Language and the Internet

Recently read (or better ‘read thru’) David Crystal’s Language and the Internet (originally 2001, updated second version 2006). I’d never picked that one up. It is a good overview of the various aspects of online language use, from creative spellings in chatrooms, via the writing style of bloggers up to influence of spellcheckers, search engines and the language problems surrounding the Semantic Web. It is a survey of the Internet from a linguistic perspective. I find myself generally agreeing with all his points — I take a positive approach to language online as Crystal does.

He writes:

“I do not see the Internet being the death of languages, but the reverse. I view each of the Netspeak situations as an area of huge potential enrichment for individual languages.” p. 275

And his final sentence:

“The arrival of Netspeak is showing us homo loquens at its best.” p. 276

So hmm, I do not have a lot to say about this book. (Except that I find the term Netspeak extremely ugly.) Also because I am more interested in writing style, literature, media theory, and less in language use in e-mail, chats, sms-dialogues and programming.

So I cut-n-paste together just one passage about the importance of blogging. Crystal gives two examples of blogging and describes the spontaneous writing style of a blog post, he writes:

“Here we have examples of a style of writing which has never been seen in public, printed form, outside of literature, and even there it would take an ingenious novelist indeed to capture its innocent spontaneity and unpredictable thematic direction. It is difficult to know how to describe the style, because it falls uneasily between standard and non-standard English. Both extracts illustrate writing which is largely orthodox with respect to the main dimensions that identify standardness — spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but they depart from the norms in various ways. (…) There are several feattures of informal written English which would be eliminated in a copy-edited version of such texts for publication. (…) Before the emergence of standard English, of course, such a style would not have attracted any notice at all. (…) It is a style which was once the norm, for all kinds of writing, but which gradually went out of public use once the standard language was institutionalized in manuals of grammar, punctuation and usage, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century. It was finally eliminated when publishers developed copy-editing procedures to ensure that their newspapers, magazines, and books conformed to an in-house style. After that point it was virtually impossible to see anything in print which had not been through a standardizing process. (…) And this is why blogging is so significant. Only here do we have the opportunity to see written discourse of sometimes substantial lenght which have had no such editorial interference. It is written language in its most naked form.” p. 244/245

Crystal, David, 2006. Language and the Internet, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

(This actually begs the question of how different bloggers deal with copy-editing individually. Some do copy-edit (especially the professional journalists), others write-as-if-they-speak and just leave the inconsistencies and errors. I’d say the level of editorial reflectiveness (is this a clear term?) differs enormously. Yet anyone writing will develop some sort of editorial relfectiveness in the long run. If only of the sort where it becomes the conscious decision to leave errors as they are.)

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