commendation; for in an incomplete clause (“cannot deal”) or single-word phrases (“this.”) we are still able to convey our thoughts and intentions.

The beauty of Internet language should be acknowledged for its semantic validity, despite its syntactical “incompleteness”.

 

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A self-proclaimed book-geek, semi-foodie and lexicon-lover, Sabrina Hartono is a 17-year-old student living in Jakarta. She loves history, literature, chemistry, not-really maths and waffles. An aspiring writer, she has started with her pilot project, "Forgotten Voices", which you can find out more about on jakartatreasures.com.

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