21st century linguistics

Educators rail against the increased use of 'txt' shorthand by children in their school work, but the advent of new language styles and forms engendered by the Internet and related communication developments such as SMS messaging, should be welcomed, says language expert David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Speaking at the Annual Conference of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), Crystal asserted that our current time period is the greatest opportunity for the development of the English language since the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages.

The variety of applications of new technology leads to new stylistic forms and increases the expressive range of a language, especially at the informal end of the spectrum.

Changes in communication technology are invariably accompanied by concerns about language, explains Crystal. In this instance, because people notice a growth of informality in language use, their concerns center around whether this will cause a general deterioration in the quality of the language.

"The prophets of doom emerge every time a new technology influences language, of course -- they gathered when printing was introduced, in the 15th century, as well as when the telephone was introduced in the 19th, and when broadcasting came along in the 20th; and they gathered again when it was noticed that Internet writing broke several of the rules of formal standard English, in such areas as punctuation, capitalization, and spelling," he says. "All that has happened, in fact, is that the language's resources for the expression of informality in writing have hugely increased -- something which has not been seen in English since the Middle Ages, and which was largely lost when Standard English came to be established in the 18th century. Rather than condemning it, therefore, we should be exulting in the fact that the Internet is allowing us to once more explore the power of the written language in a creative way.”

Technology also bears gifts also for linguistics scholarship -- according to Crystal, it is a new opportunity for academic study, who suggests the possible academic study of “Internet Linguistics.”

From his own early assessments, Crystal concludes that a surprisingly small number of new words have been spawned, while 'txt'ing, blogging and other forms have given radical opportunities to develop new stylistic rules.

He believes that the new forms of interaction seen in Internet exchanges are far more important than changes in traditional vocabulary, grammar or spelling.

Get more info: University of Wales – Bangor

Find additional sci/tech stories, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."