Technology’s Influence on Language

Image courtesy of [tungphoto] /

Image courtesy of [tungphoto] /

Texting. Email. Selfie. Downloading. App. Googling. Blog.

Word and phrases of our every day language are evolving, growing, and ever-changing with advances in technology. David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor says, “The whole phenomenon is very recent – the entire technology we’re talking about is only 20 years old as far as the popular mind is concerned.”

There is no doubt that technology influences language. It always has and always will. Contemplating earlier technological advances will give you an idea of this constant influence. Where would our language be without such words as: clock, scissors, engine, telephone, microscope, and airplane? And what about laser, radar, x-ray, robotics, microwave, and science fiction? In some cases, fresh meanings associated with technological advances are simply assigned to old words such as meme, troll, caps, streaming, and bandwidth, just to name a few.

While new additions to vocabulary affect the way we speak, technology also influences the way we write. Devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets have speeded up the process in which language changes. Traditional forms of communication are undergoing transformations. Take for example, the act of sending notes. In the past, if one person wanted to meet another for lunch at a certain place, at a certain time, he or she would take paper and pen and would write something to the effect: “Dear (insert name here), would you care to meet at the Whistle Stop Café on Monday, June 25th at 2:30 pm sharp?” With texting, it is instead shortened to a quick: “Whistle Stop Mon 6/25 @ 2:30p?”

Digital technology’s significance can also be seen in the way we send and interpret messages. For example, ALL CAPS MAY INDICATE SHOUTING. Lower case is the preferred form for using a ‘normal’ tone of voice. The use of ‘rhetorical punctuation’ or punctuation that follows more of the way we speak, is prevalent, rather than ‘logical punctuation’ that follows more traditional rules. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, and Bebo have seen a dramatic rise of people writing the way they speak rather than following convention. When have we ever ‘liked’ something so much? And in a time when text messaging is more common that talking on a mobile phone, have you heard a person say, “O-M-G! I can’t believe it!”

Although established users may lament when the language does, in fact, change, modern premise on language development is that change is neither good nor bad. Paul Perry of The English Language Expert says, “[W]hile mainstream, digital communication alters language use, it does not eradicate the traditional; it merely sits alongside convention.” To see a list of new words that have been influenced by technology that have been recently added to the Oxford Dictionary (along with quite a few others in our evolving language), check out its online quarterly update. Or take a look at the Cambridge Dictionaries Online Blog that posts the most recent vocabulary accepted into the English lexicon.

Can new technologies ever have a negative impact on language? It is believed in some ways they can. One example is how the younger generation is growing up with their word-stock changing at a dramatic pace. They lack an extensive vocabulary, pay little mind to grammatical rules, and often cannot appreciate the subtleties of word play.

Professor Naomi Baron, Executive Director for the Center for Teaching, Research and Learning, Department of Language and Foreign Studies for American University states, “My own unease is that writing has increasingly become an off-the-cuff, done-in-a-hurry activity, rather than a process that involves contemplation and redrafting.” However, for even for the most traditional linguists, there is nothing to fear from the changeover. For example, the use of acronyms and abbreviations often found in fast-paced English language cultures actually has been around for centuries, and some experts feel millennia.


Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype








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