Social Media and Language Change: mistakes or new terms?

Social media and language change is a recurring topic of conversation. Too often, we hear opinions about how we express ourselves on new platforms. On many occasions we hear about the constant use of bad language in social media. But is this genuine? Are we damaging our writing, our richest means of expression, by using the Internet? 


Written expression in the age of Internet

We should be conscious of the innovation that the Internet brings to our language. The language on social media is always written, which is an important point. Now anybody can write publicly (whether it is a large audience or not is another topic).

Only a few years ago, the availability of writing was much lower. If someone didn’t publish what they had written, the only way to find it would be to read their diary. They didn’t have these public domains.


How social media is changing language

The language of social media, as well as being a new type of writing, is completely different.  This is because the language of social media is ingrained with orality.

We write in chats which have a dynamic more like a conversation with a neighbour, than a conversation from a book. And this transfers to other formats: we comment on posts while speaking in a chat, and the style rubs off. However, it is not difficult to spot a difference.

Who looks over a comment on Facebook?  Some people use auto-correct to make sure their Facebook comment is written correctly.  Ultimately, the language on social media is the written language most similar to orality that has ever existed.


And what happens to linguistic registers?

This brings us to another point. Now there is a new reality for written text: it is public and close to orality. We can then ask about social media and language change. What characteristics of language are different for social media?

  • On the Internet people write in an almost instantaneous manner, which comes from using the chats. There is no prior thought given before posting messages. This mutates in two forms: the idea of ‘the fewer characters the better’, and the emergence of errors because messages are not reviewed.
  • Any person, with any level of education, can write publicly on the Internet.
  • Platforms such as Twitter exist, which limit the number of characters you can use.
  • Not all posts are the same on every platform: in a chat, a comment on Facebook, an opinion post.

All these statements lead us to believe that new linguistic registers exist in written texts. How do we use language according to different contexts?  We wouldn’t speak the same way in a bar as we would if we were giving a talk about a technical topic, would we? So, this idea can be transferred to the language on social media.


What are the effects of Social Media on language?

Until now, written language had not been used every day in a colloquial context (apart from notes we may leave for our family on the kitchen table like ‘I’m taking your keys’).

When we speak with our friends and family in a light-hearted conversation, our speech is filled with inaccuracies and colloquialisms. And this appears to be what is happening with the language used on social media sites.

The social media effect on language has changed our forms of expression: written language has never been as close to oral language, and it has never been as easy to write for a big audience.

We understand social media sites to be an informal space, where friends and family communicate with each other. We don’t pay too much attention to spelling: using informal language, for example, and using shortened words and abbreviations.

The issue for social media language analysis is the transference from what we say in private, colloquial conversations, to large audiences: a comment on Instagram can be seen by millions of people that we don’t know.  And there are plenty of people that don’t write properly on these platforms.

We believe that to learn more about it, social media language analysis should focus on two things: Privacy, or those that we show our messages to, and understanding context, i.e., in what situations can we be colloquial?


Social media and language change

The written language has never been as close to oral language. It has also never been as easy for anyone to be able to write for a big audience.

We need to be aware of innovation to manage it well. This way, we will be able to sell on the Internet, by adapting our messages on social media for different markets.

Need help with content translation for your international social media profiles? Need social media language translation services? Don’t hesitate and contact us, we can help!

About the author

Oscar Nogueras

Es el CEO de Ontranslation y dedica algunos ratos libres a escribir en este blog para compartir sus conocimientos sobre internacionalización, cross-border ecommerce y Traducción SEO. No es para menos, ya que entre su formación cuenta con una licenciatura en filología inglesa, un máster en tradumática, un posgrado en elearning y un MBA. En definitiva, una declaración de intenciones donde la cultura y los idiomas se sirven mezclados, no agitados.

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