There is no doubt that our language is a powerful tool. As is the internet. So how does internet slang affect us?

We spend a great deal of time on the internet. As such, the internet has seen some significant changes in our lives. And so does internet slang.

Posting a letter seems ridiculously slow when you can just fire off an email. Job interviews are conducted online and we don’t bother sending Christmas cards when a post on Facebook will suffice.

As a result, we have also adapted the way we write and speak on the internet. Internet slang is a relatively new term denoting the more informal words and phrases that we use online. The interesting thing about this new phenomenon is the speed of how these slang words catch on.

And this is where the internet comes into its own. Before the internet, it would take a long time for new words to infiltrate our consciousness.

“Language itself changes slowly, but the internet has sped up the process of those changes so you notice them more quickly,” David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics, Bangor University

So, does internet slang change the way we think, write and speak, or is it merely a reflection of how our language is evolving?

Does Internet Slang Change the Way We Think?

To demonstrate how internet slang changes the way we think let’s look at the abbreviation LOL. We all know LOL as ‘laughing out loud’, but thanks to advances in technology, its meaning is now changing.

In fact, depicting LOL as laughing is positively outdated. These days, people use LOL to signify their message is meant to be funny or ironic. And it has other meanings too.

“LOL can also be a way to acknowledge that a writer has received a text—a written version of a nod of the head and a smile.” Internet Linguist Ann Curzan

So LOL is used now in a passive way as a listening tool, rather than an active means to say you are laughing.

The internet also has the power to change the everyday words we use and give them different semantic uses.

For example, Twitter introduced ‘tweeting’, which we now use as a verb. Facebook allows us to ‘defriend’ someone and we all know about ‘trolling’. Even simple words such as ‘like’, ‘poke’, ‘wave’, ‘tag’, ‘wall’, ‘post’ and ‘status’ now have different connotations for us.

If I asked you whether you liked your friend’s post on their wall the other day, you wouldn’t imagine I was talking about a letter on a fence. All these words now give the impression of our online presence.

Furthermore, this thinking process is so automatic it is now embedded into our subconscious. But remember, two decades ago we hadn’t even heard of the internet, let alone Facebook.

Does Internet Slang Change the Way We Speak?

Does internet slang really change the way we speak? It’s true, some slang words have filtered into our everyday lives. Abbreviations like OMG, FOMO, LMAO and words such as hashtag, selfie, and cyberbully are all part of our collective conscious. But do we use them in real life and if so, do they change the way we speak?

It is true that some abbreviations are more popular than others. For example, OMG and LOL. These changes to our language appear to have taken place virtually overnight. So are we about to become a world that communicates via acronyms? Linguist David Crystal thinks not.

“The Internet has only been around for some 20 years, which is no time at all. It takes a lot longer for permanent or significant language change to operate. Most people speak today just as they did before the Internet arrived.”

However, internet slang is not just about words and phrases. It also includes emoticons. Smiley faces, sad faces, our language is peppered with such references.

However, although some phrases, words, and acronyms may enhance and add to the expressive nature of our language, experts don’t believe that internet slang will change it significantly.

“The occasional additional spoken abbreviation (such as LOL) is hardly a significant effect.” David Crystal

Does Internet Slang Change the Way We Write?

This is probably the most worrisome of all three debates on internet slang. Does it have an effect on the way we write? It seems as if it must do, but is there any evidence?

Electronically mediated communication (EMC) or digital or online communication is described as the language we use on the internet. EMC language is very different from the Standard English language we use in formal contexts such as writing a CV for instance.

Examples of EMC language

  • *sigh* – taking too long to text back
  • B3 – Blah, blah, blah
  • PA – Parents are watching
  • Ok – Acknowledgement
  • Ok! – Agreement
  • Ok… – Potential disagreement
  • :: – Banging head against a wall
  • C-P – Sleepy

So are we at a point where the younger generation is going to single-handedly ruin the English language with text-speak and internet slang?

Anne Curzan studies students and their use of EMC communication. She found that although occasionally they may trip up and use acronyms and abbreviations when they shouldn’t, it wasn’t the huge problem society deemed it to be.

“As a linguist who studies the history of the English language, I reassured the students that they are not ruining the English language, no matter what they hear from their parents or teachers or other trustworthy and concerned authorities,” she says.

Other linguist experts agree. David Crystal states that the overwhelming majority of the language we write is still based on Standard English. That’s why we are still able to read Shakespeare or Charles Dickens.

Perhaps we should leave the debate on internet slang to one of the most famous linguists of all.

Stephen Pinker thinks that as human beings we do not like change of any kind, and this includes language. Therefore, it is unlikely that internet slang will have any lasting effect on how we think, speak or write in the long term.

But more importantly, in Pinker’s opinion, internet slang is not an influencer as such, it is more of a reflection of what is going on in society.

“Language is not so much a creator and shaper of human nature so much as a window onto human nature.” Stephen Pinker

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