In the age of Twitter and Facebook, what's happening to English vocabulary?

paddling on river
In one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to, the question was asked about whether on not platforms such as Twitter/Facebook/Orkut or Instant Messenger services are bad for one's vocabulary.

Anirudh Maitra, entrepreneur and designer of weboword feels very strongly about holding on to the 'old' vocabulary.

He believes that the usage of web2.0 platforms will affect spelling and due to the speed required in response, young people will repetitively use the same vocabulary from a restrictive pool.

Considering the fact that the number of words in the English language is growing exponentially, as a direct result of the lexis coming in from all of these new technologies, coupled with the effect of globablization (other cultures learning English and bringing along with them a variety of new words of their own), I think that's nonsense.

So this is what I responded:
  • Language is dynamic. Words that remain necessary, stay.
  • Those we no longer need, go. It's simply the nature of the game.
  • We don't need to hold on, we need to move with the river - the river has its own force. Fight the river: drown.
And it seems that we're not the only ones pontificating the question. The Boston Globe is asking whether language is dead or simply just evolving here and Grammar Girl's come up with her own Strunk and Twite.

What do you think?

Do we really still need words like eleemonosynary?*

Useful books related to this posting:

The Adventure of English. The Biography of a Language (Sceptre) Absolute genius

Mother Tongue: The English Language

A History of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)

p.s. Thanks Neal for the crazy word via twitter - and no I am not going to give you the meaning as it all too perfectly supports my point!

9 Responses to “In the age of Twitter and Facebook, what's happening to English vocabulary?”

  • Anirudh Maitra says:
    April 30, 2009

    First things first- Just think up of a situation in which you would have used Twitter or Facebook Updates to push across the core content of this blog post.
    .... Food for thought, eh?

    As micro-blogging, Instant Messaging and other faster means of online communication grow, users - especially youngsters would be forced to form "sentences" in a particular fashion. As these tools are fast becoming preferred modes of communication, the general style of communication on such platforms will start having a deep impact on the way vocabulary is used in day to day life.
    People who are hooked onto these Web2.0 tools are already seeing marked changes in the way they communicate (speak/write) in their daily lives.
    I would like to share a personal example here. A few months ago I was stunned when a close friend of mine replied back in a commonly used chat term to a very simple question. I asked him - "How are you feeling?" and he replied "I'm K." (K - Chat lingo for fine or OK).

    I am a deep rooted technologist and have nothing against these platforms. My only concern is the way in which these platforms have started having an adverse affect on the way people use vocabulary.


  • Sharon says:
    April 30, 2009

    Change is a part of language development; while I don't want to use text-speak 24 hours a day, it's useful for certain contexts. The Academie Francaise have tried to stem the 'destruction' of French for decades without succes - I say go with the flow.

  • Lee says:
    May 01, 2009

    That's an interesting question.

    Whilst I believe that maintaining a good level of vocabulary is desirable there are many people who have been brought up in a world of text messaging and tweets where brevity is key.

    I personally believe that, whilst I can understand all the new words and abbreviations being used (I have kids, I can't help but wonder if it will ultimately lead to a 'dumbing down' of the next generation?

  • Neal Chambers says:
    May 06, 2009

    I think there is always a lot of talk about how everyone should be speaking a language. As if we could magically wave a wand and control the 500 million+ speakers of English. This just simply can't happen. Language is organic. It's best to think of it as a living breathing thing, not some standard system written down in a book somewhere.

    Our job as English teachers should not really be to strictly adhere to a set of grammar and vocabulary, but make sure our students can understand how it is most commonly used right now. We've seen that the "English Police" concept is not going to work. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Britain once passed a law banning the use of 'their' to refer to a person that might be a man or a woman. For example, his friend is going to bring their stereo.

    This obviously didn't work. How can you ban a word from common speech? If the word serves a purpose it will be used. If not, it will die out. That's evolution. Do you use your appendix?

  • Kevin says:
    May 29, 2009

    I think much that is written about this area including most of these comments is missing the point. Change is inevitable and will not be stopped. However, there will always be a need for people to express themselves clearly, eloquently, etc. If these kinds of technologies do lead to a restricted vocabulary and way to express ourselves, then the language as a whole will definitely suffer. This has nothing to do with resisting language change, simply maintaining a reasonable level of linguistic competence.

  • Maggie says:
    August 02, 2009

    English is my second language, but one thing I have noticed that is common to all the great bloggers is that they are great writers. They can communicate clearly and effectively with words. People who can't communicate will not get listened to. So I think as a result of survival of the fittest our vocabulary is safe regardless of these new services.


    August 02, 2009

    Absolutely agree with you, Maggie!

    Great comments and debates. Although I have to confess that while flitting through the blogosphere recently I've come across native speakers who aren't capitalizing the letter 'i' - to be honest, it kind of freaked me out.

    Shortening the words 'great' and 'congratulate' to gr8 - congratul8 are funny and we all know what the rules are but when educators don't use correct punctuation - yikes I must say I wondered if Anirudh didn't have a good point!

    Thanks for your visits!


  • Dilip Barad says:
    August 22, 2009

    Good discussion on changing nature of langauge. I belive that 'Change is the only permananet thing in the world'. Language to live, must change. Language is like living organisms. 'Change' is the sign of its beng alive. Please read my blog
    your comments are invited.

  • Jane from Hosting Grades says:
    November 02, 2010

    It is not as simple as it may seem at first. Loss of language can result in a loss of context, a loss of texture and color, a loss of appeal, and a loss of intelligence as ideas are continually dumbed down into fewer and fewer words.

    Many will be disappointed when they learn their dumbed down vocabulary prevents them from obtaining a job or promotion they desire.

    Ignorance may be fast, but eloquence has better aim.


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