Review of Internet Linguistics
|AUTHOR: David Crystal
TITLE: Internet Linguistics
SUBTITLE: A Student Guide
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Mariza Georgalou, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster
David Crystal has been writing, editing, lecturing, broadcasting and consulting
on language and linguistics for almost 50 years. In front of the largest
reservoir of language that the world has ever seen, namely the Internet, Crystal
advocates that it is high time a new branch in linguistics was recognized and
established: Internet linguistics.
''Internet Linguistics: A student Guide'' is a follow-up to Crystal's (2001)
groundbreaking ''Language and the Internet''. Despite their unavoidable overlap,
these two books can function independently, as the first examines the medium
from a stylistic perspective, while the current one is more
methodologically-oriented. Here the author's aim is to inform as well as to
propel more linguists towards a field which warrants attention
In chapter 1, ''Linguistic perspectives'', Crystal delineates Internet linguistics
as a new area of academic enquiry which poses two exciting challenges for
researchers. On the one hand, the Internet constitutes a vast language corpus.
The increasing amount of communication accomplished electronically, on the other
hand, has given language an unparalleled stylistic diversity. Yet, the author
maintains that merely investigating the new kinds of language introduced online
is not considered an adequate contribution to the field. Linguists have to be on
their guard for potential pitfalls, such as the moral panic that typically
accompanies the arrival of new technologies, the terminological misconceptions,
the inaccessibility and anonymity of the data plus their ethical ramifications.
In chapter 2, ''The Internet as a medium'', having provided a brief but
comprehensive treatment of communication channels, the author concludes that
Internet language cannot be identified with either speech or writing; instead,
it selectively and adaptively displays properties of both, giving rise to a
fresh, mixed medium. Despite its lack of simultaneous feedback, its limited
message size and message lag, the distinctive features of the medium include the
use of emoticons, hypertext links, and the opportunities offered by multiple,
simultaneous conversations and multi-authored texts.
Chapter 3, ''A microexample: Twitter'', shifts from theory to practice with a
linguistic analysis of the popular microblogging service. By typing ''language''
as a single search term, Crystal gathered 146 tweets within 25 minutes and
studied their content (shortening techniques, contractions, logograms,
abbreviations, spacing, ellipsis, punctuation), grammar (fragments, complexity,
minor sentences, self-reference, cohesion) and pragmatics (purpose, tone). It
follows from his thorough account that Twitter can be characterized as a variety
since no other use of language combines message and identity in the way that
Chapter 4, ''Language change'', elucidates why vocabulary is the area in which
linguistic change becomes immediately evident as innovative technology
introduces new words, social media platforms invent their own terminology, and
old words acquire new meanings. Orthography is influenced by factors such as
users' age, gender, educational background, linguistic taste, personality and
the nature of the content they produce. Grammatical changes are less noticeable,
resembling those found in non-electronic media. Traditional pragmatic models of
communication cannot be easily applied to all instances of Internet discourse,
while stylistic analysis is still in its infancy due to the stylistic diversity
of the web.
Chapter 5, ''A multilingual Internet'', deals with how the Internet has come to
encompass all languages. The impression that English dominates the Internet no
longer holds, and the presence of other languages, such as Chinese and Spanish,
is steadily rising. Although the web tends to propagate an image of itself as
entirely global and democratic (Boardman 2005: 50), Crystal highlights that not
all languages are equal online. For a truly multilingual Internet there needs to
be policy agreement and technological implementation. For a start, he proposes
the availability of content in non-Roman based scripts and the encouragement of
endangered and minority languages (Welsh, Basque, aboriginal languages).
In chapter 6, ''Applied Internet Linguistics'', the author tackles problems that
call for a solution in the context of the Internet, namely irrelevance,
incoherence, inaccuracy and polysemy within search engine assistance, document
classification, e-commerce and online advertising. For a fully developed
Internet applied linguistics, Crystal endorses the implementation of approaches
that take into consideration various aspects of language structure and use such
as semantics (lexical, grammatical and lexicopedic approaches), morphology,
graphology, discourse analysis, pragmatics, sociolinguistics and stylistics.
Irrespective of the approach researchers adopt, it is essential to see Internet
linguistics from a diachronic perspective.
Chapter 7 presents a forensic case study of a paedophile conversation which took
place on an instant messaging site. Drawing on semantic tools and calculating a
Cumulative Paedophile Index for each conversational sample, Crystal identified
suggestive words, phrases and sentences which expressed the paedophile's intent.
Such studies, conducted by linguists and supported by speech therapists and
remedial language teachers, can assist children in coping successfully with
innuendos along with developing appropriate response strategies.
In chapter 8, ''Towards a theoretical Internet linguistics'', Crystal puts forth
the argument that language on the Internet forces us to rethink and reinterpret
every question we have asked about language till now. Yet, it is unclear whether
we can have a unique theory of Internet language owing to the rapid pace of
innovation in technology and the indispensable alliance with non-linguistic
modes of communication (e.g. multimodality, multimedia). Social factors, such as
the emergence of new language styles as fashions change, also come into play
while “Internet language death”, the demise of certain Internet forums, is the
worst case scenario. For a valid Internet linguistics, a full set of languages
must be investigated.
''Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide'' is specifically tailored to the needs of
English language, linguistics, media and communication students, at both
undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Of course, it speaks to all who are
passionate about the web rhetoric. Whichever the case, readers should have some
background in basic linguistics. On the other hand, instructors responsible for
designing and teaching courses on the above disciplines will find it invaluable
as a textbook as well as a resource for assigning activities aimed at
consolidating and practising what has been learned.
Using a wealth of real-life examples and written in a pleasant and accessible
style, this book succeeds in presenting and analyzing everything we need to know
about online linguistic behavior. Crystal acknowledges the limitation of working
with examples only in English, inviting researchers to determine whether his
conclusions are universal.
For present purposes, the author proposes the linguistically stripped term
''output'' to refer to and define the various entities that form Internet
discourse (email, chats, tweets and so on). He disagrees with calling them
''genres'' given that genre implies a certain degree of linguistic homogeneity
which is virtually impossible, at least for the time being, to be encountered
across the Internet universe. As appropriate as this term may be, it seems to
have a long way to go before it is widely established within the Internet
A praiseworthy feature of the book is the chapter on Twitter. Conceding that
linguistic attention to this rapidly growing Internet output is still scant,
Crystal, in line with Herring's (2007) flexible scheme of classifying digital
discourse in terms of technological and social facets, provides a meticulous
account which paves the way for conducting detailed descriptions of the
stylistic features of new media platforms.
Another asset is the forensic case study in which the writer illustrates how the
hidden intentions of people who perform illegal acts using simultaneously the
Internet can be diagnosed by means of language. Such studies, being
complementary to psychiatric and criminological analysis, are highly likely to
be conducive to the fruitful investigation of serious crimes such as the ghastly
massacre in Norway in July 2011. Apart from the perpetrator's lengthy manifesto,
linguistic evidence of his plans can also be traced online, in his YouTube
channel and his social network profiles.
Returning to activities, chapter 9, ''Research directions and activities'', not
only provides fertile soil for further research, but also gives students impetus
to reflect critically on Internet issues adopting different linguistic
approaches and collecting data from a plethora of electronic outputs (forum
posts, VoIP systems, chatrooms, blogs, IM services, texting, social network
sites). Topics include argumentation, latency and conversational rhythm,
turn-taking, distinctive forms and punctuation, spam messages, online
translation, cultural localization, taxonomies, and semantic targeting. It
should be noted that suggestions for research are not limited to this chapter
but are interspersed throughout the book.
The cover of the book is eye-catching, white like the Google homepage. David
Crystal's name has replaced Google's logo, featuring the same colours, typeface
and size. ''Internet linguistics'' is in the search box. In the ''Google Search''
button we read ''A Student'' while ''Guide'' is positioned at the button ''I'm
Feeling Lucky''. The parallelism is neat: Crystal is the source of knowledge;
Internet linguistics is a critical new field which needs to be explored;
students are the ones who set off this quest; the present guide is the first of
its kind and thus an ideal starting point.
The only typographical error I found was on page 171 where ''Androutsopolous'' is
written for ''Androutsopoulos''.
On the whole, ''Internet linguistics'' is much more than a mere course book; it is
the cornerstone of a fresh and challenging research agenda. And to all those who
work in the field, including myself, and feel that their Internet linguistic
studies will be outdated almost before they are finished, Crystal sounds
sufficiently optimistic in the end: ''The Internet is the largest area of
language development we have seen in our lifetimes. Only two things are certain:
it is not going to go away, and it is going to get larger'' (p. 149).
Boardman, M. (2005) The language of websites. Abingdon: Routledge.
Crystal, D. (2001) Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press (2006, 2nd edn.).
Herring, S. (2007) A faceted classification scheme for computer-mediated
discourse. Language@Internet. http://www.languageatinternet.de/articles/2007/761.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Mariza Georgalou is a graduate of the Faculty of English Studies,
University of Athens, Greece (2005). She holds an MA (with Honours) in
Language Studies from Lancaster University, UK (2006) where she is
currently a PhD student in linguistics. Her areas of interest include new
media discourse, critical discourse analysis, social semiotics, digital
literacies and online ethnography. She works as a copy editor at PC
Magazine (Greek edition).