Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The linguistic future of the Internet 225

I have found clear signs of the emergence of a distinctive variety
of language, with characteristics closely related to the properties
of its technological context as well as to the intentions, activities,
and (to some extent) personalities of the users. But the Net is
only a part of the world of computer-mediated language. Many
new technologies are anticipated, which will integrate the Internet
with other communication situations, and these will provide the
matri xwithin which further language varieties will develop. We
have already seen this happen with broadcastingtechnology: radio
brought a new kind of language, which quickly yielded several sub-
varieties (commentary, news, weather.. .); then television added
a further dimension, which similarly evolved sub-varieties. How
many computer-mediated varieties of language will eventually
emerge, it is difficult to say; but we can be sure of one thing –
it will be far greater than the five tentatively identified in this book.
As Bob Cotton and Malcolm Garrett say, in the title of their review
of the future of media and global expert systems, ‘You ain’t seen
nothing yet’.^2
Immediate innovation is anticipated in each of the three tradi-
tional domains of communication: production, transmission, and
reception. Cotton and Garrett, somewhat analogously, describe the
future in terms of major developments in delivery systems, process-
ing power, and access devices. All of these will have an impact on
the kind of language we use. The heart of the matter seems to be
the immense increase in bandwidth, already seen in ISDN, cable,
and optical fibre technologies, which will permit many channels to
be simultaneously available within a single signal, and thus allow
hitherto separate communication modalities to be integrated. The
two main modes, sound and vision, have already begun to be linked
in this way; and there is in principle no reason why other modes
(tactile, olfactory, gustatory) should not also be incorporated. The
various established media elements are already becoming increas-
ingly integrated, in a frame of reference neatly captured by the

(^2) Cotton and Garrett (1999); see also Atwell (1999). Futurological implications are also
the theme of Gilder (2000), whose notion of thetelecosmcaptures a world ‘enabled and
defined by new communications technology’.

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