The advent of social media and rise of the digital age has revolutionized the way we communicate. From the pager and T9 technology to the character limits on social media posts, the devices and applications that run our lives affect the way we use language. In fact, the use of internet slang, acronyms, and emojis that come together under a unique syntax across digital media has been classified as its own field of study: internet linguistics. As ubiquitous as this distinct form of language is online, it doesn’t appear to have an application to digital publications outside social media. The internet and digital devices have allowed people to have instantaneous written communication as though they were face-to-face. In the absence of facial cues, body language, and vocal inflections, cyber linguistics rose as a way to convey meaning, emotion, and context beyond grammatical semantics. Because it’s conversational by nature, it’s viewed as a casual form of language expression, at home on Twitter, but not on The Washington Post. In addition, with the understood intention of two-way interaction between poster and viewer, a user on Instagram would have a justification to follow the grammatical rules and syntax that govern internet linguistics, as opposed to a journalist who has no interaction with the reader of the article. In essence, the use of emojis or internet slang seems out-of-place and too informal for an online publication.
However, any language tool can be a useful tool to a writer, no matter the platform or medium, and the elements of internet linguistics are no exception. Because internet linguistics developed as a way to communicate meaning that would otherwise be lost in written language, it can serve a purpose in even the most serious digital media publications. Something as simple as a grammatical full stop or ellipsis, can convey new meaning when taken out of the context of traditional grammar rules and implemented under the principles of internet linguistics. Betsy Reed, creator of the digital style guide for BuzzFeed, outlines appropriate instances within the publication for utilizing the acronyms, emojis, capitalization, punctuation rules found in internet linguistics. In most of the examples outlined in the style guide, the use of cyber linguistic syntax serves as a means to declare informality or humor. For instance, the style guide outlines usage for the tilde (~) when making a “whimsical emphasis” to a word or phrase in an article, a grammatical practice mostly seen in social media posts. Again, it may seem that internet linguistics should remain within the realm of social media and lighthearted publications like BuzzFeed lists and has no place in serious or academic publications. However, a writer should be aware of the rules of internet linguistics when creating content for any publication, if for no other reason than to convey the proper tone.
A lesser known application for internet linguistics as it pertains to digital publications, is as a tool for readability and reader traffic. Cyber linguistics not only pertains to internet slang and emojis, but also encompasses the algorithms used for language processing tools like NPL (natural language processing) which is a type of AI tool that can be useful for people creating content in a second language, whether it’s proofreading a manuscript or writing an article. Internet linguistic tools can also be used for the practices involved in digital marketing such as keyword targeting for search engine optimization and the algorithms used to direct content to individual readers. These tools can be useful to a writer for a digital publication when trying to boost visibility for their content.
While internet linguistics is at the forefront of every social media post, it can also be a useful language tool for writers of digital publications. Whether it’s to emphasize a meaning outside traditional syntax, convey (or avoid) a specific tone, help edit an article, or generate reader traffic, cyber linguistics is a legitimate field of language expression and can be useful to any writer across a variety of digital publications.