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Language development via the internet

The Scope of Internet Linguistics Seminar Annual Meeting AAAS

Bangor University

Educationalists may rail against the increased use of 'txt' shorthand by children in their school work, and that is only proper, for there is a time and a place for everything. However, the advent of new language styles and forms engendered by the Internet, and related communication developments such as SMS messaging, should be greeted with delight, according to internationally renowned language expert, Professor David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Professor Crystal tells the Annual Conference of the AAAS that this is the greatest opportunity for the development of the English language since the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages. 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. Indeed not so long ago, people were getting ready to mourn the passing of the diary as a literary form, when hey presto! we see a renaissance in the form of the on-line diary, web log or 'blog'.

Changes in communication technology are invariably accompanied by concerns about language, explains Crystal. In this instance, because people notice a growth of informality in language use, their concerns center around whether this will cause a general deterioration in the quality of the language.

"The prophets of doom emerge every time a new technology influences language, of course - they gathered when printing was introduced, in the 15th century, as well as when the telephone was introduced in the 19th, and when broadcasting came along in the 20th; and they gathered again when it was noticed that Internet writing broke several of the rules of formal standard English - in such areas as punctuation, capitalization, and spelling," says Crystal. " All that has happened, in fact, is that the language's resources for the expression of informality in writing have hugely increased - something which has not been seen in English since the Middle Ages, and which was largely lost when Standard English came to be established in the 18th century. Rather than condemning it, therefore, we should be exulting in the fact that the Internet is allowing us to once more explore the power of the written language in a creative way.' But he adds: 'There is of course, a role for educationalists in teaching children which style is the most appropriate and where'.

Technology bears gifts also for linguistics scholarship: according to Crystal, it is a new opportunity for academic study. He outlines to delegates the 'once in a lifetime' opportunity offered by the emerging communication media. A new academic study of 'Internet Linguistics' includes, at the very least, a comparative study of the style of different formats and the development of language change within these new media.

From his own early assessments, Prof Crystal concludes that a surprisingly small number of new words have been spawned, while 'txt'ing, blogging and other forms have given radical opportunities to develop new stylistic rules. He believes that the new forms of interaction seen in Internet exchanges are far more important than changes in vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. But in his own words he adds, "We aint seen nothin' yet!"

Finally, as the Internet becomes more linguistically diverse, it also extends a hand to minority languages and minority language speakers. The Internet's accessibility aids documentation in and of minority languages and enables minority language speakers separated by space to maintain a virtual contact through email, chat and instant messaging environments. Embracing emerging 'cool' technologies in a minority language can also play a role in persuading the youth of an endangered language community that the language is something that has relevance to them.


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