Approximately 30 million people world-wide use the Internet andonline services daily. The Net is growing exponentially in allareas, and a rapidly increasing number of people are findingthemselves working and playing on the Internet. The people on theNet are not all rocket scientists and computer programmers;they’re graphic designers, teachers, students, artists,musicians, feminists, Rush Limbaugh-fans, and your next doorneighbors. What these diverse groups of people have in common istheir language.
The Net community exists and thrives because ofeffective written communication, as on the net all you haveavailable to express yourself are typewritten words. If youcannot express yourself well in written language, you eitherlearn more effective ways of communicating, or get lost in theshuffle. “Netspeak” is evolving on a national and international level. Thetechnological vocabulary once used only by computer programmersand elite computer manipulators called “Hackers,” has spread toall users of computer networks. The language is currently spokenby people on the Internet, and is rapidly spilling over intoadvertising and business. The words “online,” “network,” and”surf the net” are occuring more and more frequently in ournewspapers and on television.Order now
If you’re like most Americans,you’re feeling bombarded by Netspeak. Television advertisers,newspapers, and international businesses have jumped on the”Information Superhighway” bandwagon, making the Net moreaccessible to large numbers of not-entirely-technically-orientedpeople. As a result, technological vocabulary is entering intonon-technological communication. For example, even thearchaic UNIX command “grep,” (an acronym meaning Get REpeatedPattern) is becoming more widely accepted as a synonym of”search” in everyday communication. The argument rages as to whether Netspeak is merely slang, or ajargon in and of itself.
The language is emerging based looselyupon telecommunications vocabulary and computer jargons, withnew derivations and compounds of existing words, and shiftscreating different usages; all of which depending quite heavilyupon clippings. Because of these reasons, the majority of Net-using linguists classify Netspeak as a dynamic jargon in and ofitself, rather than as a collection of slang. Linguistically, the most interesting feature of Netspeak is itsmorphology. Acronyms and abbreviations make up a large part ofNet jargon.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Question), MUD (Multi-User-Dungeon), and URL (Uniform Resource Locator) are some of themost frequently seen TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) on theInternet. General abbreviations abound as well, in morefriendly and conversationally conducive forms, such as TIA(Thanks In Advance), BRB (Be Right Back), BTW (By The Way), andIMHO (In My Humble Opinion. ) These abbreviations can bebaffling to new users, and speaking in abbreviations takes somegetting used to. Once users are used to them, though, suchabbreviations are a nice and easy way of expeditingcommunication. Derivation is another method by which many words are formed.
Theword Internet itself is the word “net” with the prefix “inter-“added to it. Another interesting example is the word “hypertext,”used to describe the format of one area of the Internet, the WWW(World Wide Web). The WWW is made up of millions of pages of textwith “hotlinks” that allow the user to jump to another page withdifferent information on it. “Hypertext,” derived by adding theprefix “hyper-” to the word “text,” produces the definition “amethod of storing data through a computer program that allows auser to create and link fields of information at will and toretrieve the data nonsequentially,” according to Webster’sCollege Dictionary.
Proper names also make a large impact on the vocabulary of Netusers. Archie, Jughead, and Veronica are all different protocolsfor searching different areas of the Internet for specificinformation. Another new use of proper names is for descriptivepurposes. For example, the proper-name turned descriptivenoun/verb/adjective “Gabriel” has come to be understood as astalling tactic, or a form of filibustering; “He’s pulling aGabriel,” or “He’s in Gabriel mode. ” Most frequently, this typeof name-borrowing happens due to highly and widely visibleactions by an individual on the Internet. Onomatopoeias are also widely found in net jargon, as it’s oftennecessary to get across an action such as a sigh or moan, withouthaving sound capabilities to send the sound itself.
Veryfrequently net users will use asterisks to denote such sounds as*sigh* or *moan. *Semantically, net jargon is also quite interesting. Many, manywords used in net jargon are taken from regular English andapplied to new ideas or protocols. For example, a gopher is not afurry rodent on the Internet; a gopher is a software programdesigned to gopher through the vast amount of information so thatthe user can find what she’s looking for. A server is not awaitress or waiter; a server is another computer that tells yourmachine what it needs to know to communicate on the net. A handle is not a part of a coffee cup; a handle is a nickname.
Ashell isn’t the thing a clam lives in; it’s the command systemthat allows you to enter commands to communicate with the machineon the other end. Functional shifts are also often frequently seen among vocabularyon the net. For example, a flame (noun) is an angry, hostileresponse sent to another person. To flame (verb) is to sendsomeone such a response. You use a Gopher (noun) to gopher (verb)through information.
These finer distinctions are learned withexperience and time on the net. Context is everythingwhen all you have to communicate with is your words andtypewritten expressions. One example of coinage, and creativity, within written Netspeechis the addition of “emoticons” to express emotions and intention. Emoticons, most frequently seen in the form of sideways smiles (8^) or ; ) for example, ) are found sprinkled throughoutelectronic communication to donote feelings such as happiniess,or to express sarcasm or humor. Most Net users consider emoticonsa part of their vocabulary, even if they do not fall intotraditional grammatical rules. Emoticons are not used aswords, they are an attempt at expressing feelings without theluxury of using one’s voice.
Using all-caps is another way Netusers have found to bring voice to their written communication;in the form of shouting. Net users use all-caps very sparingly,only to emphasize very important words or ideas, because mostreaders do not wish to be shouted at. Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of Netspeak, however,is pronunciation. Most frequently, a user’s first encounter witha new vocabulary word is by reading it, rather than hearing it. This presents interesting pronunciation differences amongdifferent people. There is an interesting controversy among thenet community over the correct pronunciation of the word”ethernet” in normal speech.
An ethernet is a network protocolwith a fast data transfer rate. Most of the computers in officesat Western are connected by an ethernet. In the past, Ethernetwas the name of a specific networking and communicationsprotocol. At that time, the word Ethernet was pronounced with along . As the concept of Ethernet networking spread, however,the word gradually changed to ethernet, pronounced with a short, a description of that specific type of network.
In spokencommunication, the two different pronunciations created a greatargument among computer users, as to which pronunciation wascorrect; an argument that will continue for all time when itcomes to spoken communication, and that is absolutelyunimportant in written communication. The structure and development of the word ethernet isparticularly interesting as well. It is a compound of “ether” and”net,” increasingly being used to describe the concept of theInternet itself. As the Net is a global connection of millions ofmachines, it is difficult for the user to understand what’shappening to get the information through those millions ofmachines to their own. The basic explanation of the structure ofthe Internet is evolving to use the word “ethernet,” meaning anetwork that exists sort of like a gaseous cloud, with theimagery of a cloud of networking information takingup the ether; occupying the upper regions of space.
While this isabsolutely incorrect and inaccurate, it does help new users learnto not ask how the net works, and to just accept that it does. American English Net jargon is somewhat internationallyprevalent. Many terms used on the multi-lingual yet Englishdominated Internet are borrowed from language to language. Thewords “Internet” and “cyberspace” are used around the world, asis evident when one is cruising the Net and encounters a piece ofwriting entirely written in Norwegian or Russian. The only wordsan English-speaker easily recognizes are those internationallyunderstood items of Netspeak. Another example are the grammaticaland vocabulary mutations that English Net jargon inspires.
According to the Hacker Jargon File, Italian net users often usethe nonexistent verbs “scrollare” (to scroll) and “deletare” (todelete) rather than native Italian “scorerre” and “cancellare. “The English verb “to hack” has been seen conjugated in manyEuropean languages. As the Internet and computer online services further invade lifein the United States and the world over, more and more peoplewill contribute to, change, and further develop Net jargon as weknow it today. In addition, more people will find Net jargonspilling over into their offline lives.
Nothing in our worldtoday is changing more quickly than computer networks andtechnology, and therefore, no jargon is changing more quicklythan Netspeak. As more and more specialty words make theirway into our dictionaries, Net jargon will become increasinglyprevalent in our written and spoken communication. Everyone, notjust Net users will become familiar with the new words andusages, as is already evident in the increasing use of the terms”networking” and “cyberspace. ” As business, advertising, andentertainment move onto the networks, Netspeak will continue togrow, change, and become more a part of everyday communication.
This dynamic language reflects the very rapid development of newconcepts and the need to communicate about these concepts. Aslinguists, tracking this language development is one interestingway of documenting the progression of the “Information Age,” justas the language changes of Early America allow historicallinguists to track the movements of our early ancestors.