Posted by: kimothy | April 6, 2009

Internet Speak

Preface This was an HCI blog post, but in the middle of my research for it, the professor made it optional, so I decided to do more ranting and less formal analysis. Also, I didn’t proofread/edit it to make it better as a whole, so if it seems random and choppy, my bad. I didn’t care that much.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on websites like Myspace, Twitter, or Facebook (on the high school side, mostly), you will have noticed a different use of language coming out from the underbelly of the internet. It seems like the English language is getting redefined by the youngest generation, and while it seems to the older generations that culture is being lost, perhaps a new culture is being created.

In the past few years, text messaging and instant messaging have become much more popular, and with that popularity has come a new use of English. (For now, “people” will refer mostly to the younger generation, from high school through college-age people.) People have started abbreviating lots of words to increase their rate of messaging. Many words that sound like individual letters, or numbers, are being abbreviated by their much shorter counterparts. For example, words like “you” and “your” are reduced to “u” and “ur,” respectively, and “for” and “to” are reduced to the numbers 4 and 2, respectively. This kind of abbreviation is useful for text messaging with a 10-key keypad, since it takes a lot more effort to type out entire words, and there are often character limits in text messaging. The affordance of the 10-key keypad encourages these kind of abbreviations, and even with the recent develpoment of the T9 word-generation technology, shortening words is much faster.

However, many people have extended these kinds of abbreviations to emails and online postings, occasions when text editing is possible and there is no time limit. This is a prime example I found on Myspace. I had the hardest time figuring out what the guy is saying. I feel like it takes much more effort to type things out like this than to type out the actual words, especially when you have access to a QWERTY keyboard, and no time constraint like with instant messaging or texting. Comprehension and clarity vastly depreciate when you use “language” like this, and it does the opposite of saving time. This is another example from Facebook of using a different “language” to express something; I personally find it very frustrating to read something like this. Many of these kinds of messages are meant for a very specific group of people (“users,” if you will): other people who use that kind of language. And anyone who doesn’t use it is inconvenienced. It could be used as a kind of code, almost. A really easy-to-break code.

The recent introduction of full QWERTY keyboards in some cell phones has allowed people so avoid the time-saving abbreviations of the 10-key keypad. But people still use the abbreviations. Granted, most use of the full keyboards on Blackberrys, for example, is texting, or bbming, so time is a factor. There are also email capabilities, but most people who use their Blackberrys to answer emails have time constraints on emails as well. Blackberrys and other smart phones are all about saving time.

A new kind of language is coming out of internet culture; memes and colloquialisms that were originally used only in online gaming situations are now finding their ways into modern spoken English. Lolcats and 13375p34k (leet-speak, an abbreviation for elite speak) are two examples. They have become an internet phenomenon all on their own, and often make fun of themselves; but they are another example of languages that are meant for only a specific set of people, and anyone outside those sets are often lost. Or, they resort to making fun of the language. Here, Questionable Content, a regular webcomic, makes fun of 13375p34k in its 1337th strip, and xkcd.com, a nerdy webcomic, makes fun of internet memes. I found both comics hilarious, but people who don’t understand what memes or 13375p33k are would not find it nearly as funny; they would find it to be gibberish.

[Side note: typing out 13375p34k is incredibly difficult. This proves my point. Why do people use this language? They certainly can’t think it saves time. It must be for the status that goes with it. It IS “elite” after all…]

Language variations like these are sweeping pop culture quickly, and a lot of old usage of language is getting lost in the wash of internet speak. But this is just a transition period from one stage of culture to the next. I personally don’t like it, and I never use that kind of language use in my instant/text messages or posts; but I do use lol and brb and others like that that were the first things to be integrated into the modern language. The internet and computers have brought so much change into American culture; it only makes sense that language will be one of the things to change.

Postscript As of right now, my blog has 999 hits! (since July 2008) How exciting. I wonder who will be the 1000th hit. That’s what she said.

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