The Social Media Language A.K.A The Prius of Languages

The term “language” covers both speech and writing. While these two aspects are unified under the abstract label of language, they are usually considered distinctive, due to their large number of differences. For example: speech is as old as man, relies primarily on our hearing capability, is more rapidly produced than writing, etc. Writing is relatively new and is produced differently than speech because it can only be written and read – making it deviate from traditional speech production models. These are some of the things that make us perceive speech and writing as different. However, technological advances have started to challenge our understanding of these two communication methods as “separated” and “different.” Social media has brought with it a new kind of language that in some ways unites these seemingly opposing phenomena.
The rise of social media, has given birth to a language that I consider the lovechild of speech and writing. The language resembles written dialect, but nonetheless, it still comes off as a blend between writing and speech. This lovechild is a written language that, even more so than dialect, mirrors the way people talk. For Norwegians (or other countries with alphabetic scripts), it replaces the common written language’s lettersith letters that actually get articulated in the writer’s spoken language. For example – instead of writing “kompliment” a user of this language should prefer the spelling “komplimang” because it represents the way he pronounces the word. This is where it gets tricky, because there is seemingly no difference between alphabetic scripts, dialect writing and this new social media language. I think the part of the lovechild language that separates it from the former two, are its heavy use of acronyms and abbreviations. Instead of writing Oh my god, the users of this language would prefer the acronym “OMG,” and “TBH” instead of “oh my god” and “to be honest.” Some Norwegians write “d” instead of “det,” which represents the way they pronounce “det” and at the same time it doesn’t – because the ortophonic way of rendering it would be /de/. I believe the reason for the heavy presence of abbreviations and acronyms are in part practical, and very much intertwined with technology. The early cell phones had an impractical system for writing, which made people start to feel the need to omit certain parts of words in order to communicate faster and more effortless. I believe that the generation growing up with these cell phones kept this practical language solution through the rapid evolution of cell phones, and transferred the language over to the improved social media platforms. This is how the lovechild language develops and evolves with technological advances, at least that is how it develops for me. I have developed an annoying habit when I chat. I chat like this:

instead of writing everything I want to say in a single chatbubble, I break simple messages into several bubbles. The reciever of my ruthless break with standard chatting ettiquette will receive several “pings” and/or vibrations. I have not always chatted this way, it started with a particular facebook update that made it more difficcult to appear hard to get. The update where facebook implemented the “seen” feature made me subconsciously start to treat chatting as a form of speech (as can be seen in the picture above). Maybe this way of writing better represents the way that we speak, because when you answer instantanious with the first thing that crosses your mind it can indicate that you feel pressure from an awareness of the other person watching you receive their question and compose the answer. Imagine someone asking you a question, and then you just stand there staring at them for 30 seconds before you respond – uncomfortable, right? These are the things that make me believe that social media language is a blend between speech and writing, and that this language’s development is closely tied to technological advances.

On the other hand, the heavy use of acronyms doesn’t quite fit into this language that is supposed to be the lovechild of writing and speech, because it does not contribute to the unification of these communication methods, if anything it further distances the two. We say “oh my god” not “O.M.G.” Well, at least we used to say “oh my god”… which brings me to my next point. Languages have a tendency to devour weaker languages. There is a genuine fear that our time’s lingua franca – English – will devour Norwegian. I understand this fear seeing as to how I as an English language and literature student sometimes find myself in a position where I struggle to find the Norwegian word for things, well I know that the Norwegian word for things is ting. In addition, code switching between Norwegian and English has become a reoccurring phenomenon among Norwegians (especially young people).  There are plenty of possible reasons for this depending on the context, but our time’s increasing globalization is, to me, the prime suspect. Some consider this intensified use of English words in Norwegian speech as the start of the Norwegian language’s undoing. As a countermeasure, the Norwegian Language Council frequently convert and translate English words. To stop us from killing our language, they have replaced bacon with “beiken,” hashtag with “emneknagg” and keyboard with “tangentfjøl”. While these words are charming, they are not widely known because what kind of person keeps himself up to date with the Language Council’s shenanigans, when you can be keeping up with the Kardashians?

The nature of the language that inhabits social media is hard to define. While it is definitely written language, it also embodies features that traditionally belonged to speech – making it some kind of hybrid. Even though this language’s heavy use of acronyms and abbreviations seemingly separates writing and speech (because it creates letter combinations that does not get articulated in the spoken language), it can also be seen as a form of unification. Speech is a more rapid form of communication, and these acronyms and abbreviations contributes to a shortening of the writing process, which to some degree makes it adopt this rapid feature of speech. This language, like all languages, constantly changes and evolves… and perhaps it changes faster than standard written and spoken language as it is more closely tied to  technologic advances. Nevertheless, social media has compromised our understanding of speech and writing as completely separated methods of communication.

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