Language & Technology, Netiquette & Language Change

I’m really delighted to see that quite a few of my Y12 students have taken me up on my suggestion to start becoming part of the blogosphere by visiting language & literature related blogs and adding their comments. I’ve already come across some blogs I wasn’t already familiar with. Thank you James M, for example, for introducing me to the McMillan Dictionary Blog which will be especially useful for the Language Change part of ENGB3.

One thing that I’m interested in is how you view language use online in these kind of environments. You are all aware, even if you didn’t study language and technology as part of ENGB1 that in contexts such as text messaging, instant messaging, and to some extent email, there is a tendency towards increasing informality and a greater relaxation of the conventions of written standard English than is the case in most other writing contexts.

But what of blogging, and of comments on blogs? Do you expect bloggers to adhere to formal standard English? Does it make any difference who’s doing the blogging, for whom, and for what purpose?

What about comments on blogs? Is it OK for them to be more or less formal than the blog itself? How tolerant are you of ‘mistakes’ like obvious typos? What about features of language change influenced by technology? (use of emoticons, abbreviations, lower case where upper case has been traditionally expected, etc.)

Playing devil’s advocate, what would you say to someone from, The Queen’s English Society, who viewed Alex M’s comment on the ‘Bad Linguistics’ blog and spluttered that his use of lower case ‘e’ in ‘english’ is further proof that English teaching in schools has gone to the dogs. Or when Alex R commented on the ‘About Shakespeare’ blog, referring to ‘romeo’ and ‘shakespeare’, and made hurried typos like “he way he handles the situation is very well”,  should he be admonished?

Don’t get me wrong here: I’m genuinely not criticising these posts. Far from it. But I am interested in opening a debate about you as young people of a different generation from me perceive appropriate English usage in the blogosphere. Constructive comments below, please!

[It may be worthwhile noting that I had to go back and edit some mistakes in the above post [twice!] after publishing it. Should I have bothered?]

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12 Responses to Language & Technology, Netiquette & Language Change

  1. Sarah Kenny says:

    Personally, I’m not very familiar with blogs (as opposed to texts for example) as I rarely read them and would never normally comment on one. I don’t expect bloggers to adhere to formal standard English, I think you should use the language best suited to getting across your thoughts and opinions. It does make a difference who’s doing the blogging though, because for example, no matter what the purpose and even if you had written informally, I would still write back in a formal way, as I would to any teacher (or any authoritative figure). The opposite would be true if I was replying to friends. Mistakes such as typos are never a problem when I see them but I don’t like doing it myself. The comment towards Alex was harsh, maybe he just had a typo? 🙂 (emoticons always come in handy).

  2. heald says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I wonder why you wrote ‘as opposed to texts for example’? Aren’t blogs texts?

    I agree absolutely that “you should use the language best suited to getting across your thoughts and opinions” and that’s one of the reasons I made the post, to get you all thinking about that issue: but making that judgement isn’t always easy is it? In online communication there is always the possibility of tone being misjudged too. Your use of an emoticon is one way of mitigating this, but I can’t be sure whether you intended it to mean that you didn’t really think my comment towards Alex was harsh (and which Alex did you mean?) or whether you were just ‘smiling’ at how easy and insignificant it is to make such errors.

    I tried to make it clear that I was playing devil’s advocate, rather than making a personal judgement. It was obvious that there were typos caused by rapid typing. I am delighted that they made those comments, unlike most of their colleagues who simply haven’t bothered (yet!), and nobody should be put off in case they don’t feel their language is up to scratch. After all, the best way of improving at any skill is to do it, and given that you are all tested on your ability to write in English, about English, and to respond to others’ points of view, then engaging in discussion on blogs and discussion forums (fora??) and the like is a superb way of improving your knowledge and skills. Take a look here, for instance.

    What I’m interested in is hearing all your thoughts on how language is changing in a world where you will become increasingly unusual if you are not fully engaged in a range of forms of online communication. What new conventions do you think are emerging? What role (if any) should teachers have in helping you to become increasingly ‘digitally literate’?

    You’ve made a good contribution to that conversation, Sarah. Thank you.

  3. Sarah Kenny says:

    When I mentioned texts I was referring to text messages. I spend much more time texting and on the phone to others than I do using the computer to communicate with others via blogs, MSN or anything else online.

    I was referring to Alex Meadows. The blog asks what I would say to someone from ‘The Queen’s English Society’ if they were to admonish Alex’s use of ‘e’ when spelling ‘english’. In my reply I failed to add, ‘I would say to the person from The Queen’s English Society’…’that the comment towards Alex was harsh..’. I mean to say that if someone were to pass such a comment, I would regard it as harsh. Here, clearly missing a few words (which seemed obviously present in my head) has caused some confusion. The same is true for where I left out ‘messages’ when referring to text messages at the very begining of my post. I agree that tone can be difficult to accurately convey and that is one of the reasons why I prefer talking on the phone.

    That’s right I used a smiley face to show that I think that typos are easy to make and quite insignificant. Basically I wanted to show that whether Alex meant to put ‘english’ or whether it was just an error, I don’t see any problem.

  4. Daniel says:

    I think that the formality of the language in blogs/comments depends on the context in which the person is writing. For instance if the blog/comments were written about a serious topic then you would respond formally to ensure that people may not be offended which may occur if you respond informally and in a joking manner.

    On the subject of obvious typos I believe that you let the mistake pass, if you are able to distinguish what the person is wanting to say. However if the message is unclear then you are less tolerant and challenge their mistake.

  5. Sam Dunstan says:

    I think the formality of blog responses is mostly context bound to be honest (Or tbh if we are going for a lower formality).

    Out of all of us here, how many of you are familiar with Tumblr? (Believe it or not I have spelt it correctly). Tumblr explains itself as “The easiest way to blog”, essentially participants write out blog entries, poems, diary entries talking about life etc. Now some may argue that this is a form of social networking like Facebook and MSN. However if you read some Tumblr blogs you may find (Or i found from the ones that I read) that they do use full and complete sentences and 97% of the time full spelling, punctuation, etc.

    I agree with Ryan in that there is a shift as when text messages were being brought into the world properly approximately 5 years ago evry1 tlkd lyk dis but now things have shifted and to tlk lyk dis makes people believe you lack a working brain, which is basically what was the common belief in the Victorian ages when it came to those who could not speak the queens correct brand of english…….sorry English.

    And a final note that I could say with absolute confidence that now things have shifted so things like “LOL”, “CBA”, etc have become spoken phrases! I know! Crazy! Technologies done it, its infected our normal day to day speech.

    Apologies for any errors in this comment im writing it in my English lesson and hurrying it up since I’ve got Miss Hampshires lesson to be getting to. I am aware I’ve covered alot of topics in alot of time and mostly ranted abit, but just wanted to put forward my input. 🙂

  6. Ciretta Paone-Hoyland says:

    I have noticed that the term ‘Grammar Nazi’ has been thrown around quite a lot recently on sites such as Facebook or forums online – basically meaning someone who constantly corrects spelling and punctuation. Depending on the context, I personally feel mistakes such as the ‘e’ in ‘english’ should be left alone – we all know what it means! However, I hate spelling things wrong myself/seeing others make spelling mistakes, and have been known as quite the Grammar Nazi when involved in debates on Facebook status’ and such. See – just then I felt I NEEDED to put a capital for Facebook. I think nowerdays people only correct things such as what has been mentioned above for the pure feeling of power. People feel that they must correct spelling mistakes and sometimes even typo’s to feel superior to someone, (I am not denying sometimes I have felt this myself). I think the way people use text messaging and MSN has fluctuated from typical writing as one would in a letter, insane abrevihations such as ‘rofl’ to people just typing normally again. (I just looked up abbreviations). That brings up another point.. I have noticed you never get letters where things are spelt wrong (not that anyone writes letters anymore sadly). So why do people do it over the internet? Maybe it’s something to do with the thrill of new technology. I don’t know. You tell me!

  7. Kyle Thomas says:

    I think society as a whole is shifting towards a much more descriptivist method of language, rather then going over every text with a fine tooth comb to make sure certain letters are capitalised the general population tends to accept a piece of text granted it makes sense in the context it is written. For Alex’s “english,” the capitalisation of the “E” or rather lack of, makes absolutely no difference to how the comment is understood by the reader. I believe that is venturing more into graphology rather then the lexis of the text. Some readers are more concerned with the present-ability of a text rather than what it is actually conveying.

  8. Zerin Pekin says:

    I agree with Ciretta when she says there are more and more people typing ‘normally’ again as opposed to using abbreviations. Still, there are still a lot of people who type informally and use vowel deletion and abbreviations when using MSN or Facebook/any other social networking website. I think there’s a slight air of superiority when people spell properly, almost as if they feel more intelligent for doing so. Personally, I don’t like to make any mistakes and find it really hard not to correct them if I see them, but that’s just me. In regards to Alex’s comment, I personally wouldn’t pay much attention the the lower case ‘e’ unless I was being really, really fussy.

  9. Emma says:

    I’m not very good at blogs either, but I do agree that it is the context that it is set out in depending on how you would type for example; on this Blog I type capital ‘I’s, however, on MSN, text or other forms I would just have typed “i”. This is probably because on MSN or text I’m talking with a friend and on a more of a one to one basis, so spelling, grammar and punctuation become neglected. I agree with Zerin that people who do normally spell properly as they do make themselves out to be superior. When I type it depends on the context to whether I use correct punctuation, spelling etc…

  10. Alex says:

    Blogs.
    1st thing that comes to mind? – (and apologies for those it may offend) but the nerds who right them, and the forums and blog posts done by unsocialable people locked away in rooms in dark corners of the world.
    To use such an audience as a particular example in the features of language and language change, do you really think that such people care about how they type, or “1F TH3Y L00K W31RD?” or if they “makse a few spellong mistokes” throughout their typing?
    As normal human beings, we’re able to recognize patterns both graphologically (as in the case of the letter mixed with numbers, and associating numbers with the replacements of letters) and with the syntax or particular lexis, as is the case with the spelling mistakes.

    Such levels of formality throughout such media as blogs, msn, facebook, twitter, bebo etc will vary from post to post, from line to line, and it seems to be entirely focused around the context of which you are speaking/typing. It’s the same principle as the old saying “You’d speak differently to the Queen than you would do your friends” – which is inevitably true, but formality will always become more serious when addressing someone of higher social status, or of a higher authority.
    Emma made a brilliant contribution above:

    “on MSN or text I’m talking with a friend and on a more of a one to one basis, so spelling, grammar and punctuation become neglected. I agree with Zerin that people who do normally spell properly as they do make themselves out to be superior”

    This perhaps ties in with Ciretta’s understanding of ‘Nazi Grammar’ and by correcting someone, taking authority, and taking the higher social ground.

    [I should add as a note here, that not all bloggers are dark, evil nerds who wish to discuss the xboxing, runescapes and dragons castle 3d or whatever, the majority use this technology for benefits to the knowledge of others – such as the ones we’ve been commenting on. Could we not open this discussion up, and include the features present in the use of communication through forums, and how that has changed through time? (from letter, to telegram, to email, to text, to facebook message etc) ]

  11. heald says:

    I’m delighted to see some really thoughtful replies emerging here. I’m not going to go through each point individually. Suffice to say that Alex is right to pick up on Ciretta & Emma’s points about the way that issues of power become very relevant here, and that several of you have very sensibly picked up on the critical importance of context in making linguistic judgements.

    I guess my own position, in its simplest form, would be that you should know as many linguistic options as possible, so that you can make informed choices. If you decide that writing ‘english’ instead of ‘English’ isn’t a problem for you and you couldn’t give a stuff if it’s a problem for anyone else, then that’s different from writing ‘english’ and being completely unaware that some people might regard you as ignorant for doing so. Conversely, once you know what the subjunctive form is, and how to use it, then even if you were never to use it in everyday contexts, it becomes part of the repertoire that’s available to you to show your linguistic erudition – if you choose to so in contexts where you deem it appropriate.

  12. Daniel says:

    In response to alex’s posing question, i believe that forums have progressed in many different ways.
    ON way is that as these forms of communication have evolved, the ‘conversations’ have become more sychronised for example facebook messaging is almost instant whereas letters take a few days to send and another few days to receive back.
    The length of the messages have become shorter as the neccessity for detail is become less important.This is because in letters and telegrams the time in between responses means that you need to ‘cram’ as much detail in as you can to save time whereas facebook messages are very short because the response rate is very quick so in some ways it is more like a normal conversation and so there is a lot of short quick responses which allows a lot of details to be exchanged in a shorter period of time

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