# For A Cause

hashtag-graffiti

Can you remember the last social moment across the United States or even around the world that was ignited or sustained by a simple little hashtag (otherwise sometimes referred to as the pound sign)? Here are a few just from the last five years that should look very familiar to digital natives:

#BlackLivesMatter (2013)

#YesAllWomen  (2014)

#ShoutYourAbortion (2015)

#icebucketchallenge (2014)

#Sandy (2012)

As we have discussed before, the hashtag has moved into a realm of language that is no longer exclusive to numbers. Social media sites -most commonly Twitter- have utilized the symbol beyond its historic numerical usage. It was back in 2007 when Twitter user Chris Messina suggested it (via Tweeting) that the pound sign be used as a universal symbol of grouping, where as conversations across the digital web could be grouped together by topic or keyword for better communication and sharing.

chris_hashtag

This idea OBVIOUSLY exploded across the digital native culture and around the world as a new tool in language and communication. The hashtag invited every online user to voice his or her opinions and ideas regarding, most prominently, mass social movements or digital calls to action. The social movement Black Lives Matter progressed from an online political caller into an tangible and organized movement of people who support the cause outside of the digital space- that kind of impact language has on people goes to show how impressive the influence of social media alone can be.

It is 2017, and by now we have seen a wave of digital native culture hurrying to call the online community to action using the hashtag. That relationship (created within the internet) between the symbol and its purpose has been redefined with a new purpose- and this is exactly how language works as a tool, created by beings like us. Let us refer to it now as the digital vernacular of a call to action. Writers are taught that a call to action is,

“something such as a speech, piece of writing, or act that encourages people to take action about a problem”, ( Cambridge Online Dictionary ).

It should be no surprise to us that our digital language has encompassed its own symbol that satisfies our desire for visual interaction via the web, and promotes massive calls to action around the world – it’s like an internet flare gun!

hashtag-blm   hashtag bernie

So, if the internet now contains its own life line tagging agent, does it mean it actually works? When people use hashtags does it actually draw other internet users into the conversation for the purpose it holds? It does!

In March of last year, writer Tanya Sichynsky for The Washington Post discussed in her piece the substantial results of people using hashtags on the internet.  What she found was intriguingly strong evidence supporting the need for a digital language symbol that draws people together in communication and information sharing:

#Sandy  

Number of uses: 7,200,200

The mass amount of tweets and post regarding Hurricane Sandy in 2012 helped researchers map out the path of damage and supply aid to those affected by the disaster.

#GivingTuesday

Number of uses: 3,100,000

This hashtag was a social movement hoping to generate donations to charities on the Tuesday following Black Friday back in 2012. Since, the movement is reborn at the end of every year and has resulted in millions of dollars in donations to charities around the world. In its first wave, the hashtag call to action generated 10.1 million dollars in donations.

#IndyRef

Number of uses: 12,000,000

Back in 2014, Scotland was ready to dip out of the United Kingdom. The hashtag “IndyRef” tagged the digital conversation that ignited political activism in Scotland and the U.K. It was a sign that the conversation on the internet could easily reflect the voices of people to such a powerful length that it would not go unheard.

(Check out the full list of hashtags and the after affects in Tanya’s article, here.)

Without knowing the numbers or the research invested in the use of hashtags, I am sure few people truly understand the scope of consequences our digital interactions have on the tangible world. This is hard for many to swallow – the idea that the internet has any kind of influence on our real world. And it is understandable to draw conclusions like the latter without the right knowledge of all the good the internet has promoted. There are two lessons to take away as a digital native:

  1. Language is malleable. We built it and therefore we can change it. So assimilating with the changes in definition and purpose behind our language (both verbal and nonverbal) can be easy with an open mind.
  2. People are the internet. The internet is not its own sentient being and the masters behind it, especially in social spaces, are ourselves. When social movements are ignited or political debates are stirred in digital space, it comes from other human beings. If the internet is changing the world, in reality, it is really us changing it as we master and navigate our own understanding of what our relationship is with one another as digital natives.

Going forward, pay attention to the headlining news popping up on Twitter and/or Facebook. If you notice a Hashtag associated with it, explore! Information is gentle and therefore must be handle responsibility. It is our job as digital natives to utilize vernacular (like the Hashtag) in a way that expands our understanding of the world around us and of course, ourselves.

nwspk (Newspeak)

Have you ever shortened a word when communicating on the internet or through text for simplicity purposes? I’m sure you have as many of us would, especially when talking informally with friends. And even though we know we couldn’t use these same shorthand abbreviations (or grammar cheats as I call them) in formal writing, they have still become useful and heavily practiced in the right domains.

The domain we want to investigate is the internet (obviously) where informal chatter is essential to the birth of shorthand and the evolution of it. But, curiously enough, the idea of shorthand was predicted in the 1949 novel by George Orwell, 1984, far before the thought of the internet was even seeded.

As you have already noticed in the title, I abbreviated the word “Newspeak” the way I wanted to use it in my message. Knowing the word prior to experiencing the abbreviation generally helps the audience better understand what is being said, so that is why I included the formal word to follow. Now, don’t lose me yet, because you’ll be interested in knowing what Newspeak is, where it came from, and where it could take us.

George Orwell predicted in his novel a new language known as Newspeak:

“Newspeak’s grammar is arranged so that any word can serve as any part of speech, and there are three different groups of vocabulary words…  In comparison with modern English, these words are fewer in number but more rigid in meaning. Newspeak leaves no room for nuance, or for degrees of meaning.”

source: Sparknotes

This new type of language Orwell depicted for the future is identical to our habits of shorthand today, especially on the internet. As mentioned above, the language of Newspeak has different groups of vocabulary words:

“The B vocabulary consists entirely of compound words and often compresses words into smaller forms to achieve conceptual simplicity: the English phrase “Thought Police,” for instance, is compressed into “thinkpol”; “the Ministry of Love” becomes “miniluv.””

source: Sparknotes

Look strikingly familiar? I hope so. Even the word “vocabulary” is often shortened to “vocab” for simplicity and generally accepted everywhere in all sorts of domains. So if we do it outside of the internet, what kind of words do we shorten for simplicity inside of the internet? Here are a few:

addy (address)                     nm, u (not much, you?)

buhbye (bye)                        shhh (quiet)

huh (what?)                         wub (love)

mmk (mmm & ok)              lol (laughing out loud)

What a nice simple list of examples above… would you believe me if I told you there were hundreds of shorthand acronyms that exist on the internet? Check them out here  and here.

acro

Maybe it is just me, but I think it is crazy that a writer predicted our habit for shorthand 67 years ago. Even crazier is that an entire language has been born on the internet curtailing this idea of Newspeak and simplifying modern English for informal communication. Orwell explains in his novel that Newspeak is used by the National Party to limit the range of thought the people can have and better prevent such vocabulary that could and would incite rebellious acts against the government. I do not want to get into politics in this blog, and so I would like to add that I do not believe we are on the verge of all becoming mindless sheep using internet acronyms to communicate. Lets just focus on the predictability of shorthand and the use it could have in the future…

Acronyms and shorthand are sometimes difficult to fully grasp like  formal writing without knowing the pretence of the acronym or even the context of its use. For example, let us look at an AIM conversation between Sally and Jim Bob:

Wednesday, 12/7/2014

Sally: I am bored AF.

Jim Bob: Wyd?

Sally: chillaxin. u?

Jim Bob: Same. LM4a~##zzzz>

Sally: def. 

How much of this conversation do you understand? I am assuming most of it since we have all been exposed to internet lingo long enough to catch the meaning of each acronym. That last thing Jim Bob mentioned was something I did not know and have never used in a conversation before. I won’t ruin the surprise, so go ahead and click on the hyperlink above to see what he meant….

So you see there are endless possibilities for acronyms and shorthand on the internet. Many of them follow us everywhere we go becoming habits of thought. Laughing out Loud and Talk To You Later are two very common ones that we sometimes literally SAY because they have become so common use. That may be part of our linguistic future as Orwell predicted it to be. Not only may we be formulating acronyms on the internet but quite possibly integrating them into our speech for the simplicity and common thread of understanding we create with them.

Woah woah woah, I know a few of you just got goosebumps down your spine from the thought of speaking in acronyms. But don’t freight, this is what this blog exist for –  to help us all understand internet grammar with open minds. I highly doubt Orwell’s prediction of Newspeak will manifest itself ever. Language is a growing and ever-changing adaptable tool, of course. But in order for an entire language to shift from traditional long hand usage to internet lingo and gibberish, it would have to penetrate the hundreds of layers English alone has in its grammatical basis and structure.

Take a deep breath and EMBRACE the use of acronyms. They do provide a great deal of simplicity in informal chatter and reveal licks of cleverness here and there. The world may be extremely rocky in its current state, but this is no 1984 novel, and English must remain malleable – use it to your advantage!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did the Internet Kill Grammar?

When people say anything can be found on the internet, it is not a statement of opinion, but a well known FACT. And in this incredible digital space we have seen the sparking evolution of emoticons, abbreviations, character limits, GIFs, and everyone’s favorite, the meme.

when-its-midterm-paper-szn-imgur     This only happens about once a year. - Imgur.png

Source: imgur.com

In this internet evolution, a new use for grammar has emerged in all its grandness. Most likely it terrifies a traditionalist third grade English teacher and yet come as a second language to you and your friends. Grammar (as well as punctuation) on the internet does not always follow the ‘rules’ we were all taught growing up.

The word ‘Hate’ can be spelled ‘H8’ and still be understood; Hashtags don’t work if you insert a space between your words; Some words have been born from the internet, like ‘Selfie’ or ‘Lit’. It has been said in pop culture that the internet is where grammar ‘goes to die’; but it is arguably just as so that the internet is where grammar has found a new space to be reborn.

For my rule followers and grammar police reading this, take a deep breath. One thing you MUST keep in the forefront of your mind is that this new wave of “internet English” is not to replace what we have always known. Just as Renaissance Art followed Classical Art, what we see now is a new form of the old, created by the new minds of a different generation.

But why do all these shortcuts and grammatical changes occur, and why is society accepting them so hastily? Because like it or not, the speed of ideas and cultural concepts is increasing exponentially every minute of the day, especially in digital space. Moving forward in the endless ocean of the internet means that the trends in language and concepts of communication constantly see a reconstruction of use, as well as meaning.

Rather than killing grammar, the internet has become a place for English to prosper and change shape. Better yet, the English form and grammar tones have remained the same in formal usage  and gained a greater audience. Famous daily newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal publish articles online everyday using traditional grammar and long form with professional editing. The World Wide Web allows these two digital contributors (and millions of others) access to the network anywhere in the world- making it the largest reachable audience in existence.

We must not fear what the internet has in store for the English language; instead we must always keep English and other languages usable and relative to the arena (social context) in which we use them. When you log onto Facebook or Twitter you enter a digital realm culturally agreeing when and how ‘informal’ writing is used. This writing style is generally acceptable and understood by others.

Does that mean in twenty years our children will read from textbooks with emoticons and shorthand abbreviations? No- it doesn’t seem at all very possible. But as long as social realms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram exist (and they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon) it is in our best interest to embrace and learn what we can from the grammar blossoming every which way in digital media.

Here are some things to consider as we travel onward into the field of digital language and grammar as it evolves together:

  • Don’t be a grammar cop on informal social media sites. You will always see a vast mix of purposely useful shorthand AND commonly misspelled words out there. If it isn’t a scholarly journal or source of formal writing, don’t sweat it!
  • Open your mind up! English is transformational and never concrete. New words are bound to spring up as they become of use to the human language; since we share a space with millions in the digital realm, it can be of no surprise that we may find ourselves recreating meaning in it.
  • Dare to enjoy what you find. There will be some things out there on the internet that spur your interest as a writer. If it happens don’t be afraid to embrace your curiosity and dive into more. This means exploring the writing style or grammatical build of a particular blogger, journalist, or public figure you come across in your journey.
  • Explore your style. As we transcend together into this new realm of what English looks like in the digital realm explore where you are at grammatically and how you like to write. Then take what you discover and use it out there  the ME in MEDIA you create every day!

Moving forward with this dialogue we will travel through other gripping elements of grammar in the digital media world. With every new topic, seek to discover what each means to your writing style and the future of language.

Until next time natives!

comma-period-image

P.S. 

If you still have any lingering fears about confronting new grammar in digital media, checkout these other articles that will give you some comfort and tips on how to approve it critically.

Has the Internet Killed Grammar? (2014.)

Is Texting Killing the English Language?  (2013.)

Is Bad Grammar Killing Your Brand? (2014.)