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Internet speak is ‘not destroying language’ says linguistics expert

Professor David Crystal

Tue 21st May, 2013

ENGLISH Linguistics expert Professor David Crystal was guest speaker at the final Leadership Futures lecture of the academic year at the University of Bedfordshire.

The talk was arranged by the University's CRELLA research centre to link with their longstanding Research Seminar series.

In a lively session held in a full-to-capacity lecture theatre at the Luton Campus Centre, Professor Crystal discussed the impacts, both positive and negative, the internet is having on language and also dispelled some of the myths that have arisen as internet use increases.

Executive Dean of The Business School Dr Sonal Minocha welcomed Professor Crystal, describing him as “one of the most distinguished academics I’ve had the pleasure to meet”, and was feeling unusually nervous for fear of making a linguistic mistake!

She added: “I’m delighted the University’s Department of Language and Communication at the Business School is hosting this Leadership Futures lecture as language and its use in modern technology are integral to the modern business world”.

Professor Crystal said social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have only been around for the past 10 year and the internet has evolved over 25 years – “a very short period of time in language terms”. 

“There is little doubt that internet technology has had a major impact on language,” he said. “The internet enables users across a neighbourhood, country or continent to share expressions, forming speech communities or users that previously were more localised. This isn’t just an English phenomenon; it is the world over in many languages”.

Professor Crystal also commented on the myth that ‘the internet is destroying language’. He said: “The same was said with the introduction of the printing press more than 500 years ago, the telephone in the late 19th Century and television in the 1920’s.

“Commentators had said these innovations would harm language, which is simply not the case and language has continued to expand and flourish. A recent example being the hoax school exam essay written in text speak, which was mistakenly highlighted in some national newspapers.”

Professor Crystal predicted rapid change over the next 10 years. That includes visual communications becoming dominant compared with audio as mobile internet technology continues to evolve, driven by increasing demand for miniaturised mobile devises, especially across Africa. That, he said, would present further challenges for linguists of different languages, dialects and even regional accents.

Professor Crystal added: “Every technological innovation has spawned new words and expressions since the dawn of human culture and civilisations. Some terms will remain and some will die out (for example ‘cool’ vs ‘groovy’). We won’t know which ones will stay and which won’t until we are past caring.

"Even if somebody does mind, they can't stop it happening, because languages change – that’s what they do”.

Professor Crystal is a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster.

He has published more than 250 books on English language and linguistics. He also developed linguistic profiling techniques for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and has applied linguistics to all manner of texts including religious, educational and clinical.

He is perhaps best known for The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language and his linguistic autobiography ‘Just a Phrase I'm Going Through’ was published in 2009.

The Leadership Futures programme gives the University’s Business School students imaginative and practice-based management education. Since its launch in October 2012, the series has featured high profile guest speakers including Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

The Leadership Futures lectures programme resumes this autumn.

Bedfordshire University

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