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Is Twitter Ruining Our Proper English?

Is Twitter Ruining Our Proper English?

Why we should embrace language creativity.

language, english, spelling, error, twitter, social media, pedant, purist, evolution, vocabulary, textism

“Hey al im on my way 2wrk but i totes 4got 2bring ur ipod sori il hav 2 bring it nxt tym ur workin. Hav a nice day xo”

Gives you the cramps? Maybe you are a bit of a language purist then. Or a pedant. That’s at least how Stephen Fry would describe you. In the following video, with his lovely British accent and some pleasant word-art of Matthew Rogers, he’s pretty clear about it: Please stop wining if you ‘love’ language and start enjoying it.

The British comedian wants us to get more creative with language, or at least encourage other people to do so. Being creative with words is not considered very trendy anymore, he regrets to say. Luckily, that’s not entirely true.

Take rappers. You might get annoyed by their breaking of grammar rules, but what about their richness of vocabulary? Matt Daniels recently scored an online hit by publishing his visualization of the vocabulary of hiphop artist compared to that of Moby Dick and Shakespeare.  The last one didn’t really stand out. The Wutang Clan seems to be a lot more creative when searching for words to make their point. (To identify every single rapper, follow this link)


So while it may feel like our youth’s vocabulary is loosing out on all the so‘s, and likes, there might also be other forces active in the current evolution of language.

Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle wrote the book ‘Word Up: A Lexicon and Guide to Communication in the 21st Century‘ about these trends. He explains that technology, American culture, multiculturalism and globalisation are four forces shaping language today.

Especially technology is an important one. Social media are adopting the historically looser rules for speach into the written world. And because this written speach is often under the pressure of time and space – think about chatting with 10 different people at once and the character limit of tweets – it must be as efficient as possible. That’s why words like HAWU (hello all, what’s up?) and cul8er were invented.

“Yes, we know”, cry the pedants, “and it is awfull.” They are getting more and more distressed by websites like brandwatch.com, that recently published a study about incorrect English on social media. Whether the numbers are very worrying is up to you to decide.  Twitter was the main culprit, with 0,56 % of words being misspelled. Americans and females were especially likely to make ‘errors’, which often included dont and wont, gonna and kinda, aarrrgh and soooo  and LOL and OMG.

Language purists fear that these trends will find their way into student’s essays, job applications and eventually all formal documents. But is that really happening? Research suggests not, at least not at the moment.  A study amongst Australian and Canadian students showed that they rate the use of textism in exams and assignement as inappropriate and they indeed rarely use it in this form. This is also what Marck McCrindle writes about in his book Word up. He says that researcher and linguist David Crystal spoke to hundreds of teachers and examiners and none of them said they had encountered ‘tech speak’ in their students’ assignments.

So far so good. But don’t think language won’t change.  Technology is already penetrating our vocabulary in a lot of ways. McCrindle points to various websites with the only purpose of gathering new words, both ‘tech’ as well as terms related to the scene of youngsters (bennifer for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez). It is just one of these ways for young people to distinguish themselves from the older generation.



Grace, A., Kemp, N., Martin, F., & Parrila, R. (2013). Undergraduates’ attitudes to text messaging language use and intrusions of textisms into formal writing New Media & Society DOI: 10.1177/1461444813516832
language, english, spelling, error, twitter, social media, pedant, purist, evolution, vocabulary, textism

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1 Comment

  • mm
    Jeffrey Daniels
    August 8, 2014, 15:40

    Fantastic article!
    I remember my Linguistics prof made the distinction of language teachers proclaiming that there’s only one or two ‘correct’ ways the language they’re teaching is supposed to be spoken and written, whereas linguists tend to hold the mantra of ‘whatever way the language is spoken/written by whatever people is the way it is spoken/written by those people, and that’s just the way it is.’
    The English teachers and purists are winning out now, but I imagine in 100 years’ time, much of the Twitter English and Rap English will comprise the new proper vocabulary and grammar for English in general.