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?