Hello, Language Nerd,
A lot of new media speech, like netspeak or leetspeak is derided as a corruption of standard English. Is there really anything negative socially about the rise of those kinds of speech?
It’s interesting that you chose netspeak and leetspeak as your examples, because they are actually examples of two different types of language change. We’ll take them in turn.
Netspeak, chatspeak, textspeak and all such whatnot are part of the evolution of language due to modern tech. People have naturally shortened words and phrases to make typing faster, and come up with an enormous new pile of slang in the process. Like every generation’s slang, this batch is considered an abomination by the previous generations. Is typing “smh” or “wtf” going to drop your IQ? No. Is it going to turn modern youth into raving savages? No. Is it a sign that our language is collapsing around us? Hell no. It’s just a sign that language is changing, as it constantly does.
We have to reject the idea of one correct standard English, which other dialects somehow fail to live up to. All dialects and varieties of a language, including the standard, are equal. They all have comprehensive, rule-bound grammars. The standard has the most social power, and is the only one that gets taught in schools, but other varieties haven’t somehow broken the rules of the standard; they have their own, fully formulated rules, which they follow. People, especially younger people, are able to deal with multiple sets of rules at a time, and are fully capable of using netspeak rules with each other and standard rules in the classroom.
Leetspeak is something else again. It’s not a natural evolution used by a wide swath of people, the way chatspeak is. Instead, it’s a constructed style that a much smaller group of people have purposefully built up to use with each other, and to mark who is in the group and who is not. It’s more like lolspeak than netspeak: no one is likely to learn leetspeak in the course of daily life, but might make an effort to learn it to join a particular geek community. Communities through the ages have created similar codes. Thieves’ cant comes to mind. Needing to know particular jargon to enter a community (doctors, musicians, criminals, fanfiction authors) is similar, though less stringent.
Here, too, there’s not anything dangerous about the language itself. The internet certainly allows ever-weirder groups to create their own echo-chamber communities and explain to each other how right they are about whatever their weird thing is, and that may be a problem, but it’s not a language problem. The language is an effect, not the cause.
The Language Nerd
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