Social Networking Sites Impact Language Standards English Language Essay

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This chapter aims to examine existing literature on social networking sites and their impact they have on language standard features. Section 2.2 provides a short overview of social networking sites, who uses them and what they use them for. 2.3 discuss the standard and non standard features of language. 2.4 discuss the possibility of deterioration of indigenous languages. Section 2.5 offers a conclusion to this chapter.

2.2 Definition of Social Networking Sites

Social networking online involves using Web sites to share information with others and connect with them by creating a profile. SNS allow users to add friends, send messages and comment on others' profile pages. Communicating with others is a key aspect of using SNS. SNS users may post public messages or may use bulletins or private messages to communicate with those on their friends list.

"Social networking websites function like an online community of internet users. Depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share common interests in hobbies, religion, or politics. Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profile pages of other members and possibly even contacting them."

boyd and Ellison (2007) define SNSs as

"Web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system".

SNS's typically provide users with a profile space, facilities for uploading content (e.g. photos, music), messaging in various forms and the ability to make connections to other people. These connections (or „friends‟) are the core functionality of a social network site (Ellison et al, 2006, Donath & boyd, 2004).

"This ability to make connections or establish networks with people that one may be meeting for the first time through joining a group, raises a series of difficult issues in research into SNS, in that two terms 'social network sites' and 'social networking sites' are commonly found in the literature. Given this ambiguity, boyd and Ellison (2007) attempt to clarify the relationship between them: 'Networking' emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers. While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC)… What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. This can result in connections between individuals that would not otherwise be made, but that is often not the goal, and these meetings are frequently between 'latent ties'… who share some offline connection. On many of the large SNS, participants are not necessarily 'networking' or looking to meet new people; instead, they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network. To emphasize this articulated social network as a critical organizing feature of these sites, we label them "social network sites" (boyd & Ellison 2007: n.p.) cited by Harison and Thomas (2009).

2.2.1 Who uses SNS'S and what do they use them for?

"Beyond profiles, uploading photos, friends, comments, and private messaging, SNSs vary greatly in their features and user base. Some have video-sharing capabilities; others have built-in blogging and instant messaging technology. There are mobile-specific SNSs (e.g., MXit), but some SNSs also support mobile interactions (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter). Many SNSs target people from specific geographical regions or linguistic groups"(Redmond, 2010).

According to Lampe et al. (2006), social networking sites may also serve a surveillance function, allowing users to "track the actions, beliefs and interests of the larger groups to which they belong"

According to Redmond (2010)

"young people are known to be some of the most likely to participate on some SNSs (e.g., Facebook's initial focus on college students and then high school students left out older people by design), suggesting that concentrating on adolescents and young adults is especially important if researchers are to gain a better understanding of how such sites are being incorporated into people's lives" (Hargittai, 2007).

SNSs users can range from young people attending secondary school, college and university, and right up to adults. It is common for SNSs to have a minimum age requirement such as Facebook who advice users must be at least 13 years of age to create an account and become a member (Facebook, 2010). Further on in this study the results of a survey which was carried out will provide more detailed information on users of SNSs in South Africa.

2.3 Theoretical background standard and non-standard features of language

"South Africa has eleven official languages, each of which has its own lexicon and grammar. The status of the standard variety of a language is usually provided by the education system" (Jahr and Janicki, 1995: 30) cited by Magagula (2009).

Language is learned largely through formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes. Language is viewed as a structural prerequisite for human interaction. Standard forms of any language are social constructs, that is, they are created by the dominant community members in the society in which the language is used (Wilson and Henry, 1998: 5 and Webb and Sure, 2000: 18).

2.3.1 Standard language

"The standard form of a language is based on the speech of the educated elite. The development of a standard is influenced by a great variety of complex factors. Mobility and the professions are some factors which tend to further the usage or non-usage of the standard language. Such factors tend to affect urban areas rather than rural areas"(Magagula, 2009).

Magagula (2009) further explains that standard language is the one used in dictionaries, grammar books and hand books because these documents are regarded as authorities on 'correct' usage of the language. Poole (1999: 111) identifies the following characteristics of a standard language:

It has been selected from among the varieties of the language.

It has been codified and it is suitable for use as an official language and written and teaching medium.

It has been accepted by the influential members of the community.

As it is codified, it serves as a literary language as it is perpetuated by the education system.

It tends to be used by conservative community members.

It can be used as a yardstick for assessing a person's correctness.

It becomes clear from the above characteristics of a standard language, that the standard language, which before was just a vernacular (that is, a non-standard variety), constitutes the linguistic repertoire of the community where it is used. It has been accepted by that community as a super-ordinate variety, irrespective of the vernaculars which individuals may use at home.

"A non-standard or dialect refers to a language associated with a regionally, or socially defined group of people (Makoni et al., 2003: 84). According to Wilson and Henry (1998: 14) differences found in a non-standard language variety have equivalents within the standard grammar. This means that non-standard variants are embedded within structurally equivalent grammars: standard and non-standard varieties are therefore merely dialects of the same language" (Magagula, 2009).

A snap shot on Facebook conversation which is one of the SNS is presented below on figure 1

Figure 1: Conversation between friends communicating on facebook

This above snap shot is a simplification of SNS's conversation, when SNS users are having conversation they do not seem to be using the same variety of standard features of language as taught in schools. "While there is always a difference between spoken and written language usage the dichotomy between common spoken isiZulu and standard isiZulu as taught in schools, is more profound" (Ndlovu, 2005: 4). Old generation (grand fathers and grand mothers) are, complaining that purity of indigenous languages is disappearing

Magagula (2009) on her research emphasize that one of the most important facts about language is that it is continuously changing. "Everyone knows that languages have changed throughout the course of history." It is easy to see from a distance in time that there are differences between the language that was used in olden days and present-day language.

"It can also be shown from close at hand that language is continuing to change in the present just as it did in the past. Old varieties are changing and new varieties are springing up. Pronunciations are changing, new words and word forms are being adopted and old ones adapted to new uses. Sometimes change is fast, and sometimes it is slow, and at any given time some linguistic structures are changing while others remain stable. Indeed, change seems to be inherent in the nature of language and there is no such thing as stable human language. It is also true that at any given time a language is variable. Languages are never uniform entities. They vary geographically and socially, and according to the situational contexts in which they are used, hence languages or dialects are variable and in a state of change" (Milroy, 1992: 1) cited by Magagula (2009).

"All languages are very important for the knowledge that they embody as expressions of life experiences and for the people who speak them. They are vehicles for storing and repeating a society's knowledge as well as purveyors of culture (Makoni, Smitherman, Ball and Spears, 2003: 86). This means that people should have sufficient knowledge of their language and be concerned that it is developed" (Magagula, 2009)

Language standardization is the process by which an authoritative language body, such asa government-appointed body, prescribes how a language should be written: that is, its orthography, how its sounds should be pronounced, how its words should be spelt, which words are acceptable in formal situations and what the appropriate grammatical constructions of the language are (Webb and Sure, 2000: 18). Standardization often establishes itself in urban centres and then spreads from them into the surrounding areas (Poole, 1999: 112). According to Stockwell (2002: 5), Milroy and Milroy (1999: 1-3) and Hudson (1980: 33) a standard language should have passed through the following four stages in the process of standardization:

Some agency such as an academy must have written dictionaries and grammar books to 'fix' and regulate the variety. Therefore the variety is largely codified through the education system and standardization depends on the existence of a written form of a language (Romaine, 1994: 84, 86). Language is a much more complex phenomenon than such things as table manners (Milroy and Milroy, 1999: 1-2). Therefore, the process of language standardization involves the suppression of optional variability in language and as a consequence, nonstandard varieties can be observed to permit more variability than standard ones. According to Hudson (1980: 114) "speech is social, the rules or skills for using it are for the most part learned from others, in just the same way that linguistic items are learned".

2.3.2 Non-Standard language

Non-standard variants are embedded within structurally equivalent grammars: standard and non-standard varieties are therefore merely dialects of the same language.

"Non-standard accents and other forms of linguistic diversity would be counter-productive in a society with a great deal of mobility (Chambers, 1995: 212, 230). On one hand, every language is flexible enough to admit new elements to enhance its efficiency (Webb and Sure, 2000: 66) and on the other hand its speakers often resist the newly formed terms" (Magagula, 2009).

2.4 Indigenous languages

An indigenous language is a language that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous peoples. Indigenous languages are arbitrary oral symbols by which a social group interacts, communicates and self-expresses. It enshrines the culture, customs and secrets of the people.

"This language would be from a linguistically distinct community that has been settled in the area for many generations. Indigenous languages may not be national languages, or may have fallen out of use, because of language deaths caused by colonization, where the original language is replaced by that of the colonists."

2.5 Conclusion

"Sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter allow users to seek out friends and interact with them in different ways" (Redmond, 2010). Besides providing basic communication capabilities some sites also provide other variety of applications such as sharing documents, sending virtual gifts, or gaming.

This chapter aimed to examine existing literature on social networking sites and their impact they have on language standard features. Section 2.2 provided a short overview of social networking sites, who uses them and what they use them for. Section 2.3 discussed the standard and non standard features of language. 2.4 discussed the possibility of deterioration of indigenous languages.