Sociolinguistics of the Internet

Chris Barboi As a polyglot and language learner, I become saddened by not only the rising prevalence of English in today’s modernizing world, but also the simplification of languages due to a love for the simple and easy-to-communicate. For example, in the recent decade, the written languages of European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese were recently standardized, so we don’t have to remember that a European would write the word for action as “acção” but a Brazilian would write the word as “ação;” the same goes for the word truck, Brazilian: caminhão, European: Camião, and the word for watercolor, Brazilian: aquarela, European: aguarela. In a non-Latin context, the teaching of Hanja, a chinese character system used in conjunction with the hangul script, nowadays regarded as a passé mode of communication, has been discontinued In the past century, greatly easing the comprehension of the Korean language; giving the Korean language a serious advantage over other Asian languages as the writing system is clearly designed without any illogical flaws or hard-to-remember components. (Thanks King Sejong the great!) Now, reader, you might be thinking I’m just a tad bit crazy. Why in the world would anyone want something to be harder, and not simplified? (I 100% sympathize and empathize with this mantra, as let’s be honest, the closer to simple arithmetic my math homework is, the happier I am myself.) The answer and reasoning regarding my preference and opinion to keep languages difficult, is similar to what a lover of non-applicational, abstract mathematics would say in response to my difficulty preference regarding my math homework: more difficulty and strenuousness makes us able to imagine, express and create more, even if it isn’t necessarily concrete. Talking from a strictly lingual point of view, difficulty allows adept communicators of a language to express with more eruditeness, fashion, attitude, personalization, stylism and cultural pride. For example, in Inuktitut, the most common language in the Canadian province of Nunavut, the single word “Inuktituusuungutsialaarungnanngittuaraaluuvunga,” expresses the idea “I don’t know how to speak Inuktitut very well. Besides the beginning of the word, “Inuktituu-” no other groupings of these letters would make sense in any other context. (And it is for this reason that Inuktitut is on my language learning bucketlist!) The individuality and personality of languages like Inuktitut slowly die away at the hands of the modernizing world, replaced by English- the International lingua franca. Many many languages slowly sink through the forgotten void of simplification and extinction, limiting many speakers of their modern and simplified counterparts access to the communicational psychology of their ancestors. But whilst enduring an existential thought storm in which I assured myself that the entire world will lose its variety and diversity of complex and abstract lingual forms of communications, a ray of light came to me from an antithetical, unexpected, and English dominated source: the internet. Communication on the Internet tends to dampen the intellectual pilot light of English teachers and academics alike. In my conservative middle school, I entitled a short story I wrote Omg. My scrupulous middle school teacher reacted by brusquely telling me that she wouldn’t read any piece of written work with such an informal title, and required me to change it. (Calling my middle teacher a prude would be so much of an understatement that if she time traveled to Geneva during the 1500’s, she would probably cause John Calvin and his entire community of followers to become Hedonists.) At first you might think of her actions to be justified, as that which we would call Internet communication has a reputation to be superficial and meaningless, filled with abbreviations and emojis, slang and “informality,” and overall lack of depth. But imagine for a minute that you receive 2 different affirmatively-toned text messages from 2 different people, responding to your invite to a pool party you will be hosting tomorrow night. The First Person Replies: “cant wait” The Second Person Replies: (thumbs up emoji)x3 (dancing twin girls emoji) (wave emoji) (flame emoji) (bomb emoji) (bikini emoji) (clapping hands emoji)x3 The first, minimalistic reply implies four different possibilities regarding their objective in communicating as such:

  1. The relationship between the sender and you is close enough to the point where a seemingly mindless answer has no negative implications because there isn’t even a question regarding the closeness between you and the person replying.
  1.             This is the sender’s normal way of messaging (aka they want to see the world burn as their texting style reeks with ambiguity and emotional unclarity).
  2.             The sender was probably preoccupied with some other task. Maybe they were in class or walking down the street or talking to someone.
  3.             There is a hidden elephant in the room. The replier is actively trying to tell you a message that there is something else wrong, and through their ambiguity, guilt trap you into thinking, at least subconsciously, about their emotional state regarding you and your relationship.
The second reply, very different from the first reply, to me implies:
  1. The sender of the text has a very playful personality.
  1.             The sender wants to go to your party, as the emojis used connote positive experiences. The repetition of (thumbs up) and (clapping hands) accompanied with (flame) and (bomb) imply excitement and frenzy. (bikini) implies that the sender is clearly ready to swim in your pool and (dancing girls) implies frivolity and merriment.
When examining the first sender’s response from a point of view that places more emphasis on the various emotional messages expressed, rather than the significance of the communication method that analyzes the communicative intentions of the sender, we find that an entirely new world of expressing emotion comes through. Ponder of all the infinite ways to re-write the phrase “cant wait” using spaces and punctuation. Now think of all of the various emotions that can be expressed through the infinity of possible minute details when sending a simple text message. Think of how communication has changed, and imagine how it will change, if this common standard of making judgments of a writer’s tone based on picograms of conventional variation. When examining the second sender’s text from, a point of view that places more emphasis on the significance of the communication method, rather than an emotional and connotative emphasis that analyzes the communicative intentions of the sender, we find a linguistically radical change in the concrete method in which the sender communicates. Assuming that sender #2 is a monoglot, only proficient in english, we would imagine that a communication system that has no words, but rather only silently read pictographs, with no spoken counterparts would seem uncomfortable and strange, but based on the emoji’s prevalence in contemporary communication, we can conclude that emojis are fun and popular, and used by many without trepidation. The abrupt transition to a completely linguistically different form of communication compared to English within informal interactions solely used within electronic modes of communication among English speakers signifies to me that a large wave of transformation is about to hit the English language laying full effect in a century or two (or three). Although much of the globalizing world is converting to English, sadly killing off many small languages and their communicative psychologies, I am a tad bit more comforted and full of hope that more abstraction and currently unconventional forms of communication are entering the English language, shaking up our communicative psychology. Could we dare to say that as the emoji came from Asian culture first as emoticons, are we somehow reincarnating the dying Korean Hanja system as a new form into our new, theoretical, post-postmodern English? In the future, will we see poems and books that characterize readers not directly or indirectly through written content, but rather typographically and syntactical characterization? Will literature include emojis in lieu of words accompanied with typographical and syntactical characterization causing even more possibilities for argument, comprehension, and interpretation in the world of Academia? If there are emojis in future literature, will there be designers whose specific job is to design emojis for authors who feel that the emojis available to them don’t fit the need for their writing? I can only answer yes naïvely and hopefully, but as of today, I don’t recommend turning in a story for your creative writing class that is rife with emojis whose placements you find 100% tasteful, but heck, if I was the teacher, I would allow it.]]>