teal deer and rethinking netspeak

One of the most interesting things about growing up with the Internet has been tracking how the Internet grows up in its own way, and seeing the influence of that growth on its language. As a frequent user (read: Internet addict) since adolescence, the revolving door of frequently used acronyms has been pretty consistent in the places I frequent online (although it all depends on which communities you visit and who you talk to). Given how big a role the internet plays in our lives – whether through work, at home, or for other reasons – the change in language reflects more than just style; it also indicates on a smaller level how language changes to suit user demand. And nowhere is this more true than the Internet, a place where abbreviation and brevity are key, where tl;dr has been an acronym in usage for years (too long; didn’t read), that recognizes the short attention spans of its audience and suits itself to fit that observation.


And with this new media language, we’ve also had traditional media (tv, movies, books) try to use tSmall cards showing common netspeak abbreviations for phraseshis and integrate this into its existing structure to try to reach new audiences and/or play around with its own format. We had, after all, the minor cinematic gem that was the Cingular commercial (IDK, my BFF Jill?), and the numerous young adult novels that used email formatting and instant messaging in its style.


I haven’t seen much of netspeak being used in literary fiction – excepting a few major examples; the primary being sections of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty – and I think that’s an oversight that should be addressed. Narrative voice is always an interesting thing to tinker with and explore in literary fiction, especially in first-person, and I think utilizing netspeak could be an interesting resource for that. Think of all the Victorian-inspired email-epistolary novels that could exist right now! (Okay, maybe not.)


Regardless of your opinion on it, netspeak has been around for a while, and I don’t think it’s going to disappear any time soon. It’s always in a state of revision and fluctuation – usually based around Internet culture, or typos – with a kind of constant awareness about itself. If netspeak then is constantly trying to find ways to abbreviate itself and express a thought in fewer characters, seeing its interaction with a long-form narrative work (like a novel, or something similar) would be an interesting contrast. Condensing long sentences into brief abbreviated messages is one thing; communicating complex content through brief abbreviated messages is another.


After all, while we try to keep netspeak contained and isolated, there’s no doubt part of its development involves reacting to the conventions of language we’re already familiar with and adapting it for brevity and convenience. There’ll never be a Pulitzer-winning text message (or so we may hope), but netspeak holds a position in our lives that’s hard to ignore.


And maybe it’s time for our other writing to recognize it too.


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Source: Karen Chau

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