Stop panicking, the internet is not destroying the English language

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First aired on Spark (26/05/13)

In the last ten years, there has been an ongoing debate about the influence of texting and internet language like tweeting and blogging on the state of the English language. The common fear is that the abbreviated language, alternative words and lack of punctuation used on the net bleeds into our more formal uses of language and might eventually even replace it. Author and internet linguist David Crystal says that everyone can stop worrying. There's enough research now to show that the internet word is not destroying the written word. In fact, it's making it even better. 

David Crystal's book Texting: The Great Debate outlines the moral panic about internet language. "Whenever new technology comes along people always get worried about it as far as language is concerned," he said to Spark host Nora Young. "It's not just the internet, when telephones arrived in the 19th century people panicked because they thought it was going to destroy language (people wouldn't go out of their houses anymore). And then broadcasting comes along in the 1920s and people panic because they think everyone's going to be brainwashed. And same with the internet..." It's taken about ten years, but now linguists have determined that English remains unchanged: books aren't changing, kid's homework is the same and thank you letters don't read like text messages. Crystal explains that "99.9 per cent of all the language that is going backwards and forwards and around the world is carrying on in just the same way it was before the internet came along in the first place."

Meanwhile back on the net, language is flourishing, growing and evolving. "The internet has given us 10 or 15 new styles of communication: long messages like blogging, short messages like texting and tweeting, so I see it all as an expanding array of linguistic possibilities." Crystal explains that even though most of the opportunities for language occur at "the informal end of the spectrum," this type of language still has value.

For the last 10 years we've seen a trend in internet writing that mimics the spoken word -- through Facebook, email and texting. Crystal sees this as a trend that will persist in the future. "We ain't seen nothing yet. The big thing that's going to happen over the next 10 years is that the internet is going to become increasingly audio, in all sorts of different ways," he said. "So the balance is going to change and I think we're going to see all sorts of language on the internet become conversational and spoken as a result. "It already is to a considerable extent but it's going to get more so."

What do you think, has your panic about texting and tweeting destroying the formal written word started to subside?

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