Language and the Internet

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Professor David Crystal, Language and the Internet, Monday, 11th March, 6pm, Geoffrey Manton Building, MMU

Words by Megan Lucie Adams
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Language is something we can all take for granted and it is often something many of us believe we can use, shape and mould as we wish. In a world where Twitter and Facebook ask us, ‘What’s happening?’ or ‘What’s on your mind?’ on a daily basis, it is clear that the internet has some grip over what we say and how we say it, more than we care to believe. “Are you addicted to the internet?”, asked Professor David Crystal to a bursting and honoured lecture theatre at Manchester Metropolitan University this Monday evening.
Dr Sharon Handley, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, had the esteemed pleasure of welcoming Professor David Crystal to the university. As a renowned scholar and prolific author of over one hundred and twenty books, Patron of the Internal Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL), a Fellow of the British Academy, and decorated with an OBE, Professor Crystal was met with nothing but admiration and applause when delivering his lecture. Presenting itself in the Digital Humanities strand in the Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research Program at MMU, Professor Crystal began his engaging and inspiring lecture by ‘tweeting’ on his Blackberry and speaking passionately about the language of the internet and what is next in an ever-changing digital age. Instead of accusing today’s young demographic for our lack of attention to detail whilst surfing and engaging with the World Wide Web, he brought our awareness to the rapid changes in both technology and language.
Beginning in the 1990s, internet linguistics gave birth to computer mediated communication (CMC) or, how it is now known in America, electronically mediated communication (EMC) and in Europe, Digitally mediated communication (DMC). It has since produced technology that many of us did not imagine we would see. Take our GPS systems for example, iPhones and even voice activated washing machines, technology is evolving faster and becoming more innovative than ever before. However, next time someone tells you that txt speak is more popular than standard English, that we abbreviate more and that people who txt will in fact be poor spellers, tell them that David Crystal disagrees. Humouring John Humphreys in the Daily Mail, he quoted, “People who send txt messages are like the Vandals and Goths of ancient times raping and pillaging the English language”, yet it was this very argument the Professor aimed to counter with his engaging and informed set of facts and statistics.
Most of us will remember the way we began txting. I for one am guilty of dropping my vowels and substituting words for numbers, yet now, as an English undergraduate, this irritates me and, if I’m honest, it was the very moment I saw my mum doing the same thing that I knew it was time to stop. This particular point was brought to my attention during the lecture and as quickly as language develops, so did the final part of this informative ninety minutes. Professor Crystal concluded his lecture by offering examples by which EMC, speech and writing differ. He asked his audience to consider imagining a conversation without simultaneous feedback, without which we would not engage into any verbal conversations. He also brought the idea of publishing online to our attention, suggesting that blogs offer a new medium due to the editorial changes that the writer can themselves control.
In a world where the internet has become revolutionary, Professor David Crystal was himself an activist of the language being used today. Suggesting that although our vocabulary has expanded, our grammar evolved and morphology and orthography become more flexible, the internet has not radically changed our language, it has simply introduced more styles and more diversity. Speaking at the end of his lecture, Professor Crystal said, “The whole language of the internet is interesting […] as a linguist, what upsets me more than anything else is to find that people are very ready to talk about the social side of the internet and not quite so ready to talk about the language side. That’s why a talk of this kind, I hope, will fill out for you a perspective which unfortunately has been too often missed.”
In a very entertaining, useful and engaging lecture, Professor David Crystal delivered his interesting research around the language of a medium close to us all. He reminded me of my love for the English language, its quirks, its adaptability and its sheer defiance to be generalised. It can foster new relationships online, become a medium to which we can be our own editors and offer a variety of new styles of which we can explore. However, despite this interest in the social aspect, we must, as Professor Crystal suggests, remember and pay homage to a language that is simply so fascinating in its own intellectual form.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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