Internet’s Impact on Language


So far, the Internet hasn’t been as revolutionary to the way we write and talk every day as it has been to the ways we communicate.

David Crystal, linguist and author of more than 100 books on the English language, will speak via webcast on Sunday at Curtiss Hall about the Internet’s impact on language.

Crystal, who has always been fascinated with languages, grew up speaking and writing English and Welch and, later on, mass introduced him to Latin.

In high school, he pursued French and Greek and in college, he read many of English’s closely related languages — Gothic, Old Norse, etc. — and discovered linguistics.

Crystal, best known for his books “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language” and “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language,” said the kind of English that is used today is nearly the same as it was 25 years ago.

Even with abbreviations like c (for “see”) being more popular, many have been around for years prior, but they never made it into the everyday spoken language. More modern acronyms like LOL and BFF have made their way into everyday language, but Crystal sees them as on their way out.

“In the U.K., these acronyms are becoming less and less used by young people.” he said. “They don’t think them cool anymore. As one young person said to me recently: ‘I stopped using these abbreviations when I realized my parents had started to.'”

Crystal, who wrote his latest book, “Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-language Tourist’s Guide to Britain,” with his wife, Hilary, said linguistics hasn’t had a major shift since Noam Chomsky in the 1950s when he gave it depth and made it a “genuinely theoretical subject.”

Crystal said electronic communication will certainly bring a revolution, but for now, it’s just the early beginning. He sees two big developments on the horizon. The first is the “audio-ization” of the Internet.

“At the moment, the Internet’s predominantly graphic,” he said. “This will change. Things like speech-to-text and text-to-speech will become increasingly routine, and present linguists with fresh challenges of description.”

The second, the mobility of the Internet — it comes through a phone rather than a large device — raises questions such as what information is lost when one goes from a large screen to a small one.

Mobile communication, Crystal said, is taking off in parts of Africa and as a result more languages are coming online. And while only about one-third of the world’s 6,000 languages have a strong presence online, the Internet offers a chance for endangered languages to survive.

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