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Review of  Language and the Internet

Reviewer: Liwei Gao
Book Title: Language and the Internet
Book Author: David Crystal
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 18.777

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AUTHOR: Crystal, David
TITLE: Language and the Internet
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2006

Liwei Gao, Defense Language Institute


Language and the Internet (second edition) presents an updated description
of how the Internet is affecting the way in which people use language. It
covers a wide range of Internet genres, including e-mails, chatgroups,
virtual worlds, the Web, instant messaging, and blogging. In this book
David Crystal argues that the appearance of ''Netspeak'' should not be
considered as a challenge or even threat to standard usages. Instead, the
Internet has created growth in the variety and creativity of language use.

In Chapter 1, David Crystal points out the aim of this book: to explore the
ways in which the Internet medium is having an effect on language. Crystal
first briefly discusses the aspects in which language varies, then
describes commonly seen Internet situations, and finally introduces the
term ''Netspeak''. Very importantly, Crystal notes that ''salient features of
Netspeak… have already begun to be used outside of the situation of
computer-mediated communication, even though the medium has become
available to most people only in the past decade or so'' (pp. 20-1).

In Chapter 2, the medium of Netspeak, David Crystal first looks at the
differences between speech and writing and consequently compares ''Netspeak''
with speaking and writing respectively. In so doing, Crystal concludes that
''on the whole, Netspeak is better seen as written language which has been
pulled some way in the direction of speech than spoken language which has
been written down'' (pp. 51). Crystal calls it a ''third medium'' (pp. 52),
given that it is not simply a collective of spoken and written language. In
this chapter Crystal also discusses ''Netspeak'' maxims in light of the
maxims of conversations proposed by the philosopher H. P. Grice.

In Chapter 3, finding an identity, David Crystal first presents the Wired
style's ten usage principles after Hale and Scanlon (1999), which are 1)
The medium matters, 2) Play with voice, 3) Flaunt your subcultural
literacy, 4) Transcend the technical, 5) Capture the colloquial, 6)
Anticipate the future, 7) Be irreverent, 8) Brave the new world of new
media, 9) Go global, and 10) Play with dots and dashes and slashes. In the
following, Crystal describes some distinctive linguistic features of
''Netspeak'', for example, its unique spelling and punctuation usages.
Crystal observes that up until this stage the most distinctive features of
''Netspeak'' are still located in its lexicon and graphology, while unique
grammatical features are much less frequent.

In Chapters 4-8, David Crystal examines in detail the language used in six
different Internet situations, namely, emails (Chapter 4), chatgroups
(Chapter 5), virtual worlds (Chapter 6), the web (Chapter 7), and blogging
and instant messaging (Chapter 8), given that ''Netspeak is a complex and
mixed-message scenario, which can really only be understood by a detailed
consideration of the individual Internet situations'' (pp. 98).

In each case, Crystal has discovered ''clear signs of the emergence of a
distinctive variety of language, with characteristics closely related to
the properties of its technological context as well as to the intentions,
activities, and (to some extent) personalities of the users'' (pp. 258). In
these five chapters, Crystal not only explores the linguistics of different
Internet genres but also how each Internet situation actually works. In
this sense, these chapters partly serve as a manual to Internet novices.

In Chapter 9, the linguistic future of the Internet, David Crystal argues
that a new communication technology inevitably has linguistic consequences.
Furthermore, language serves as an index of social change and the arrival
of the Internet as a means of communication definitively qualifies as a
radical social change. Both factors point to potential changes in the way
in which people use their language. Crystal also remarks that research into
Internet language is still in its early stages. Given that ''Netspeak is a
development of millennial significance'' (pp. 272) and that ''a new medium of
linguistic communication does not arrive very often, in the history of the
race'' (pp. 272), continuous and larger-scale investigation into Internet
language is strongly called for.


In a lucid and accessible style, David crystal provides an engaging and
comprehensive description of language use in different Internet situations.
This book should fascinate anyone who is interested in issues regarding
language and the Internet, students and researchers alike. Although the
Internet has been with the world for approximately four decades, up until
this stage _Language and the Internet_ is the only academic work that
investigates the Internet solely from a linguistic perspective. In this
sense, it is a remarkably pioneering and innovative product that deserves
special attention.

In this book David Crystal implies that computers as a medium of
communication are prompting incipient linguistic changes. To some extent,
I think that this should be one of the major themes for a book on language
and the Internet. Unfortunately, this issue is not explored in detail.
Instead, it is only briefly touched upon here and there. Additionally, the
concept of language change in progress is also relevant to many usages in
computer-mediated communication (cf. Trujimura 2007), which is also mostly
ignored in this book.

In this book David Crystal presents a thorough description of the way in
which the Internet is affecting language use. In so doing, he exclusively
focuses on the English language. Nevertheless, as even Crystal himself
notes, the Internet is in nature a global phenomenon. In other words,
different languages frequently come into contact in computer-mediated
communication. In this sense, it would be enlightening if the interface
between different languages on the Internet as well as its motivations and
consequences, among others, were discussed in this book (cf. Gao 2006,
Hinrichs 2006).

In discussing the change in the way people use their language on the
Internet, Crystal situates the change in specific technological contexts.
In so doing, the author clearly attributes the change to the pressure from
technological constraints, which is mostly true. However, aside from
technological factors, socio-psychological motivations should also play an
essential role in the way people use their language in Internet
communication. For example, as is documented in Gao (2007), the desire to
construct an attractive identity functions prominently in the use of
Chinese Internet language by Chinese youth. Therefore, in accounting for
(potential) linguistic changes, Crystal largely ignores the creativity or
agency of language users.

Considering that this book does not thoroughly explore these important
(socio)linguistic issues involving language and the Internet, it is more
appropriately categorized as a descriptive introduction to language use on
the Internet aimed at a general audience than a technical linguistic study.
Similarly, in this book readers seeking a social political analysis of
online language use should not find what they are looking for (Warschauer
2002). Nevertheless, as a groundbreaking book, Language and the Internet
should remain an enormously influential publication for scholars in the
field of linguistics and language and media, among others, for many years
to come.


Gao, L. (2006) Language contact and convergence in computer-mediated
communication. World Englishes 25(2): 299-308.

Gao, L. (2007) Chinese Internet language: A study of identity constructions.
Munich: Lincom GmbH.

Hale, C., & J. Scanlon (1999) Wired style: Principles of English usage in
the digital age. New York: Broadway Books.

Hinrichs, L. (2006) Codeswitching on the Web: English and Jamaican Creole in
e-mail communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Trujimura, N. (2007) Language change in progress: Evidence from computer-
mediated communication. Paper presented at the 33rd annual meeting of the
Berkeley Linguistic Society.

Liwei Gao is currently Assistant Professor of Chinese at the Defense
Language Institute in Monterey, California. His research interests are
primarily in sociolinguistics, Chinese linguistics, and applied linguistics.

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