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Language loss/Attrition and the Internet

August 11, 2011

                        Uche, Ogonnaya

      Department of English and Literary Studies,

                University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

The concept of language cannot be overemphasised in due course. According to Agbedo(2000), “The concept of language is the system of rules and principles of human communication”. Infact, language is simply the means of communicating ideas, emotions, feelings,and desires by a means of a system of vocal and sound symbols. Language, I must say, is a very essential and functional tool in the culture of man and that explains why it is important that man safeguards it. Hence, culture, being the totality of the people’s way of life, cannot stand perfectly without the language of the people involved. Language is a very essential and functional tool in the culture of man and that explains why it is important that man safeguards it. As Akwanya (1999) puts it:

    Language is a ‘unique human possession’, not only because it

distinguishes human beings fron all other beings, but also because

of the special demands it makes in acquisition, which are different

than any other learned behaviour pattern (8).

The internet which originated back to the research of the 1960s is a short form of the technical term, “International Network”. It a global system of interconnected computer networks that uses its standard to serve billions of users worldwide. It is a network of networks that consist of millions of private, public, academic, business and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic wireless and optical networking technologies. The internet can also be defined as a worldwide interconnection of computers and computer networks that facilitates the sharing or exchange of information among users. It helps to carry a vast range of information resources and services such as the inter-linked hypertext and infrastructure to support electronic mail. One cannot despise the fact that the internet is very important in the use of language for communication, since it has enabled or accelerated new forms of human interactions through instant messaging, internet forums, text messages, and social networking

Acknowledging that everything that has a great advantage also, somehow or the other has disadvantage, it has been found that the internet contributes, in one way or the other, to language loss. Language loss(also called language attrition) is a state of decline in language value which describes the loss of proficiency in a language at the individual level. It is the loss of a first or second language or a portion of that language by individuals. The speakers of a language who routinely use more than one language or style of writing a language may end up having loss of proficiency in his usage of the language or writing styles. This is also what Richard(1964)sees as the decline in speech and language. He opines that:

  Many suggestions is that it is not enough to learn a language (or several languages), as man may inherit a business,but that we must learn, too, to how it works. And by ‘learning how it works’, I do not mean studying its rules of syntax or its grammar, or wandering about in its lexicography… (338).

So, what we make out of Richard’s o[pinion is simply that when the users or learners of a given language do not learn very well how it works or pay proper attention to it. Through their continuous and consistent usage, it is bound to decline and this leads to its loss or attrition. Hence, negligence should not be placed on any angle of the angles of a language, since they all combine to form the language itself

         The English language has long beenthe most widelyused and recognised language on the Internet. Being a global language, we shall use the English language as the backbone of this discourse, since it is the language which is widely used on the globe, both as first and second languages. The Internet is one known factor that speeds language loss. We love internet messenger for the little pleasures it provides: workday diversion, covert flirting opportunities. Parental contact with an easy out .But communicating using instant messenger, text messaging, even blogging are changing the correctness of the language with which humans communicate. Internet slang and text messaging, especially through social networking sites like facebook, 2go, yahoo mail and the likes, have done a lot of harm to the English language.

Traditional linguists fear the internet damages our ability to articulate properly, infusing language with LOLs, dorky emoticons and the gauche sharing of personal information on blogs. Some believe that the informality of Internet–mediated communication is causing the language to deteriorate. But against this view, some scholars stand to refute any view which says that language is degenerating, not to talk of being in a state of loss. They believe that “the prophets of doom emerge every time a new technology influences language, just as they gathered when printing was introduced in the 15th century”, according to Crystal who is quoted by Thorne in his review. Also, a significant example is what Julia Penelope says in Greenbaum (1985), that language has many uses and styles of representation and so cannot be said to be abused into degeneration:

 From these writers and others I will heart that the English language is being “abused”, as though language were a sentient being, a woman or a child, or a static, concrete object, purposely constructed for some uses but not for others. Language has many uses: communication (sometimes), discommunication (lying, obfuscation, diversion), the creation of certain kinds of art, the expression of feelings, the description of perceptions.To assert, as many do, that putative “errors”, or suggested changes, or nonsensical or garbled utterances constitute “abuses” of Language is, I think, to misconstrue the issues in such a way that only some approaches appear to be feasible ( 80).a

      We quote these words verbatim, although it is lengthy so that we can drink the idea it conveys both hook, line and sinker. From this we learn that many linguists and Grammarians do not agree to the point that Internet misuse of language in slang, text messaging, blogs and instant messages, is an “ abuse” of the main language itself or “ errors” which lead to changes in the language.

               Yet, we still have to recognize the very fact that when a language is used in a way that differs from the standard set by the language community, it tends to bring up some contradictions between that diverse use and the generally accepted pattern. For example, the uses of internet slang, online acronyms, net trends, text abbreviations and overall internet etiquettes, mostly among young and teenage internet users, has gone a long way in making the English language gain a loss of its spellings and words usages especially. The English Language spellings shall be given proper notice in this discourse since it is one of the most practical cases which we can lay our hands on in order to lay emphases on how the Internet has, in one way or the other, contributed to the loss of this aspect of the English Language which we experience among students and learners today. This is quite serious as it has come to be noticed even in examination scripts. Many Internet users, especially instant messaging, chart box users, and internet slang users misspell many English words and this has gone a long way in influencing their writings even during examinations. These terrible spellers and slang users on the Internet mostly find it hard to go back to the correct spellings of the words which they misspell from the language. Hence many school teachers blame the Internet and its trends for the rise in poor spellings among their students.

               Some of the most common misspellings being encountered on internet   text messaging and chart rooms abbreviations include: “2moro” instead of “ tomorrow” or “ thx” for “ thanks”, “ xtian” for “ Christian”, “2nite” instead of “ tonight”, “ 2ru” for “ through and true” , “b4” for “ before”, to mention but a few. As a result of these abbreviated spellings on the Internet, the traditional spellings could be killed off by the Internet within a few decades if corrections are not made. Also, the advent of blogs and chart rooms meant that for the first time in centuries, printed words were widely distributed without having been edited or proofread. As a result, writers could spell words differently and their version of spellings could enter common usage and become accepted by learners. This would therefore cause the loss of the original or traditional spelling and can be seen as a kind of language loss.

               In 2002, a British newspaper, the Guardian, hosted a poetry competition. Only poems written through internet text messages were eligible. The winning poem which was submitted reads: “ I left my picture on th ground wher u walk so thtsom day if th sun jst right &th rain didn’t wash me awa u might c me out of th corner of yr I &pic me up “. This has said a lot about how the Internet, through Internet text messaging and SMS language especially, draws the English Language into the loss of its correctness of spellings. Invariably, it is a case of language loss. As the misuse of words of the language in the Internet becomes more common, communication in the language (in the original form ) will also change with it. This creates a very chance for the loss of the language.

               Even from our everyday experiences on the Internet, we either in the act of misspelling or abbreviate the English word or encounter the cases where they are evident. Just late in June, I was expecting a long time class mate of mine in my house and he never came. Surprisingly, he sent a text message to my facebookaccount that night, explaining why he failed to come, promising to visit me the next. The message reads: “amsori 4 d failure. I 4got ur address, pls resend it 4 am coming 2 c u 2moro”. With this we can see how the degeneration in spelling corrections in English has been seeded by the Internet through text messages, Internet slang, blogs and the likes.

               To most of the Internet services users in communication of information, it seems that the traditional versions of spellings are more complex and lengthy versions. This explains why employ the use of abbreviated and slangy versions to simplify their communication processes. They see the Internet as a shortcut to language use or as language exploitation. But this is sheer “abuse” and “decline” of the language and can lead to language loss or attrition. In fact, it has been recorded that within a few decade, the spellings favoured by many internet users could replace the current s[spellings, there by leading to their loss or attrition. Whereas these current spellings were being standardized in the 18th century with the advent of the dictionaries. It is possible that if these misspellings, abbreviations, and slang continue, they could enter mainstream publication and the current traditional spellings will stand the chance of losing its proficiency which will contribute to the loss of the language in general.This is because an Igbo adage goes that “when one finger is stained with palm oil, it then spreads to the remaining fingers of the entire hands.” Simply put, if this tolerance is allowed on the English spelling, it would eat deep like a cancer into the root of the English Language vocabulary and can, possibly, cause language loss on the part of the language as a whole.

               Though it has hardly been pointed out in earlier researches, we shall still mention in this discourse the point that the American English used on the Internet is doing a great harm to the Queen’s English or common core. It might surprise some to realise that while using Internet services, we find out that the English with which the applications are programmed seems to be the American English version. Therefore, when word like “ favour”, “ flavour”, “ colour”, “ centre” , and the likes are spelt as “ favor”, “ flavor”, “ color” and “ center”, respectively as the supposed spellings of the words. This, invariably, makes the users confused about the traditionally correct spellings of the words they want to employ, since the American English resembles the British and seems to have less complex spelling versions than the British English. As a result, language loss could arise since the Internet users could take to the American spellings there by degenerating the usage of the British English spellings and it can lead to a kind of language loss. But it is important to say that this is limited to only places where the British English is used as second languages and, may be, as lingual Franca and for learning. Such countries include Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

               Finally, though seeming neglected, other local languages in countries where the English language and other Internet languages like Chinese, French, etc. are not the first languages are being loss due to the globalization of the recognised Internet languages. Hence, other local languages are being loss as they are gradually forgotten by the speakers they lose their proficiency and vocabulary. In Nigeria, for instance, the use of English as the lingual franca and for internet communication may lead to decline or loss of proficiency in our own local languages and mother tongues like Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Efik, and other numerous indigenous languages. The saddest news is that any young persons cannot even speak their languages fluently or correctly without the intermixing of English words or by code-mixing and code-switching. The is as a result of getting influenced by and more conversant with the said Internet languages, of which English is the most widely recognised. Therefore, knowing that many young people who have a good command of the language. Both in speaking and writing, get it from mere intercourse with their peers. it is therefore pertinent to note that they could be misled by what is used on the internet.

               In conclusion, the Internet makes many things easier to do and has, without doubt, impacted interpersonal communications  by allowing us to talk to different people in different ways. There is now instant messaging, voice over the web talking, text messaging, internet slang, chart rooms, and e-mails with which we can share information easily. But we can also not dispute the fact that the Internet contribute, in one way or the other, to language loss, whether first or second language loss. This has been illustrated by the misspellings encounteredin the English language. In one word, there is a clarion call to all who think that man’s language as a tool of communication and important aspect in human culture be safeguarded to ensure that the right use of language are taught and employed both in speech, writing and on the Internet.

Works cited

Agbedo, Chris U. General Linguistics: An Introductory Reader.Nsukka: ACE Resources Konsult, 2001.1.

Akwanya, A. N. Language and Habits of Thought. Enugu: New Generation   Books, 1999-2005.8.

Anderson, R. Impacts of First Language Loss on Grammar in a Bilingual Child. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 21(4), 1999.4-16.

Greenbaum, Sidney. The English Language Today.England:Pergamon Press, 1985.80.

Richards, I.A. Practical Criticism. London: Routledge, 1964.338-339.

Thorne, S. Artifacts and Culture of Use in Intercultural Communication: Language Learning and Technology,7 (2), 2003.37-66.Available at


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