BBC Future, “Is Tech Transforming Language?”

November 21, 2014

Interview with BBC Future: “Is Tech Transforming Language?” (Nov. 21, 2014)

Many think texts and tweets are crimes against proper grammar, but linguist Ben Zimmer argues that this misses the point.

Texting and social media are often bemoaned as the downfall of the written word – the low standards of grammar and spelling, say many critics, are evidence that English is going to pot. But is that true?

Ben Zimmer, a linguist at and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, argues that most fears about digital discourse are exaggerated.

For starters, ‘proper’ language has always been mangled and remixed by its users in daily life. The main difference now is that it’s much more visible, because so many people are publishing their discourse online.

What’s more, new styles and genres of communication are developing thanks to the way we are connected digitally. For example, some people append their daily conversations with certain words, such as “awkward”, or “random”, emulating the use of the hashtag on Twitter, he says.

So, for a linguist like Zimmer, it’s an “exhilarating time”. Our language is changing – but not necessarily for the worse.

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