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Video: The Linguistics of the Internet

Date: 13 September 2019

At last year’s Summer School, blogger, podcaster and prominent linguistic communicator Gretchen McCulloch gave a public lecture and a foretaste of her upcoming book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language.

Linguistics as a field traditionally treats spoken language as its primary area of inquiry. Unscripted, face-to-face spoken or signed conversations are thought to be where we tap into our linguistic intuitions most deeply, untouched by editing or prescriptive grammatical advice. In this video, Gretchen McCulloch shows why we should expand the domain of investigation to informal written language – the sort found in text messages and social media posts.

Gretchen says that language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before.

“Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies,” she says. “Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.”

In doing so, Gretchen believes we can answer some longstanding linguistic questions, such as where to draw the boundaries on dialect maps. We can also ask new ones, such as how people are using emoji and punctuation to give writing a sense of gesture and tone of voice.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University