22 Dec How is technology affecting language?
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added more than 3,000 new words in 2021. Quite remarkably, some 100,000 words and phrases have been added since March 2000. The English language is notorious for its large inventory of words – we have a semantically rich language – and it is continuing to evolve and expand as communication becomes easier and more widespread, largely thanks to the internet.
Cancelling the keyboard warriors
There are many factors that influence language change: immigration and international travel, scientific breakthroughs, innovations, and new discoveries (had you ever heard the word COVID before 2020?). One undeniable force driving modern day language change is the internet and social networking. The speed at which we exchange and share messages exposes us to thousands of words, phrases and ideas every day.
Here’s a couple of my favourite new additions to the OED thanks to our use of technology and social media.
- ghosting, verb: to ignore or pretend not to know (a person); spec. to cease to respond to (a person) on social media, by text message, etc., esp. as a means of ending a relationship suddenly and without explanation; (hence) to end a relationship or association with (a person) by ceasing all communication.
- cancel culture, noun: the action or practice of publicly boycotting, ostracizing, or withdrawing support from a person, institution, etc., thought to be promoting culturally unacceptable ideas.
- keyboard warrior, noun: a person who uses a computer keyboard habitually, now esp. one who posts abusive or aggressive messages on the Internet, typically with a username that conceals his or her identity.
Among others added were virtual assistant, voice assistant, and webcamming. The Miriam-Webster Dictionary also added the text-talk abbreviations TBH and amirite.
So, what can we take from this?
Measuring technological change
As new technologies and social trends emerge, we naturally need more words to describe and refer to them. Therefore, language is a good measurement tool for evaluating how quickly technology – and our world in general – is evolving. Look back to the 90s and early 2000s when we had a relatively small selection of words to describe the technology and compare that to today. We have replaced floppy disks with USB sticks and then again with cloud technology.
Technology we cannot even imagine is on the horizon and no doubt there will be more trends that spread virally on social media, causing our languages to shift and grow. It may seem simple but reflecting on the recent history of the world’s languages can help us understand how far technology and society has come in such a short period of time. Doing so also indicates the potential innovations we could see going into the future.
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