Internet linguistics aren’t the end of English, but an evolution

Formalists have cried out against the relaxed grammar commonly found online, but fail to see that these distortions of common language are critical to expressing emotion across a medium that does not allow face to face contact.


by Julia Kerrigan, Opinion Editor

When the Internet first began, people found themselves needing all new sorts of words. Linguists encountered a variety of new phrases, from “website” to “boot up” to the ever popular “surfin’ the web.”

The rise of social media has led to another wave of new and exciting words, expressions and sentence structures to accommodate online communication, where body language is entirely absent and intonation can be hard to convey. While these aren’t grammatically correct in the formalist sense, I think they add a fascinating level of complexity.

Take, for example, this text I might send to a friend:

Why do we have so much homework tonight? We need to sleep.

While grammatically correct, it’s painstakingly formal, right? All I’d need to do is slap and MLA header on it and then I could submit it on It means exactly what it says, no subtext and no frills.

If I employ more current uses of punctuation, the text suddenly becomes much more engaging.

Why..,,,.,….do we have…..,.,.,So Much hOMEWORK tonight? We need!!! To sleep!!!!

Now, this is an eyesore when you combine that many conventions into one text, but bear with me. By using so many periods with commas interspersed, the writer can communicate their exhaustion between each word. The random capitalization of Certain Words is something I picked up in a book I read in grade school but has been used increasingly to communicate their importance or a shift in tone. The grADUAL capitALIZATION of words probably should have set off something in your head to make you start yelling the words. And excessive use of exclamation!!! Does exactly what you think it might!!!!! But more dramatically.

These little punctuation and capitalization quirks make a big difference in everyday communication, but there’s even more to it than that. Would you agree that casual “ok” is different from the hostile “K.”? And that a gentle “:)” is worlds apart from the uncomfortable and passive aggressive “:-)”? These little tics make all the difference when you’re trying to communicate online, and can only really be picked up by doing so.

This all sounds very trivial when it’s explained like a grammar textbook might in 50 years from now because it has all developed so naturally that I sometimes feel like it can’t be taught, just learned through experience.

Within 140 characters, the Internet generation has created ways to convey that they’re mocking someone, that they’re being ironic or that they are (on occasion) being serious.

Some might say that this warped use of grammar has ruined our generation’s ability to communicate well, but I see it the other way. What is happening online every day is not the degeneration of a language, but the development. If one were to take a look at any essay I have written for a class, they could see that I’m perfectly capable of writing with formalist grammar rules.

Put me in the middle of a comments section or a group chat and immediately a switch is flipped. Being able to communicate in both circles is what makes this generation well-rounded.

What is so fascinating about these new ways of expressing emotion and intonation is that they are not cataloged anywhere. There are no official rules, no printed style guides. This generation, sometimes demeaningly called “screenagers,” has taken their main method of communication and created a complex set of grammar rules that take what has been supplied for them in grammar lessons and used them to create emphasized meaning in an era where getting your point across is harder than ever. Anyone who dismisses these new writing techniques is missing out on an entire subsection of the English language.

To those who are mistaking a creative shift in language as a movement of lazy and undereducated teenagers bent on destroying English forever, I have just one thing to say to you: K.