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Language and the Internet Hardcover – September 24, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0521802123 ISBN-10: 0521316561

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521316561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521802123
  • ASIN: 0521802121
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,753,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this first book-length consideration of the Internet by a linguist, Crystal, whose Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and over 40 other books have established him as a leading authority on language, begins with the idea that the Internet is not just a technological revolution but a social one as well. The author reasons that language is central to the revolution and explores the role of language in the Internet and the effect of the Internet on language. In four central chapters, he details the significant linguistic features at work in the four major "situations" of the Internet: e-mail, chatgroups (including listservs and discussion groups), virtual worlds, and the web. He concludes that Netspeak (his word for the language of the Internet) is a new medium, "neither spoken language nor written language nor sign language, but a new language dimension computer-mediated language." Crystal sees Netspeak creating huge opportunities for the expansion and enrichment of language. This is only the first snapshot of an amazingly dynamic new field, but it provides some of the groundwork indispensable to future research. Recommended for larger public libraries and all academic collections. Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Scientific American

Never mind those anxieties about the Internet's impact on privacy, intellectual property and the recreational habits of 12-year-olds. What is it doing to the future of the English language? Will it really lead to the end of literacy as we know it--not to mention spelling? Not according to David Crystal, a linguist who says in this witty, thoughtful book that, on the contrary, the discourse of the Internet--with its new, informal, even bizarre forms of language--neither threatens nor replaces existing varieties of English but instead enriches them, extending our range of expression and showing us "homo loquens at its best." Crystal, the Welsh author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language who is known to many in the U.S. through his comments on National Public Radio, analyzes the discourse of Web pages, e-mail, chatgroups and virtual-reality games. At first glance, much of this text certainly looks like a primer on linguistic irresponsibility: the shedding of capital letters; the minimalist punctuation; the perverse spellings and goofy abbreviations like RUOK ("are you okay?"); the smileys, such as :-), representing humor; the coining of terms at a rate that has no parallel in contemporary language. For Crystal, though, these phenomena are not portents of linguistic doom but examples of a set of language tactics developed for a new medium he calls computer-mediated communication. The innovative, sometimes screwball varieties of English expressed in computer-mediated channels, he says, have evolved as users have adapted their language creatively to meet changing circumstances. Smileys, for instance, appeared early in the language of e-mail as people struggled to replace many characteristics of speech, like pitch and tone, with symbols, using ;-) for winking or :-( for sadness. Most other forms of written language suffer under the same burden as e-mail, of course--they are not face-to-face and are therefore always ambiguous in their omission of cues such as intonation. So why are there no smileys in other forms of writing? Crystal argues that the answer lies in the immediacy of computer-mediated communication. Traditional writing entails time to revise, to make personal attitudes clear, to tinker with phrases. Smileys and other, related devices stand in for this extra work in the more spontaneous, fluid world of the new medium, which combines properties not only of speaking and writing but of rapid electronic exchange. Crystal is unbothered by typical usage issues--for instance, whether the form "email," "e-mail" or "E-mail" will prevail. He's willing to leave such matters to a future editorial consensus. And he does not worry about whether using "Dear Bob" instead of "Bob" at the beginning of an e-mail will make him a fuddy-duddy, as one handbook on e-mail usage advises. In fact, Crystal laughs at this prescriptive approach, arguing that to condemn one style as bad is to deny English users the stylistic option of switching, thereby reducing the versatility and richness of language. No single recommendation, he says, can suit the expectations of the range of audiences the Internet is reaching. His interest, instead, is in the readiness with which people are adapting spelling, grammar and semantics to meet the needs of Internet-based situations. The chapters on specific adaptations are studded with linguistic delights to satisfy anyone who has ever wondered what TTFN means ("ta ta for now") or tia ("thanks in advance") or gal ("get a life"). (Many more of these abbreviations are explained in highly entertaining tables, as are the varieties of smileys.) He tackles etymologies, too, and the derivations shed light on much that may otherwise have been mysterious: cc, for example, has a new gloss as "complimentary copy," now that carbon copies are a distant memory. He examines the plural ending "-en" that is popular on the Internet--as in "vaxen" for VAX computers--saying that such suffixes are a development that "will cause delight to all Anglo-Saxonists." Crystal devotes a chapter to the discourse of chatgroups--"gossip groups" is a more accurate description for most of what goes on within them, he says-which he characterizes as a "perpetual linguistic party, where you bring your language, not a bottle." He is fascinated by chatgroup language in part because it provides a domain in which to see written language in its most primitive state--banal, repetitive and untouched (as most writing is) by editing. "Chatgroups are the nearest we are likely to get to seeing writing in its spontaneous, unedited, naked state." He also reports on the scholarly literature of computer-mediated communication, including such gems as the finding that, in contrast to females, males on academic newslists sent longer messages, made stronger assertions and engaged in more self promotion, while making fewer apologies and asking fewer questions. Crystal is definitely upbeat, discovering the still evolving discourse of the Internet an area of huge potential enrichment. He uses the analogy of a gift he received-a new informal shirt. This shirt didn't destroy his sense of the value of formal and informal--it just made his previously satisfactory, informal shirts look somewhat staid. He sees the language of the Internet, too, as similarly extending the range of communication options. RUOK with this?

Anne Eisenberg


More About the Author

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written or edited over 100 books and published numerous articles for scholarly, professional, and general readerships, in fields ranging from forensic linguistics and ELT to the liturgy and Shakespeare. His many books include Words, Words, Words (OUP 2006) and The Fight for English (OUP 2006).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By "jlsolber" on February 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm a graduate student with a focus in computer technologies and writing, so I approached this book with an attitude of "what can I learn about language and the Internet?" The answer, unfortunately, was: not much. If you're at all familiar with the Internet and use email regularly, most of Crystal's book will just be covering a lot that you already know. Crystal gives the impression of having just discovered the Internet--e.g., he voices frustration at the number of non-relevant hits from a search on a word like 'depression', something that most of us have figured out strategies to deal with (and which he, as a linguist, might find interesting). Some of the solutions he suggests to the search-engine problem are already out or in beta, yet he doesn't show any familiarity with such developments.
Crystal admits up front that his aims with this book are modest -- basically, he wants to ask whether the Internet has affected language and language use. Um, well, yeah it has.
But he never answers the question that my undergraduate English professor made us ask of all of our paper theses--So what? Why/how do these changes matter? What larger significance do they have? As a linguist, Crystal isn't perhaps so interested in social or political commentary, but never was there such a disembodied look at language. It's as though because the words appear on a screen, we don't need to think about the social, political, or economic pressures that influence these "language communities" he's looking at. He admits that market forces are driving which languages get to be used in the "global village" but then acts as if that fact is of little consequence.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nadyne Richmond VINE VOICE on April 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
David Crystal, one of the world's eminent linguists, has given us a desperately-needed academic resource: this text. Although, as other reviewers have pointed out, some of the conclusions drawn are fairly obvious, this text is useful to have such conclusions stated concisely, in a single location, by a recognised linguist.
The book discusses the effects of the Internet on language, specifically English. Anyone who has spent any length of time online has noted that the language used online is a strange mix of formal and informal, abbreviations and highly-specialised jargon. How does this effect the language as a whole? Crystal does not pretend to answer this question, but raises questions for later research.
As with any book that discusses an aspect of the Internet, some pieces of the book are out-of-date. Search engines are more robust than when Crystal surveyed them. MUDs are essentially dead, replaced in part by massively-multiplayer online games that have their own linguistic ramifications.
In all, this book is an interesting and clearly-written broad introduction to the application of linguistics to the Internet. It is not an advanced text, although the nearly-exhaustive footnotes and citations are an excellent resource for a reader who would like to learn more.
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Format: Hardcover
Our digital world requires an equally adaptable language that bridges the gap between real world communication and our digital counterparts. Language and the Internet suggests that that gap is narrowing into a universal global entity. Like the telegraph, television, newspaper and other broadcasting inventions to appear within the last few centuries, the advent of the Internet takes the prefix "tele" to a whole new communicative level. "To broadcast over a distance" may be using the Grecian combining form a little too lightly. In today's Twitterverse, Facebook culture and blogosphere, conventional linguistic style and use have been transformed into what David Crystal has adeptly termed "Netspeak." Crystal acknowledges that linguistic consequences exists within the net, (which is by now a dated term) but the focus of Language and the Internet aims to investigate how the internet has impacted our perception and use of language on a global scale. The technologized language we use to communicate is constantly being augmented, dissected, invented and re-invented. These practices, in the eyes of many are a disastrous force especially in the wake of the "texting" age.
What I find most interesting about Crystal's approach to the early netspeak of chatrooms and electronic conferencing is that his research aims to reclaim the usefulness of linguistic adaptation. Through his scholarly citations, he discusses the formations of digital communities known as hyperpersonal vs. interpersonal or (face to face.) The use of these speech communities work to form an inclusive realm of "Netizens" or net/web users. The language expressed is comparable to regional dialects in that they are only accepted by certain people in certain locales.
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Format: Hardcover
Crystal is not only one of the most important authorities in this field, but also one of the few to seriously analyze the impact of the Internet from a linguistic perspective. In Language and the Internet we feel that we have his most important relevant book insofar as the Internet is concerned. While the book is relatively old (2001) we did not find it dated because of the strength of his original analysis. Part of the strength of the work is its breadth. Crystal points out that the Internet is not, in fact, a single medium, but the technology through which a number of linguistically distinguishable dialects such as email and chat rooms are conveyed to the reader...

For a full review see Interface, Volume 5, Issue 1.
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