Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of the Web 209

indefinite number of people at indefinite times over several years.
Several competitors for the ‘world’s longest sentence ever’ are al-
ready of this form.^21 While these are instances of language play,
the implications for serious stylistic investigation are far-reaching.
But handling the increasingly diachronic character of the Web, and
coping with its chronological clutter, raises issues which go well
beyond the linguistic.
The trouble with the notion of ‘knowledge’ is that it is all-
inclusive. The price of Bermuda shorts in April 1994 counts as
knowledge. So does A.N. Other’s account of his break-up with his
girlfriend, which may be found on his Web page. At the heart of
knowledge management is therefore the task of evaluation. Judge-
ments have to be made in terms of significance vs. triviality, with
reference to a particular point of view, and criteria have to be in-
troduced to enable a notion of relevance to be implemented. The
common complaint nowadays is that we are being swamped by
knowledge; such phrases as ‘information overload’ are everywhere.
What use is it to me to be told that, if I search for ‘linguistics’ on
my search engine, I have 86,764 hits? Part of Berners-Lee’s vision
was shared knowledge: ‘the dream of people-to-people communi-
cation through shared knowledge must be possible for groups of all
sizes’.^22 But unless the notion of sharing is subjected to some sort
of assessment, the dream begins to take on nightmarish qualities.
For Berners-Lee, another part of the dream is a ‘semantic web...
capable of analysing all the data on the Web – the content, links
and transactions between people and computers’. This is a stirring
vision, which will keep generations of semanticists yet unborn in
jobs. But no semantic or pragmatic theory yet devised is capable
of carrying out the kind of sophisticated relevance analysis which
would be required.

(^21) For example, the ‘Amazing Run-on Sentence Page’ at
Berners-Lee (1999: 169); also for the next quotation. Several sites now provide guidance
in Web page evaluation, especially from a scholarly point of view, such as the Internet

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