Student guest post: The evolution of chat-speak

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Julianne Hoell is a senior studying editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. In her free time, she watches Carolina basketball and frequents her two Twitter accounts — @jcapel21 is her personal account, and @thatBiz features her Labrador friend Biscuit.

Americans are often insulted for knowing only one language. I, however, disagree.

I propose that American kids are not only fluent in English, but are also proficient in chat-speak. While they may be under-performing in every international ranking, an American child can put together an acronym faster than you can say “BRB.”

Each new form of communication has left its mark on chat-speak. AIM first brought “LOL,” perhaps the most famous chat-speak word, onto the scene. We have come a long way since then — because of the character limits on Twitter, users have perfected the art of shorthand communication. Such shorthand as @User, # and RT are more than abbreviations — they are summaries of entire statements.

People are now able to communicate their own ideas and share the ideas of others at lightning-fast speed. New acronyms surface every day, and old ones fall by the wayside. Ten years ago, I may have used “g2g” to indicate my departure. Now, I would only SMH at such immature chat-speak.

Just like a real language, chat-speak is evolving. Is this, however, a good thing, or are these acronyms polluting our language?

Some researchers contend that the latter is the case. Professor Silvio Laccetti of the Stevens Institute of Technology suggested: “The errors then continue to be circulated and repeated by others until finally everyone on the Internet has become illiterate, replacing proper English with Internet slang.”

OK, but frequently used slang was making its way into our vocabulary and even into our dictionaries long before the Internet brought about chat-speak. Lack of proofreading for grammar mistakes, misspellings and punctuation errors are not a result of chat-speak, but rather a result of failing American schools.

The idea that everyone on the Internet will become illiterate due to acronyms not only verges on absurdity, but I would even suggest that these acronyms have the opposite effect. Chat-speak helps people send and receive information faster, and in the world we live in, fast is what matters most. (In other words, “ASAP” — which was first used by the U.S. military in the 1950s.)

What we are witnessing is the natural evolution of language, not a corruption of it. Words that first appear as slang may prove their utility over time, eventually becoming an official part of our language. Not all chat-speak will make it, but just like “FAQ,” “AKA” and “FYI,” the most useful ones will survive.

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