From lolcat to textspeak: How technology is shaping our language

From lolcat to textspeak: How technology is shaping our language

Summary: And what does the future hold for the English language online?

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And what does the future hold for the English language online?

In the third of a series of articles examining the impact of technology on our society and ourselves, silicon.com's Natasha Lomas looks at how technology is changing our language.

In the hyperconnected Western world, our preoccupation with technology is evident in the glut of new expressions now in common parlance. Cringeworthy they may be, but expressions such as 'Let's take this offline, 'Do you have bandwidth?' and 'My brain needs a reboot' signify tech has become interwoven into our language. But is technology having a more lasting impact on our words? How are the digital communications tools we use shaping what we say and type?

The birth of new words, and new meanings for existing words, are the most obvious signs of what technology has wrought in linguistic terms.

A significant number of new words are being driven into the language because of the increasingly pervasive role technology plays in our lives, according to lexicographer John Simpson, a senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. "Digital technology is one of the main motivating forces behind new vocabulary," he tells silicon.com.

A to Z of tech-inspired words

The digital world generates more than its fair share of neologisms, slang and new meanings for existing words. Here's a quick A to Z of some of our favourite tech-inspired terms...

A is for antivirus
B is for blogosphere
C is for cloud
D is for dongle
E is for email
F is for flamebait
G is for Googling
H is for hotdesking
I is for internet
J is for jingle
K is for keylogger
L is for LOL
M is for malware
N is for noob
O is for OMG
P is for pwned
Q is for QR code
R is for ripping
S is for social networking
T is for techie
U is for user-generated content
V is for voicemail
W is for wireless
X is for .xxx
Y is for ya rly
Z is for zing

Words and phrases such as cloud computing, iPhone, social networking and QR code are relative newcomers - or noobs, to use online slang - to our language, for example.

Technology is by no means the only area ushering in significant quantities of new words. Simpson notes other fertile regions including slang, finance, politics, medicine and other sciences - but he says the pervasiveness of digital technology, which now percolates down through so many industries, means it is also responsible for subsets of lexical newcomers.

It's this expansiveness - technology pushing everywhere, into everything - that makes its contribution such a significant one.

"What has happened, as you might expect, is digital technology has come to permeate our day-to-day life and so it becomes responsible for new vocabulary at a secondary level," he says.

These are not just words for specialist electronic processes or components, but terminology from various industries "which have only been formed because of the digital technology which has made them possible".

Simpson cites digital technology in genetics, or statistical or architectural modelling, as examples of areas where this secondary tier of tech-fuelled terminology is entering the language.

Other reasons technology can be such a good word, and indeed slang, generator are both the pace of change enabled by technology - new types of products will almost automatically spawn new denominations - and the presence of large numbers of young people in the digital sphere, according to Simpson.

"Online environments have not only predominantly young participants who already start with a variety of language which is growing away from that of the next generation, they are keen to cleave that divide even deeper by creating new slang - funny, secret, full of allusion, etc - but they are also operating within a new and exciting technology, which is also on the move all the time - from SMS to email to photos to Facebook.

"With all these influences out there, it's hardly surprising that...

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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