Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


It seems to be a standard convention for books dealing with digital
technology to begin or end by warning their readers that everything
they contain is going to be soon out of date; and a linguistic per-
spective on the subject is no exception. Any attempt to characterize
the language of the Internet, whether as a whole or with reference
to one of its constituent situations, immediately runs up against
the transience of the technology. The different arenas of communi-
cation described in earlier chapters will not remain for long as they
are, given that the technological developments upon which they
rely are constantly evolving, putting users under constant pressure
to adapt their language to the demands of new contexts, and giving
them fresh opportunities to interact in novel ways. The readiness
with which people do adapt language to meet the needs of new
situations, which is at the heart of linguistic evolution – and which
the central chapters of this book clearly demonstrate – is going to be
fully exploited in the next few decades, with the emergence of yet
more sophisticated forms of digitally mediated communication.
Nor is the population using it any more stable: it is unusual to see a
disclaimer in a bibliography of the kind used on p. 243, for exam-
ple, but there is simply no guarantee that any of the URLs [uniform
resource locators] listed in my footnotes and bibliography will still
exist by the time this book appears. They may have become ‘dead
links’ (p. 202).^1
The Internet has been the focus of this book, within which I have
looked at five situations – e-mail, synchronous and asynchronous
chatgroups, virtual worlds, and the World Wide Web. In each case,

(^1) ‘There’s a curse, a curse so potent and vile that writers dare not give it a name, which
guarantees that as soon as you include a reference to a time-honored resource in your
book, that resource vanishes’ (Ihnatko, 1997: v).

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