Linguistics Revolution


Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by the Canadian linguist Gretchen McCulloch (Riverhead Books) tackles the big questions of language evolution on the internet in an approachable and humorous way. From 1337-speak to memes, McCulloch follows the rise and proliferation of internet-speak from Old Internet People, those first-wave adopters who needed to have real tech skills in order to connect with others online, to Post Internet People, the young digital natives who don’t remember joining the web. Especially interesting is McCulloch’s work on generational language shifts and typographical tone of voice on the internet. If you’ve ever wondered why older people tend to use ellipses to end a sentence, or why younger internet users practise what McCulloch calls “minimalist typography,” or if you’re just curious about the evolution of what a conversation looks like on the internet, this book is for you. I also enjoyed McCulloch’s argument that emoji stand in for gesture, and that memes are transformative cultural artifacts continuing the tradition of collaborative authorship going back to the likes of Homer, Virgil and Dante. McCulloch’s underlying argument is that the internet is for communication, and she aims to prove how things like “I can haz cheezburger” memes or ~*~sparkle text~*~ create not only deeper meaning but community. As a Full Internet Person myself, this book both validates and provides insight into the various types of language I’ve seen in common usage around the internet, while at the same time avoiding the trap of trying to shoehorn internet language into more traditional categories, or bemoaning the demise of literacy because of text-speak. This book won me over in its first pages with the analysis of the components of a keysmash (“asdlkj”) as compared to what it might look like when a real cat walks over the keyboard (“tfgggggggggggggggggggsxdzzzzzzzz,” for the record). McCulloch works to show that the internet is real life, and that it’s the home of a linguistics revolution.

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Kelsea O’Connor is contributing editor to Geist. She lives in New Westminster.


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