How the Internet is Changing Language

Whether it’s an inside joke turned meme, a quick emoji on your text ? or if you are LMAO’ing, these seemingly insignificant moments are shaping the future of our language.

It’s no surprise the web is having a big impact on our behaviour. Most Canadians are spending 3 to 4 hours online per day, and one-in-eight are online more than eight hours a day. When it comes to language, the internet presents a unique environment that’s influencing how we communicate. And this digital petri dish is a recipe for language evolution.

Technology Always Changes Language

The invention of the printing press ushered in the communication revolution, leading to important advancements like more standardized language and wider spread literacy (cue the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution). Other technologies like the telephone, typewriters, and radio broadcasting all helped shape the English language as we know it today.

But the internet is extra special. The world wide web has some particular qualities that make it a strong avenue for change.

Pick a Platform, Any Platform

The variety of communication channels at our fingertips has exploded thanks to the internet. Websites, email, chats and forums, blogs, instant messaging, social networks, texting, video calls, gaming platforms, and the list goes on—each offering its own unique twist on language.

For example, texting uses a very informal style, unlike conventional written language that is usually quite proper. “Txt spk” plays with casual variants on capitalization and punctuation, shorthand, acronyms and even modern-day hieroglyphs: the beloved emoji.

These numerous platforms and nuanced styles give us many opportunities to diversify our communication habits. The words of Marshall McLuhan still ring true: The medium is the message.

Giving a Voice to the Masses

Combine the internet’s many channels with accessibility and you get a massive engine for self-expression. From tweets to restaurant reviews, the web offers every single user a digital soapbox and the allure of freedom of speech. Everyone is creating and the internet is bursting at the seams with ideas, thoughts and opinions. The result: exposure to more language styles, new words/slang, trends and variations, like never before.

Weaker Connections Matter

The connectivity properties of the web are also key. I’m not talking about your wifi settings. The internet’s transient social interactions help to expose you to more diverse language styles that you may otherwise not experience. Even though mom told us not to, talking to strangers on the internet is commonplace now. Wider networks with weaker ties connect more people and spread new language styles faster and further—exactly how new slang catches on or something can “go viral”.

Fast-tracking Language Learning

This diversity, accessibility and connectivity mean we can be exploratory at a rapid pace. Unlike previous technologies, most online channels offer two-way, relatively immediate connections. We’re capturing near-instant feedback on what’s working and what’s popular when it comes to language.

The information superhighway has provided an avenue for advancing communication, leading to expressively richer lives. While we may not realize it, we can’t help but learn from our experiences online and change with this technology. So, get out there and internet, people!