A linguistically informed look at how our digital world is transforming the English language.
Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.
Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer « LOL » or « lol, » why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.
Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are.
So I love linguistic books, and I love them even more when they deep dive into a language I’ve been speaking and have seen evolve since I was thirteen. Internet linguistic is my second favourite type of linguistics after swears linguistics. It’s fascinating to me, especially because the idea that we have figured out new and constantly changing ways to transmit tone to the written word is very, very cool. Also I like being part of something.
I read this book over the summer as soon as I received it in the mail (I know, this review is super late.) It’s a bit of a long book, and I spent so much time hunched over it reading in blocks of five to seven hours at a time that I hurt my neck, and then didn’t have the heart to explain to my chiropractor that I was reading a book about memes. He did still scold me and explained how to properly pull an all-nighter to read, which is part of the reason why my chiropractor is the best. (It involves sitting straight and putting the book on a table, even better if it’s a titling illustration table. But apparently I shouldn’t read for more than an hour at a time, which pssh.)
Gretchen McCulloch gets everything right in this book. Unlike other linguists, you can tell that she is also Very Online, and that she did her research good. The chapter about memes is hilarious, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of turning a page and being face to face with the photo of cat that asks you a cheeseburger. But my favourite chapter is doubtlessly the one about internet generations. I read a long part of it aloud to my boyfriend, and we both agreed that we are firmly from two very different internet generation and that explains why we are constantly frowning at eachother’s memes and punctuation. (It doesn’t 100% apply because we are also both francophones, but most of the internet is in english, so.)
If you don’t have the time to read through a 327 pages book about linguistics, first of all why are you here, but also I recommend Gretchen McCulloch’s podcast Lingthusiam. It’s little bite-sized pieces of fascinating linguistic discussions, and both of the hosts are very funny and relatable.