Netspeak: On the language superhighway

Photo illustrating the news item

BTW in F2F class some1 LOL at my joooookes! WDYT? Am I funnee? G2G. mtg. CUL. <3.

BTW in F2F class some1 LOL at my joooookes! WDYT? Am I funnee? G2G. mtg. CUL. <3.

As an academic writing teacher, I am wrestling with the gap between netspeak and formal, academic writing. Recently I served on the panel of evaluators of BA theses (final projects) for the New Media Language Program at a neighboring university. The topics of the projects were super interesting. I learned about multimodal analysis, cultural signifiers, content marketing, and critical discourse analysis, among other topics.   

One student focused her research on netspeak, memes, and Instagram. Now, I am not fluent in netspeak. Thankfully, the student offered our panel a glossary of netspeak terms that arose from her data collection. The glossary is probably something that I need to study if I want to keep up with my students’ style of online, social media communication.

Then it hit me how odd the situation was. The bachelor’s thesis was written in formal language. The thesis introduced the background ideas in theoretical, technical vocabulary. Long sentences forced the reader to follow the train of thought through complex syntactic lexical structures. Dense paragraphs were organized cohesively and logically. Academic vocabulary signaled the intelligence of the author. The written work was carefully designed according to the university’s strict format for final projects. As all theses in Lithuania, this one will be available on a data base in PDF form and can be printed as needed.

In contrast, the content of the thesis was a description of Netspeak, a created language common in online social media platforms like Instagram and X. In Netspeak, there are no rules of punctuation. Words are deliberately misspelled, lengthened, or clipped. Number and symbols combing with letter for words that can only be understood “phonetically.” Abbreviations are the norm. Netspeak is for fast, short messages which don’t require a long attention span. Netspeak disappears from platforms; it is not permanent. It will never be printed. Netspeak is flexible and innovative.

It seems obvious now after reading the thesis, that analysis of netspeak is as important as any analysis of new language forms. So, the academically written thesis about discourse analysis interpreted the informal netspeak.

This is multilingualism or at least “multi- genre.” I need to be super patient when I am teaching formal academic writing to teenagers who spend more time reading: LOL # b4 school? G2G. Academic writing itself is a foreign language to them.

How can I best communicate to my young audience about formality, cohesion, and style which continue to be important in academic writing, when the phone in their fingers uses #’s and contractions to communicate flexible, innovative, temporary messages? Netspeak and academic writing are just different rhetorical modes. My job as an English writing teacher is to help my students navigate these different terrains.

BTW BRB with more FAQ’s & blogs. CUL. <3

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

20 Jun 2024