How the internet changed our language - Deepstash
How the internet changed our language

How the internet changed our language

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How the internet changed our language

The Web And How We Talk: Key Takeaways

  • The language we use is determined by "weak tie" relationships, that is, with strangers and interlocutors. For the first time in history, the internet provides an entire world of weak ties. 
  • The result is that internet language has evolved in different stages. If you remember MUDs, AIM, or Habbo Hotel, you might remember internet language differently. 
  • "Lol" has a huge variety of linguistic uses, and it is a fascinating example of how internet vocabulary serves IRL (in real life) needs.

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Language: Then and Now

  • Naughty,” in Shakespeare’s England, was to be a “naught person” — a soulless, wicked, half-man.
  • “Awful” and “awesome” once meant the same. (They both meant “awesome.”)
  • To be “generous” once meant to be of noble and pure blood. (Only they could be magnanimous, you see.)
  • If you were “disappointed” you were quite literally removed from office — you were fired.

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When Tankers Become a Speedboat

 Language has always changed, but it does so as a slow trawl and rarely ventures far. Semantic shift operates like a tree, growing slowly but resolutely, and it’s only with the time-lapse of retrospection that we can see how far it has come.

But then, at the end of the 20th century, something peculiar happened to the world. Suddenly the tiny, isolated communities and regional variations were thrown together. We had the internet.

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Strong and Weak Ties

The internet makes language change faster because it leads to more weak ties, and you can get to know people who you never would have met otherwise.

With hashtags, viral videos, and “following” strangers, we are constantly rubbing up against people of different linguistic communities. Whereas before we would only occasionally meet or form these “weak ties,” now we’re swimming in a sea of linguistic foreigners and interlocutors.

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The Generations of Internet Users: The Old Internet People

They were the early adopters of the internet. Because few of their IRL (in real life) friends were online, these people needed to use “topic-based tools like Usenet, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes), Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), listservs, and forums” to reach out to strangers. Usenet was the most common, serving as an ancestor to Reddit and Google Groups 

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Social Internet

The main difference between this generation and the previous is in seeing the internet as a social medium. The Old Internet People mainly kept their social lives offline, but the second wave turned to MSN, AOL/AIM, MySpace, and WeBlog to connect with friends as well as strangers. Slowly, MySpace gave way to Facebook and Twitter, via social gaming sites like NeoPets and Habbo Hotel. 

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Post-Internet

If you can remember joining social networks when they were still unpopulated, niche, fledgling things, then you likely belong to the above generation. If, though, you joined an already bustling online world of social networks, this is your generation. In this group, there are two noticeable clusters: the first is the “Facebook cluster” (which includes Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube), and the second is the “Instant Messaging” cluster (which includes Snapchat, Instagram, iMessage, and WhatsApp).

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The depth to lol

The internet mainstay, 'lol' serves a fascinating variety of functions.

Of course, it still acts as an expression of laughter and enjoyment. You can reply to a joke with “lol” and capitalize or give it an exclamation mark if you really liked it. But “lol” also has other uses. It is a way to soften a potentially misread or offensive message, as in, “You were so drunk last night lol.” It can be a way to flirt: “You look good in red lol.” It can express or underline sarcasm, “This lecture is so fun lol.” It can even be passive-aggressive, “You better buy me a present lol.”

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