Social Media and The English Language

In the 21st century, people ‘blog’  and ‘tweet’ their opinions; ‘comment’ and ‘like’ face book and Instagram posts,  join a ‘group chat’ on WhatsApp and ‘update’ their ‘profile’ on LinkedIn. We live in a world that has embraced the social media wholeheartedly, to the point that people live and document their entire lives on the many platforms it offers. Being the ‘lingua franca’ or the ‘linking language’ of the world, English has lent itself willingly to be used on social media, undergoing many minor and major changes in the process. What are the effects of the social media on the English language? Let us see.

Old words, but new meanings

Since when did ‘tablet’ begin to mean portable screens, and not some medicine you swallowed with water? And when somebody refers to posting something on his ‘wall’, why do we think of the homepage of his Facebook profile, and not the walls in his house? Such is the magic of the social media. ‘Status’ was once used to refer to one’s standing in society, but nowadays it means their latest post on Facebook on what is going on in their life currently.  Because of Facebook the word ‘friend’ has had the rare distinction of transforming from the noun ‘friend’ to the verb ‘friend’. ‘friended’ and ‘unfriended’ means the process of adding or removing someone from your list of friends. ‘Like’ and ‘viral’ are other examples of words that have been anointed with new meanings by social media.

Introducing new words

A few years ago the words ‘selfie’, ‘emoji’ or ‘blogosphere’ did not exist. Yes, social media has invented new words to describe the new realities that come with it. The most famous of these words perhaps is ‘google’ which is perhaps used more than the old-fashioned simple term ‘search’.  Other examples that have crept into the dictionary are ‘phablet’ (referring to something in between the phone and the tablet) and ‘unlike’ (withdraw one’s approval for a particular post on Facebook). And the venerable Oxford English Dictionary officially included the “tweet” overlooking the requirement for new words to be in use for a minimum of 10 years before being entered in the dictionary.

Introducing acronyms

YOLO (You Only Live Once), LOL ( Laugh Out Loud), FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), DM (Direct Message), PM (Personal Message), OMG (Oh My God), TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read), BRB (Be Right Back), BTW (By The Way), IDK (I Don’t Know), FYI (For Your Information), IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), TBH (To Be Honest) , NVM (Never Mind) and TTYL (Talk To You Later) are examples of acronyms that have crept into our daily English usage due to the need to be brief on social media. Some of these kinds of words are introduced, used for some time, and then discarded. GR8, M8 and L8R are examples.

Shortening of words and phonetic spellings

A very good example of a social media platform the nature of which impacts the English language immensely is twitter. A twitter message can only be 140 characters long, and hence users are compelled to make their messages short. This gives rise to very interesting shortening of words and phonetic spellings. ‘Seriously’ often becomes ‘srsly’ and ‘See you’ nowadays becomes ‘cu’. ‘Going to’ has been transformed into ‘gonna’ and ‘love’ is changed into ‘luv’. The final ‘e’ of words like ‘give’ are conveniently dropped since the word sounds the same even without an ‘e’. ‘What’s up?’ is a casual question that finds itself changed into ‘sup?’ in chats. The word ‘already’ has become ‘alrdy’.

Laxity in grammar rules

Just as spelling is conveniently altered in many social media platforms, grammar rules are also very relaxed on social media. Accuracy is often sacrificed in the interests of speed. Therefore, the sentence ‘Are you coming for today’s dinner?’ may be written simply as “You coming for dinner 2day?’ or just ‘u coming?’. Saves time and effort, right? Similarly, the subject is often omitted in texts if mutual comprehension is achieved without it. So ‘I have been there’ is written simply ‘been there’.

Use of emoticons and emojis

Emoticons are keyboard combination of characters that signify a particular feeling like happiness or sadness. Emojis are digital images that represent things or feelings. Both are very liberally used in texting, especially on WhatsApp. Sometimes they represent the mood with which something is said.  For example, a smiley face attached to a message gives the impression that the speaker says something in a happy, loving way.

Social media, without an iota of doubt, is here to stay. It is likely to evolve further and take the English language along with it on this path of evolution. Well, language is a living organism, right?


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