Netspeak Is Something Completely New English Language Essay

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In this essay, I will briefly identify the key features of Netspeak outlined by Crystal and subsequently attempt to evaluate his assertion that Netspeak can be classed as a fourth medium. In his book, Language and the Internet, Crystal states, "Netspeak relies on characteristic belonging to both sides of the speech/writing divide" I aim to decide whether this is the case or whether it is simply an aggregate of written and spoken characteristics.

To begin his analysis, Crystal first establishes the key differences between written and spoken language and the criteria for each; he then applied each to Netspeak with reference to different areas of the internet. Table 1 illustrates the application of spoken language, with Table 2 doing the same for written.

Table 1: Spoken language criteria applied to Netspeak (Crystal, 2006, p. 45)

Web

Blogging

e-mail

Chatgroups

Virtual worlds

Instant messaging

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Time-bound

No

No

Yes, but differently

Yes, but differently

Yes, but differently

Yes

Spontaneous

No

Yes, but restricted

Variable

Yes, but restricted

Yes, but restricted

Yes

Face-to-face

No

No

No

No

No

No, unless camera used

Loosely structured

Variable

Yes

Variable

Yes

Yes

Yes

Socially interactive

No, with increasing options

No, with increasing options

Variable

Yes, but restricted

Yes, but restricted

yes

Immediately revisable

No

No

No

No

No

No

Prosodically rich

No

No

No

No

No

No

A key point in favour of Crystal's argument is the lack of likeness to spoken language, however some features of spoken language is present - for example, short constructions, phrasal repetition and looser sentence construction (Crystal, 2006). Nevertheless, there are crucial differences, including the absence of kinesics and proxemics that are essential for expressing personal opinions and attitudes in spoken language, as well as moderating social relationships to avoid disambiguation. Smileys or emoticons are used, particularly on social media sites, chat groups and in online messaging, in an attempt to replace these language features as without the common courtesies of spoken language, online messages may well be construed as impolite or offensive. However, the semantic role of emoticons are limited and can lead to misunderstanding themselves (Crystal, 2006), especially as they often appear in different formats.

Further attempts have been made to replace paralinguistic features in instant messaging or on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Exaggerated use of spelling and punctuation, capitals and repeated letters and/or punctuation marks such as, NOOOOO!!!!, aaaaaah and woooooo are all common. Nevertheless, although capable of expressiveness, the range of meaning from these exaggerations is limited to emphasis, surprise and puzzlement. (Crystal, 2006)

Spontaneity is probably the most obvious distinction between spoken language and Netspeak. A web page is never spontaneous as it is written, published, and then can be viewed years later. If an article from an online newspaper, or a blog, were viewed, it would not be unusual for said article to be a couple of years old. In terms of written language also, it could have been edited, with its content updated, layout altered or, if it is one of the larger newspapers, its advertising sponsor may have changed. An article on the Guardian website for example could have been written in 2007, yet been updated in 2011 to be relevant to current affairs. During these 4 years, the Guardian may have changed their sponsor from 02 to Hilton Hotels and so the adverts down the side will have changed too, and so on. Whilst these changes will have been made online, the same article printed in the Guardian newspaper in 2007 will remain un-edited in print form.

Even instant messaging lacks the spontaneity of speech; a face-to-face conversation normally runs at 5 to 6 syllables a second, instant messaging however, must include time for the recipient to read and type their reply. An email could take even longer to respond - months, although unusual , is not impossible.

Table 2: Written language criteria applied to Netspeak (Crystal, 2006, p. 47)

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Web

Blogging

e-mail

Chatgroups

Virtual worlds

Instant messaging

Space-bound

Yes, with options

Yes

Yes, but routinely deleted

Yes, but restricted

Yes, but restricted

Yes, but moves off-screen rapidly

Contrived

Yes

Variable

Variable

No, but with some adaption

No, but with some adaption

No

Visually decontextuali-sed

Yes, but with considerable adaption

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes, but with some adaption

Yes, unless camera used

Elaborately structured

Yes

Variable

Variable

No

No

No

Factually communicative

Yes

Yes

Yes

Variable

Yes, but with some adaption

Variable

Repeatedly revisable

Yes

Variable

Variable

No

No

No

Prosodically rich

Yes, but differently

No, with increasing options

No

No

Yes, but differently

No

We must also consider that a large proportion of the language on the internet is written with the intention an audience of more than one will read it. Emails, along with other messages, are normally, but not always revised before sent, and web pages or articles from online magazines for example are edited before publishing.

It is clear from Table 2 that there are a greater number of similarities between Netspeak and written language than Netspeak and Spoken. Equally, there is still a large number of further dissimilarities not yet discussed, for example, a user can interfere with a text from a web page through copy and paste, downloading or other methods not possible using traditional written texts. Thus, it is clear that Netspeak is closer to written language than spoken although there are still dissimilarities; this is where Netspeak has been described as written language pulled towards spoken.

Whilst I am prepared to agree with this, I feel that Crystal's assertion that Netspeak is a new medium is more accurate. Yes, Netspeak displays characteristics of both written and spoken forms of language, there are too many dissimilarities, at the moment, to enable us to categorically state to which category Netspeak belongs. The internet is constantly growing, likewise language evolving, so this may change. However with language as it currently stands, I feel Crystal's assertion that Netspeak is a fourth medium is accurate.