The Language of Our Time

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Social media is the center of the universe for those of us in the 16-25 age range. Yeah, I’m a “Millennial,” and I’m proud of it. I’m interested in things going on around me, and for the first time, that doesn’t mean the three block life around my house. Being connected to the world means doing so through the Internet, and boy is it a pit to fall into if you’re not careful. I like to take an observatory stance, watching how people interact, looking for trends. One great trend I’ve found is that of linguistic changes that the Internet and social media have created. Things like the disuse of periods—”wow that’s great” vs. “wow. That’s great.” or in the middle of sentences (ok but like. can you not), which can be interchangeable with multiple commas (ok but like,,,can you not), excessive and unnecessary question marks (I love you a lot ???), not finishing sentences (I got it first, so), or the trademark symbol (Yikes™).

 

But just observing them wasn’t enough. I decided to find out how they come about, looking mainly at the top three social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I ascribed an age range to each, though this has nothing to do with the people on each site. I think we can all agree that Tumblr is the teenager, the kid who dreams about being an activist but doesn’t quite know what’s going on in the big world beyond their righteous rants and comfort blankets. Twitter is the older sibling, who’s almost got it together, but really just wants to keep having sleepovers and dragging celebrities. Facebook is the grandparent; it’s for people who know they can’t help any protestors at Standing Rock but share the post anyway so they don’t feel guilty about it.

 

With this in mind, it’s not surprising to see that many of these new linguistic trends that ruin language – in ways our grandparents and their delicate grammatical constitutions would faint at –  originate from the “teenager”. I’ve observed that by reaching another site, the trend gains an achievement. When people on Twitter stopped using periods, the teen danced on its bed at night. When excessive commas spread to texting, it was cause for celebration. When people on Facebook began typing in all lowercase, a hush fell over the Internet community, followed by an inspiring slow-clap.

 

That’s not to say the other social media sites aren’t creative, and they’ve contributed to what my teachers call the End of a Great Era of Literature and what I call the Beginning of a Great Era to Annoy Them. Twitter introduced us to a new wave of reaction images, a result of the character limit, which gave rise to some linguistic memes, such as headline poetry and witty comebacks. But my main question, as a Nerd™ and observer, is why? Where did this generation get the idea that they could totally disrupt the good thing we had with our grammar system for so long? Well, it’s all this darn progress.

 

With the creation and mass use of the Internet, we have to convey more messages in a smaller amount of time, which forces us to think of more compact ways to get the same content across. The prescriptivists in the audience may be clutching their pearls, muttering about word usage and connotation, but let me calm your fears. These will fade away eventually, but they will be replaced by new ones, and those by more. I, for one, am going to watch, and write about, my language reforming around me, because no progress of a language is perfect; it’s not degradation, it’s a reflection of cultural change.

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The Language of Our Time