LINGUIST List 22.4536

Sat Nov 12 2011

Review: Applied Linguistics; General Ling.; Socioling.: Crystal (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.     Mariza Georgalou , Internet Linguistics

Message 1: Internet Linguistics
Date: 12-Nov-2011
From: Mariza Georgalou <>
Subject: Internet Linguistics
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Announced at
AUTHOR: David CrystalTITLE: Internet LinguisticsSUBTITLE: A Student GuidePUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)YEAR: 2011

Mariza Georgalou, Department of Linguistics and English Language, LancasterUniversity

SUMMARYDavid Crystal has been writing, editing, lecturing, broadcasting and consultingon language and linguistics for almost 50 years. In front of the largestreservoir of language that the world has ever seen, namely the Internet, Crystaladvocates that it is high time a new branch in linguistics was recognized andestablished: 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 mediumfrom a stylistic perspective, while the current one is moremethodologically-oriented. Here the author's aim is to inform as well as topropel more linguists towards a field which warrants attention

In chapter 1, ''Linguistic perspectives'', Crystal delineates Internet linguisticsas a new area of academic enquiry which poses two exciting challenges forresearchers. On the one hand, the Internet constitutes a vast language corpus.The increasing amount of communication accomplished electronically, on the otherhand, has given language an unparalleled stylistic diversity. Yet, the authormaintains that merely investigating the new kinds of language introduced onlineis not considered an adequate contribution to the field. Linguists have to be ontheir guard for potential pitfalls, such as the moral panic that typicallyaccompanies 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 butcomprehensive treatment of communication channels, the author concludes thatInternet language cannot be identified with either speech or writing; instead,it selectively and adaptively displays properties of both, giving rise to afresh, mixed medium. Despite its lack of simultaneous feedback, its limitedmessage size and message lag, the distinctive features of the medium include theuse 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 alinguistic analysis of the popular microblogging service. By typing ''language''as a single search term, Crystal gathered 146 tweets within 25 minutes andstudied their content (shortening techniques, contractions, logograms,abbreviations, spacing, ellipsis, punctuation), grammar (fragments, complexity,minor sentences, self-reference, cohesion) and pragmatics (purpose, tone). Itfollows from his thorough account that Twitter can be characterized as a varietysince no other use of language combines message and identity in the way thattweets do.

Chapter 4, ''Language change'', elucidates why vocabulary is the area in whichlinguistic change becomes immediately evident as innovative technologyintroduces new words, social media platforms invent their own terminology, andold words acquire new meanings. Orthography is influenced by factors such asusers' age, gender, educational background, linguistic taste, personality andthe nature of the content they produce. Grammatical changes are less noticeable,resembling those found in non-electronic media. Traditional pragmatic models ofcommunication cannot be easily applied to all instances of Internet discourse,while stylistic analysis is still in its infancy due to the stylistic diversityof the web.

Chapter 5, ''A multilingual Internet'', deals with how the Internet has come toencompass all languages. The impression that English dominates the Internet nolonger 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 asentirely global and democratic (Boardman 2005: 50), Crystal highlights that notall languages are equal online. For a truly multilingual Internet there needs tobe policy agreement and technological implementation. For a start, he proposesthe availability of content in non-Roman based scripts and the encouragement ofendangered and minority languages (Welsh, Basque, aboriginal languages).

In chapter 6, ''Applied Internet Linguistics'', the author tackles problems thatcall for a solution in the context of the Internet, namely irrelevance,incoherence, inaccuracy and polysemy within search engine assistance, documentclassification, e-commerce and online advertising. For a fully developedInternet applied linguistics, Crystal endorses the implementation of approachesthat take into consideration various aspects of language structure and use suchas 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 Internetlinguistics from a diachronic perspective.

Chapter 7 presents a forensic case study of a paedophile conversation which tookplace on an instant messaging site. Drawing on semantic tools and calculating aCumulative Paedophile Index for each conversational sample, Crystal identifiedsuggestive words, phrases and sentences which expressed the paedophile's intent.Such studies, conducted by linguists and supported by speech therapists andremedial language teachers, can assist children in coping successfully withinnuendos along with developing appropriate response strategies.

In chapter 8, ''Towards a theoretical Internet linguistics'', Crystal puts forththe argument that language on the Internet forces us to rethink and reinterpretevery question we have asked about language till now. Yet, it is unclear whetherwe can have a unique theory of Internet language owing to the rapid pace ofinnovation in technology and the indispensable alliance with non-linguisticmodes of communication (e.g. multimodality, multimedia). Social factors, such asthe emergence of new language styles as fashions change, also come into playwhile “Internet language death”, the demise of certain Internet forums, is theworst case scenario. For a valid Internet linguistics, a full set of languagesmust be investigated.

EVALUATION''Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide'' is specifically tailored to the needs ofEnglish language, linguistics, media and communication students, at bothundergraduate and postgraduate levels. Of course, it speaks to all who arepassionate about the web rhetoric. Whichever the case, readers should have somebackground in basic linguistics. On the other hand, instructors responsible fordesigning and teaching courses on the above disciplines will find it invaluableas a textbook as well as a resource for assigning activities aimed atconsolidating and practising what has been learned.

Using a wealth of real-life examples and written in a pleasant and accessiblestyle, this book succeeds in presenting and analyzing everything we need to knowabout online linguistic behavior. Crystal acknowledges the limitation of workingwith examples only in English, inviting researchers to determine whether hisconclusions are universal.

For present purposes, the author proposes the linguistically stripped term''output'' to refer to and define the various entities that form Internetdiscourse (email, chats, tweets and so on). He disagrees with calling them''genres'' given that genre implies a certain degree of linguistic homogeneitywhich is virtually impossible, at least for the time being, to be encounteredacross the Internet universe. As appropriate as this term may be, it seems tohave a long way to go before it is widely established within the Internetresearch community.

A praiseworthy feature of the book is the chapter on Twitter. Conceding thatlinguistic attention to this rapidly growing Internet output is still scant,Crystal, in line with Herring's (2007) flexible scheme of classifying digitaldiscourse in terms of technological and social facets, provides a meticulousaccount which paves the way for conducting detailed descriptions of thestylistic features of new media platforms.

Another asset is the forensic case study in which the writer illustrates how thehidden intentions of people who perform illegal acts using simultaneously theInternet can be diagnosed by means of language. Such studies, beingcomplementary to psychiatric and criminological analysis, are highly likely tobe conducive to the fruitful investigation of serious crimes such as the ghastlymassacre in Norway in July 2011. Apart from the perpetrator's lengthy manifesto,linguistic evidence of his plans can also be traced online, in his YouTubechannel and his social network profiles.

Returning to activities, chapter 9, ''Research directions and activities'', notonly provides fertile soil for further research, but also gives students impetusto reflect critically on Internet issues adopting different linguisticapproaches and collecting data from a plethora of electronic outputs (forumposts, VoIP systems, chatrooms, blogs, IM services, texting, social networksites). Topics include argumentation, latency and conversational rhythm,turn-taking, distinctive forms and punctuation, spam messages, onlinetranslation, cultural localization, taxonomies, and semantic targeting. Itshould be noted that suggestions for research are not limited to this chapterbut are interspersed throughout the book.

The cover of the book is eye-catching, white like the Google homepage. DavidCrystal's name has replaced Google's logo, featuring the same colours, typefaceand 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'mFeeling 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 ofits kind and thus an ideal starting point.

The only typographical error I found was on page 171 where ''Androutsopolous'' iswritten for ''Androutsopoulos''.

On the whole, ''Internet linguistics'' is much more than a mere course book; it isthe cornerstone of a fresh and challenging research agenda. And to all those whowork in the field, including myself, and feel that their Internet linguisticstudies will be outdated almost before they are finished, Crystal soundssufficiently optimistic in the end: ''The Internet is the largest area oflanguage 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).

REFERENCESBoardman, M. (2005) The language of websites. Abingdon: Routledge.

Crystal, D. (2001) Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress (2006, 2nd edn.).

Herring, S. (2007) A faceted classification scheme for computer-mediateddiscourse. LanguageInternet.


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).

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