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The roots of weblish

by Giles Turnbull -- 2000/08/25

The internet is accelerating changes to language, says one group of researchers. English - as used online - is mutating into something else, labelled "weblish".

Marketing research company The Fourth Room said it had identified some interesting shifts in the use of the written word online.

They include:

  • The apostrophe is regarded as unnecessary by the vast majority of internet users
  • Spelling mistakes - even in formal e-mails - are acceptable
  • Writing e-mails entirely in lower case is fine
  • Addressing someone as Mr, Mrs and Miss is seen as too formal and old-fashioned
  • Signing off 'Yours Faithfully' or 'Yours Sincerely' is obsolete
  • Conversely language is richer - the digitally literate generation absorbs new words and phrases on a scale unimagined 10 years ago

The digitally literate generation has had a huge effect on the use of language in a very short space of time.

According to the researchers:

The global nature of the internet means new words and phrases are absorbed and transmitted at incredible speed. Weblish speakers aren't defined by money, age, gender, birth or geography. It's about communicating via hi-tech tools - sending a mobile phone text message (SMS) or firing off an email from your laptop.

Our research points to the development of a 'two speed' language system. There'll be the universal, stripped down Weblish and then geographical languages, which will be more like today's dialects. Traditionalists will be wringing their hands, but the online exposure to global culture will ensure a rich new way of communicating.

What kind of effect does the emergence of weblish have on international understanding of online material? Surely the changes to English will be mirrored by similar changes to Chinese, Spanish, and other languages.

Possible consequences: a hard time ahead for the makers of the Babelfish. And perhaps, the beginnings of a new, international, language?