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August 11, 2011

Udoji, chinazo 

Department of English and Literary Studies,

University of Nigeria, Nsukka




        In Lagos  state, Nigeria, April 27th, 2008 a young girl of 17 years old was asked to write a tribute to her late father, who was lying honorably in a mortuary, and she simply wrote “I luv daddy vry much, I hup 2 see him lter”. This sentence is obviously readable, understandable and grammatically to a 20th and 21st century reader with its new stylistic variation from the original or normal standard of writing notwithstanding. This stylistic variation is caused by some factors which we will see as we read on. Before we proceed a brief introduction will be made on the area of language and its condiments, i.e, its definition, forms and its importance to man. However, this is to enable the reader grasp, digest and finally move alone with the captain of the “Titanic ship” which will not and will never capsize into the ocean of irrationality and thoughtlessness defenselessly.

What is Language?

        According to A.N. Akwanya “Language is understood as the property of human kind into two ways; as a possession and as a characterizing feature” [2005:7]. To further explain the above definition he asserts that “all human beings are possessors of at least one language, and that language in the strict sense is found only with human being”.

Henry, sweet, an English phonetician, defines language as:

The expression of ideas by means of speed sound combined into words. Words are combined into sentences and the combination answering to that of idea into thoughts (1975: 123).

          Henry’s definition gives us the systematic processes that an idea undergoes before meaning is achieved. This begins with speech sounds to the morphemes which are produced into words and the words are assembled to produce meaning according to the syntactic combination of a given language.

          Language can also be seen as rules that can be used to convey thought, ideas, emotion and feelings. To elaborate more.  Chris U A Agbedo posits thus:

The concept of language, simply put, is the system of rules and principles of human communication. Perhaps, the most distinctive defining characteristics of language as a method of communicating ideas, emotions, feelings, desires by means of a system of vocal and sound symbols are its humanness and non-instinctiveness, as well as its place in human society…and intricate of all social skills. [2003:1].

          This definition encapsulates the available condiments necessary in explaining and expressing what language is. However, one can decipher from the above definitions the uniqueness of language as “an essential aspect of human essence” and existence. To say not the least that language may refer  either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex system of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. Codelia Ogbuehi would put that “man is language and language is man” [2008:2]. She further expanciate on this assertion quoting Miller thus:

Man can assert himself through Language with the declaration “I speak, thus I am”. But one man does not and cannot produce language. It requires a community of people. Different language that exist today are connected to specific communities and cultures. (2003:2).

The acquisition and possession of language by human beings creates a lacuna between them and other lower species. That is to say that language faculty of man is thought to be fundamentally different from and of much higher complexity than those of other species. Human being are able to acquire and possess language due to the utmost aid of an inbuilt indivisible device which according to Noam Chomsky is called language Acquisition Device [LAD].

          Language is wholistically part and parcel of human culture which when not properly protected and propagated can loss its true nature and can equally deteriorate like every other mishandled or unprotected culture. It serves as people’s way of life, their heritage and national identity.

          Every human language has two major forms through which one can communicate his/her conscious and subconscious thought, feelings and ideas, Hence, language is divided into Oral or Spoken form and written form. The former is more primordial than the later. The spoken form is expressed through the words of the mouth which can be or is prone to forgetfulness while the written form is expressed through writing and documentation of ideas on paper. This involves an educated person who can read and write while the spoken form is predominant in an illiterate society. however, the spoken form supercedes the written form in origin and application.


          The deterioration tendency of language particularly the English language can led to language loss. As a language with the highest number of vocabulary with world recognition spurred us to particularize our discourse on the English language. The phrase language loss can be defined as the attrition of a first or second language or a portion of that language by individuals or the speech community. Language loss should not be confused with “language death”. To throw a little light, language death is simply the extinction of a particular language example, the Latin language which is now in extinction being barely spoken by 10% of its original speakers and some what used in Liturgical service.

          A particular language attains to loss its form and value through obvious profound impact on indigenous and minority communities by foreign or colonial force, and revitalization and maintains efforts by the concerned people can make a big difference in the way the community values not only its language but even more, its entire culture. Sequel to this fact Mary Richard et al see language as “the cornerstone of we who are as a people”. [1993:240]. The Igbo language is a good example of a language that has lost most of its forms and values, even though some notable scholars are trying earnestly to revitalize it. This is because after the imposition of English language on the native speakers through church, trade and formal education by the British colonial masters in the 1900s and beyond. Many native speakers of the Igbo language have been addicted to speaking English, sometimes through correct utterances, code-switching and “Engli-Igbo” according to Prof. Peter Ejiofor. Example: A conversation between a painter and an owner of an uncompleted building which goes thus:

Painter:      Oga Kedu udi paint I nidiri ka ejiri pentiere gi your house. I choro grinu, white koo blue.

Oga:            Mga alagodu na my house ka mu na my wife diskossuo ya. Mana  nke obula any mere agiri on biko e chitikwela anyi.

          The above dialogue is not a code-switching but “Engli-Igbo” i.e. Igbo language written or spoken in English version. Language loss describes the loss in proficiency in a language at the individual level. In the above dialogue there is a high level of inproficiency between the two individuals which could be as a result of lack of proper and consistent training in learning their native language and if not properly redressed would led  to language death. Some Igbo vocabulary or words are English word baptized into Igbo. Such words as “eletrik” from electric, “televishon” from television, “boketi” from bucket, “windo” from window, etc. popularly known as borrowed words or “Okwu Mbita” in Igbo language.

          The English language today is losing its form and value basically through the inclusion of internet or computer lexicons into the language. The English language as a cosmo politan language can hardly die (but can loss its vitality) because of its absorbing nature. It absorb words from every language of the world like French, Spanish, Chinese, Afrikans, the Igbo, and many others unlike the Igbo language that only absorb few English word and  many other tribal languages and dialects in Nigeria. To further discuss the dismay position of the English language let us introduce the internet.

What is Internet

        The term internet also known as the international network is according to G.A.M. Ikekeowu “a jumbo network or a single computer network that is an interconnection of thousands of wide Area Networks [WANs], each of which interconnects several standalone system and other active electronic information hardling device” [2002:15].

          Wikipedia defines internet as “a global system of interconnected computer networks that uses, the standard internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to serve bullions of use worldwide”. However, internet is basically a network of networks that consist of millions of private, public, academic, business and government networks of local global scope, that are liked by a broad array of electronic, wireless and optical networking technologies.

          Internet carries a vast range of information resources and service such as the inter-linked hypertext document of the World Wide Web (WWW) and the infrastructure to support Electronic Mail [E-Mail]. Hence, internet is seen as a worldwide interconnection of computers and computer networks that facilitate the sharing or exchange of information among users.

          Its history dates back in the 1950s and 1960s with the development of computer. In 1995, internet begin to ripen and private individuals, companies, many other human endeavour and sundry began to effectively make use of the internet for communication, business, academic work, pleasure and discoveries. [Ikekeownu, 2002:15].

          In the area of communication the internet has immensely helped and has promoted language to evolve a new medium of communication different in fundamental respects from the traditional conservational speech and from writing. Today people make us computer, mobile handsets, electronic mails, short message service (SMS), etc, to communicate to their far and near friends and even enemies. These new means of communication can be termed “extra communicational” means of communication which aid quick passage of information between or among people all over the globe.

          Many terminology used on the internet are English words which have helped in the expansion of the English Vocabulary which is always the primary manifestation of language change. Basically the number of new expressions are not extremely very large. According to Global internet users “no systematic survey has been done”, but people are talking about only a few hundred new words and idioms coming into written language and the electronic voice message notwithstanding. A tiny number compare with the thousands of words come into English each year from all sources globally  and certainly when compared with the size of the English lexicons as a whole will be over a million lexemes.

          More over, only a small fraction of these fractions have as yet made little or no kind of impact on general spoken usage. The internet has given language new stylistic variation as in the case of “the 17-year-old girl”, and particularly increasing a language’s expression at the facilitators of learning.  It can effectively assist and guide students of 20th and 21st century to cope at the same time to learn positively with these technological innovations. 

          Internet as seen above has helped human in diverse of ways but also has been a prime contributing factor to language loss or attrition. One might ask how, has the internet possessed mouth or hands with which it affects language. There are means through which the internet contribute to language loss. Such means are the use of SMS language and internet slang.


          The short message service language popularly known as SMS language which has many names like testese, chat speak, txt, txtspk, texting language, lingo, smsish, txt talk, etc. is a term(s) for the abbreviations and slang most commonly used due to the necessary brevity of mobile phone text messaging in particular the widespread SMS communication protocol.

          SMS language can be defined as a nascent dialect of English that subverts letters and numbers to produce ultra concise words and sentences. SMS language does not always obey or follow standard grammar and additionally the words used are not usually found in standard dictionaries or recognized by language academics. Individuals addicted to using SMS language especially in the English language usually use it unconsciously when writing a formal or official write ups.

          SMS language is common on the internet including E. mail and instant message. It can be likened to a rebus, using pictures and single letters or numbers to represent words, e.g. the graphic representation; “I <3 U” which means “I love you”. Here a pictogram of heart is used for “Love” and letter “U” for “you”. More so, words that have no common abbreviation users most commonly remove the vowels from them and the reader is required to interpret a string of consonants by re-adding the vowels. Example  “LOL” could mean “Laugh out loud” or “Lots of love” and “cryn” could mean “crayon” or “crying”, etc. The context in which they are used usually determine their meaning. People tend to use SMS language be because they want to save money, hence they shorten their message as to pay less using mobile phones and computers in sending messages.


        The Longman Handy dictionary sees the term slang is defined as a very informal language that includes new and sometimes not polite words and meanings and is often used among particular groups of people, and not usually in serious speech or writing.

          Internet slag is the type of slang that internet users have popularized, and in many cases have coined such terms often originate with the purpose of saving keystrokes. It includes expressions relative to networking technologies and computer in general. However, Internet slang is a set of informal words or phrases commonly found on the computer that function as its inbuilt lexis or terminology.

          Basically, the use of internet slang is not limited to the English language alone, but extends to other languages as well. The Global Internet Users has proved that language like the Korean language evidently has incorporated the English alphabet in the formation of its internet slang. Some internet slangs were formed from common misspellings arising from fast tying.

          In literary works the use of internet slang has affected the proper use of punctuation, increased occurrences of grammatical and typographical errors in standard English. The 20th and 21st century writers fall prey to this problem. Example A popular American writer, Stephanie Meyer’s work Tuilight series such problem is seen. In the second sentence of the second paragraph of chapter 21 titled “Trials of the Eclipse”, it wrote “and I needed come to grips with the consequence” instead of “and I needed to come to grips ….” Her work with such grammatical error still gains the biggest selling book in both 2008 and 2009 having sold 29 million and 26.5 million books respectively. This mistake was however, reinforced by transmission of the work over the internet.

          Consequently, with the emergency of greater internet mediated communication system, coupled with the readiness with which people adopt to meet the new demands of a more technologically sophisticated world language loss is especially the English language is at its embrace.

          In conclusion, language is a basic feature of man which he uses to communicate or express his thought and ideas, but when he does is not properly preserved and propagated his language like culture it will loss its vitality. Internet on the other hand has helped man to communicate with his fellow man very far from him within a short period of time, hence enhancing socialization among man. It has equally cause more harm than good towards language because through SMS language and internet slang users have remain under pressure to alter their language use and application to suit the new dimensions of communication leading to language loss. All hands should be on deck to revitalize the only basic means through which man is especially different from other species. This means is language – the true identity of man.  


Agbedo, C.U. General Linguistic: An Introductory Reader. Nsukka ACE Konsult Publishers, 2000-2003.

Akwanya, A.N. language and habits of Thought. Enugu: New Generation Books Publishers, 1999-2005.

Bram, Joseph. Language and society. N.T.: Random House, 1955.

Ikekeownu, G.A.M. Computer  Science  [A first Course]: Enugu, Immaculate Publisher, 2002.

Ogbuehi, C.U. English as a Second language in Nigeria. Enugu: New concept publishers 1996.


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Internet slang:  HYPERLINK “;

Internet:  HYPERLINK “;

Language Attrition:  HYPERLINK “;

Language loss:   HYPERLINK “;

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