Texting, Google searches and social media have all changed the way we speak English. The advent of digital technology didn’t just introduce us to new acronyms or promote the spread of slang terms. It’s also shaped the rules of communication, and forced us to adopt new concepts in language.
Here are 13 ways technology has changed the way we speak over the last 20 years.
As email has taken over as the dominant form of communication for companies, families and friends, we’ve had to define proper email etiquette to better communicate with each other. Whether it's policing the language you use when addressing someone through email or proper email practices, there are plenty of ways this technology has adapted our communication. One example? Thinking twice before hitting “reply all” and professional language in emails.
Original computer communicators may have used shortcuts such as LOL or the smiley face :) , but now we have emojis built into our smartphone keyboards. These days, plenty of people consistently use these tiny pictures to add description and feelings to their messages.
Verbing, a practice that has been around for centuries, has sped up and become much more common in the past few decades. We now Google new information, download articles, bookmark webpages, and code new programs into existence. Instead of creating new verbs to describe what technology does, often we simply turn to the accompanying noun and refine it to fit our purposes.
Texting used to be a chore, but even though smartphones now allow people to write more clearly and type faster, people still prefer to shrink their words down. BBC reports that up to 10% of the words people type are shortened.
The internet is a wild place, where you can find anything you want in just a few clicks of the mouse. But not everything on the internet should be on clear display for all to see. Some images, articles and websites now post content warnings, and it’s common to see them as CW (content warning), TW (trigger warning), or NSFW (not safe for work). Placing taboo or triggering topics behind a content warning is just the polite thing to do.
Your grandmother might get away with accidentally hitting the caps lock key, but most people should shy away from using ALL CAPS. Today, using all caps signifies shouting and is considered impolite or a sign of enthusiasm, depending on the context.
Silence is also something that speaks volumes toward how language has changed. It’s now easier to avoid a difficult break up or argument by simply ignoring or blocking a phone number. Instead of dealing with a public break up, people can disappear into the digital ether. The internet connects us but also makes it easier to avoid each other, too.
To expedite communication, people are using less punctuation marks. You’ve probably received text messages without commas or periods. Using formal punctuation in casual messaging can seem downright rude, and those who end their text messages with periods may be interpreted as being angry.
The word troll once represented mythical creatures from Norway, and the word virtual was once a fixture in sci-fi, but they’re used for different reasons today. Where we used to have only radios as wireless technology, we now have a variety of wireless items today: printers, mouse, headphones and wi-fi.
Published writing used to be a serious academic endeavor, but the internet makes it easier to share information. Nowadays, people share information on blogs and online outlets written in a style closer to how they speak. Even keeping in touch via long letters has been replaced with gifs and memes.
When Twitter became a social media mainstay in 2006, some people said it would promote efficiency. Many Twitter arguments later, we’re still debating whether or not the social media platform is ruining our ability to write, or simply evolving it.
In 2009, PC World published an article about how technology is changing how we read, and that has only continued to evolve over the last 10 years. Instead of paper books, magazines and newspapers, we can now read via a variety of screens: tablets, computers and our phones. There are even apps that allow you to speed read content online. While some lament the loss of a physical library, digital reading allows readers to sync between devices and carry their library on the go.
Linguists are people who study the use and structure of languages. There are now internet linguists, and though someone was bound to study these modern language developments, this is a job that wouldn’t have been possible without the changes brought about by technology.