Letters from the linguists: lazy language
by Kayleigh Zeeff
We use a lot of different terms to describe language that has been influenced by technology; some describe it as “computer-mediated communication,” while others spring for creative alternatives such as “netlingo.” Whatever you call it, the Internet and the devices around us are changing the way we speak, write, and understand. So, what do we do? We start looking for a quicker and easier way to communicate.
For some this causes moral panic, or the fear that these recent linguistic trends will contaminate and even ruin “proper English.” Various naysayers even accuse users of netlingo, who frequently belong to the younger generation, of being ignorant, careless, and downright lazy with their language use by subscribing to these trends. But by looking a little closer we all might find that these linguistic choices aren’t so unfamiliar.
One of the biggest arguments against this generation’s language use online and in text messages is the use of shortened words — it’s their fav. Prescriptivists may shame the person who says, “We should totes read the Phrasee blog cuz it’s awesome,” but even the greatest critics of netlingo might be surprised to know that we make those same linguistic decisions every day. Have you been exercising your abdominal muscles in your home gymnasium? Or do you prefer to spend your time scrolling through your telephone and dreaming of a pint at the public house? Your version of fun might even be scouring this blog post for typographical errors, but above all, the truth remains. Abs, gym, phone, pub, typo — examples of word shortening are clipping are all around us.
It doesn’t stop there: the typical greeting and farewell phrases that we utter each day didn’t even originate as “hello” and “goodbye.” They were clipped from “whole be thou” and “God-be-with-you.” English evolved to include these shortened versions in everyday speech; they’re even worthy of being considered “proper English.” So, while it might be easy to turn your nose up at shortened words on the Internet, you are def guilty of the same crime.
Modern prescriptivists also generally discourage the use of popular internet acronyms. IDK why they disapprove, but BTW, we’ve all been doing it for quite a while. Have you ever been scuba diving? If you have, I highly doubt that you told the tale as your self-contained underwater breathing apparatus experience. And when cats were at the peak of their internet fame and could be seen chasing little red dots up walls, I didn’t see their antics being described as chasing light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation pointers. Today’s English speakers would say TLDR* to those. That’s why this sort of language change happens in the first place: speakers are always looking for the most efficient way to convey their message.
If we want to become more efficient, we have a task: create and amend our language. It requires great proficiency, expertise and, above all, creativity. So, this generation is not lazy or careless with their language use at all; they are brilliant innovators on the cusp of significant language change. The netlingo generation is leading us toward a new and enhanced version of English, just like their ancestors did before them. The modern adaptations we’re seeing aren’t wrong or damaging at all, in fact! We need to get on board, because we are witnessing the creation of the English of the future. OMG.
*Too long, didn’t read
‘Letters from the linguists’ is a collection of thought-provoking articles about language and new technologies, contributed by Phrasee’s team of AI language technicians.
Phrasee’s language technicians program language generation frameworks to produce marketing copy that’s authentic to a brand’s voice. By combining art with science, and linguistics with artificial intelligence, they build custom language models that optimize marketing performance and drive more revenue for global brands.