Thursday, May 30, 2024

Internet English vs. proper English

While some claim the digital age is killing our sense of grammar, others may disagree.

The Washington Post reported in an article titled “is the internet hurting proper english? lol, no,” “Today’s digital natives essentially speak two languages — Internet and proper English —and they’re very, very savvy about when to use each.”

However, Newsweek reported in 2008 that the language of texting, which they dubbed “Textese,” would be the “death of English.”

Stephen DiDomenico, assistant professor in the Plattsburgh State communication studies department, said standard or traditional English can be used as a benchmark; however, “there are so many varieties of non-standard English that emerge every day.”

A tutorial from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said there are two types of grammar: prescriptive and descriptive.
“Prescriptive grammar is how we ought to write things,” DiDomenico said.

The tutorial described descriptive grammar as noting how the language is used, not how it should be used. DiDomenico said there is a gap between how people speak and how they write.

“The way that we use it, we often don’t correct people because we know that people don’t speak like they do in memos,” he said, adding that punctuation is important, although people might not think of it as they are speaking. “I adhere to prescriptive orientations when I’m trying to get my students to write in particular ways, so I want them to use the rules of punctuation. I want them to understand that something might be a bit more grammatical than other ways of saying it.”

DiDomenico said he has noticed that because social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are “omnipresent” in daily life, it is important for him to look at — and share with students — the reasons for communication, such as writing an essay, which he said warrants an academic tone, or “register.”

“It is a little bit confusing because if you’re constantly, throughout your day, typing and ‘speaking’ through these devices and through these platforms, you may forget there are these really important boundaries,” he said.

DiDomenico and the Post both addressed the issue of one message with multiple audiences, and he said the Post was “on point” for their reporting.

“If all of those people have access to my Facebook or my Twitter, I have to think really carefully about, ‘Well, who is the audience?’” he said.
With Twitter, he added, there is a general audience, and the conversation won’t be limited to one’s friends.

The Washington Post based part of their findings on a Georgia Tech study led by Jacob Eisenstein. The Post reported that, through analyzing “114 million geotagged tweets,” they found that, on average, when people know they are tweeting to a limited audience, they “forego ‘proper English.’” However, when people target a larger audience, as is the case with using a hashtag, they are more apt to be mindful of how and what they write because more people would read it.

“Almost because they may use multiple platforms, I think they have more awareness that we give them credit for,” DiDomenico said. “In class, this is not something I think has gotten worse because of social media, but emailing your professors is a constant battle.”

DiDomenico said he is a stickler for emails with a professional tone, etiquette and grammar.

“It would be an embarrassment if someone is a communication studies major and exits my class thinking it’s OK to begin an email by saying ‘Hello,’ and go into a question with no punctuation and not sign their name,” he said.

Rachel Feldberg, a PSUC sophomore early childhood special education major in the said grammar “is starting to hurt.”

“In texting or conversations on the Internet, we don’t really focus on proper grammar because we’re sending short blurbs,” she said. “We shorten our words. We don’t really use our correct grammar marks where we need them.”

Feldberg said the Internet is producing more creative writers because of websites where people can share their work online; however, she said sometimes writers’ grammar can be lacking. She said the Internet represents an evolution in the way people communicate, saying writing letters began as the main communication method, followed by the telephone and people slowly gained access to mobile devices.

“I assume the next thing is probably going to be holographic messages or something,” she said.

PSUC sophomore Molly Power, a marketing, information systems and business administration triple major, said the Internet hurts understanding of the English language.

She said that while some may be more casual in emailing a professor, she prefers to remain professional.

“I would be proper if I’m emailing someone other than friends or family,” Power said.

Email Timothy Lyman at

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