Is social media ruining our dialects?
With Facebook reaching over a billion users in 2012 and Twitter 500 million, it’s no wonder it’s having an influence on our lives – whether we personally use it or not. Social media is changing many things in society – news distribution, communication and the advancement of user-generated content being just a few, but it is the change in language which seems to be the most controversial.
But are our regional dialects suffering in favour of this so called ‘netspeak’?
“Social media is killing them, stone dead” says Don Bemrose, founder of the East Riding Dialect Society in Yorkshire. He believes social media such as Facebook, Twitter and apps like Whatsapp are one of the predominant reasons for the downfall of traditional dialect. “People spend so much time communicating over the internet that they get lazy and feel they don’t need to bother writing correctly – and that transfers to their speech. They aren’t talking like they used to. Traditional dialects are dying out anyway, but this butchering of the English language as a whole isn’t helping.”
The phenomenon that is Social Media has undoubtedly affected the way language is used amongst individuals around the world. Acronyms such as ‘OMG’ (oh my god), ‘LOL’ (laughing out loud) and ‘BFF’ (best friends forever) are no longer confined to use in text messaging – in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary has officially legitimised the terms by adding them to it’s pages – as well as the symbol <3, which represents a heart or love. As such, it’s not so surprising to hear sentences such as ‘like, that is totes amazing, LOL’, used in everyday language – most commonly found within the younger generation.
But many similar abbreviations and slang terms have been around for a long time. For example, abbreviations such as ‘ASAP’ (as soon as possible) and FAQ (frequently asked questions) are in standard everyday use with non-social media users as well. ‘‘OMG’ was first used in the early 20th century – it’s not a new thing by any means!’ says sociolinguist Dominic Watt from the University of York. ‘It has to be recognised that every generation in the English speaking world has thought that the next generation after them is spoiling the language; even back in the time of Henry VIII people were complaining about what the young people were saying. It’s something we’re going to have to live with. Computer mediated communication is just another source of linguistic innovation, diversity and resourcefulness’
I don’t understand why I can’t speak more than one dialect: one in my home town, one at university with my friends and Standard English in my job
Indeed, the medium is used not only for people to socialise, but by organisations and businesses around the world. 65 year old businessman, Rick Ladd, teaches companies how to use social media as a tool to market their company. ‘Many of us speak differently when addressing different audiences. When I’m tweeting, posting in Facebook, writing a blog post, or participating in an IM chat, I’m going to express myself differently. Each requires a dialect of its own. Social media is therefore adding to, not subtracting from, the richness of our language.’ 22 year old student Catherine Stanley celebrates the sense of community she has with the friends she talks to on social media sites. ‘We use social media to communicate all the time, so it’s only natural that this slang and way of spelling words has moved in to our speech. It has become a part of our culture and identity. I don’t understand why I can’t speak more than one dialect: one in my home town, one at university with my friends and Standard English in my job.’
Co-writer of the Online Journalism Handbook, Paul Bradshaw, believes this is an issue not worth worrying about. ‘Language used on social media is in written form as opposed to dialects which are rarely written down as spoken and only then typically as a literary device that goes through fashion’ he says. He believes regional dialects shouldn’t be affected by written words. ‘If how we wrote changed how we spoke then the Queen’s English would have killed off dialects long before Facebook or Twitter’.
Yet many teachers have found that young people are finding it increasingly difficult to judge when exactly to use each style of language – possibly leaving them ill equipped for later life. ‘I just know that it is not going to serve them well in the future. If they make these mistakes on a job application form they are not going to get past first base’ says Carol Walker, head teacher of Sacred Heart Primary School in Middlesbrough. The school is warning of the damage caused to literacy by slang. They have found their pupils are using spoken slang words and abbreviations when writing in class. ‘We are making very little headway with teaching Standard English because of the cyber-world we live in nowadays. We used to try to prevent them talking in Teesside dialect in a bid to teach them Standard English, but now the problem is text language! Misspellings, abbreviations and internet slang are creeping in to lots of the kid’s written work. They transfer their ‘cyber language’ on to the paper and don’t see that there is anything wrong with that. We are trying to teach them that the words and phrases they are using online are not the correct way of speaking.’
This ‘correct’ way of speaking is an issue many linguists have trouble hearing. Sociolinguist, Kevin Harvey, from the University of Nottingham believes slang and abbreviations enhance linguistic ability and familiarity with dialects. ‘People have to think through Standard English and their regional dialects in order to create these new forms. If you look at this linguistically, you can see that the uses of abbreviations in text messages are perfectly logical and straight forward’ he says. It is understandable to use them because it costs more money to send a larger text and social media often has character limits.’ With Twitter only allowing 140 characters for a Tweet, it is no wonder words are shortened.
Whether we like it or not, it seems social media and the language it has brought us are here to stay. TTFN (Ta Ta For Now).
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