The Impact of Social Media on the English Language

The evidence that the English language is changing would tend to say “yes.” After all, it may be well argued that only the English language can adapt as swiftly and easily, unlike other languages. Increasingly we are turning nouns and adjectives into verbs – such as “to Google.” English uses few inflections. In French, for example, the noun “action” has to become the verb “actionner”, whereas English may use the same for both. In Arabic there are no exceptions and few in Chinese or Spanish.

With the advent of faster and more varied communications channels via social media and social technologies, English has adapted incredibly well. Not only are English speakers creating and adopting new forms of the language, but it may be that acronyms such as LOL or BFF become a part of other languages. In our research projects we’ve seen the use of English-based acronyms such as LOL or ROFL commonly used in German, French, Russian, Spanish and Portugese social media channels in text form – primarily it seems to be Indo-European languages, but some instances have been seen in Arabic and Chinese.

By 2015, there will be more English speaking Chinese than in the English speaking countries outside China. The evolution of the English language is not new. The word Gerrymander evolved in 1812 and Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter in 1789 stating the idea of “verbing” was “awkward and abominable.

Today however, new variations on words and acronyms are posted via Twitter and other microblogs, on popular blogs, through text messaging and more. Prior to these social technologies, when print, television and radio was the only mass communication medium, such evolution of words and how they are used took a long time. Not anymore.

Some key questions are raised with this issue; how different will the English language be in 15 years? Will it perhaps be more in line with Orwellian “newspeak” in 1984? Will we see more use of English in other languages and what do those issues portend? The majority of the text language and HTML used to build the Webs infrastructure is English-based and this continues.

I think we’re going to see some interesting evolutions to the English language over the next several decades. What do you think will happen?