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Five ways the internet era has changed British English – new research

Creator : Vaclav Brezina, Senior Lecturer in corpus linguistics, Lancaster College

The dramatic adjustments in know-how over the previous 20 or so years, from the web to the smartphone and digital assistants like Alexa, have made communication extra accessible than ever earlier than. We’ve got created a web based world the place we publish, share, remark, categorical views and search info in addition to relationships. These adjustments have additionally reworked the language we use.

Our new research based mostly on the British Nationwide Corpus 2014 (BNC2014) – a 100 million-word pattern of present language – reveals us simply how language has modified within the web period. This knowledge was contrasted with the unique British Nationwide Corpus 1994 (BNC1994) – a comparable knowledge set which samples British English from the early 1990s.

The research employed a strategy known as corpus linguistics, which analyses massive quantities of language utilizing specialised software program. The tactic permits researchers to look and examine phrase frequencies throughout completely different texts and genres, revealing the patterns and traits in language over time. The software program used on this research was developed at Lancaster College and is freely accessible for obtain along with the information.

Listed below are a number of the most hanging adjustments:

1. We’ve turn into extra casual

Our research revealed that general, British English has turn into far more casual. That is true not solely in weblog posts and social media, the place informality can be anticipated, however throughout the entire spectrum of genres, from fiction to newspapers, political speeches and educational writing.

Take the instance under, from a current educational paper -– a style that has historically been perceived as formal. What’s new concerning the language of this textual content is the excessive frequency of casual options like contractions (isn’t) and second and first individual pronouns. That is one thing that might be pretty uncommon earlier than the web revolution.

For a minimum of on a well-liked Christian conception, when you consider one thing really on the premise of religion this isn’t due to something you’re naturally competent to do…I argue on this article that there’s no deep rigidity between faith-based data and advantage epistemology.

2. We use ‘Mr and Mrs’ much less usually

In comparison with 20 years in the past, we at the moment are extra prone to tackle individuals utilizing their first names than by extra formal types of tackle. The frequency of use of Mr and Mrs has decreased by 30% and 56%, respectively. The lower in using Mrs has been partly counterbalanced by the rise in using Ms, however the general lower in using all of the formal types of tackle mixed is 33%.

3. ‘Elanguage’

The web has reworked not solely how we use language, but additionally the phrases themselves. The next phrases, acronyms and spellings are a part of a register generally known as “elanguage”: Alexa, app, superior, weblog, congrats, electronic mail, fab, Fb, fitbit, Im, Instagram, iPad, iPhone, Ive, Lol, omg, tbh, tweet, Twitter and web site.

Every phrase on this checklist has a narrative behind it. Take, for instance, the phrase app, which is considerably symbolic for the technological revolution. Though the primary makes use of of this time period are from the early 1990s, there are solely a handful of examples of this phrase getting used within the 100 million phrases of the BNC1994. One instance, from a pc journal:

To run your common Home windows app you’ll want 4Mb of RAM, a 100Mb onerous disk.

Within the early 1990s, the time period used to discuss with an app was software program with 9,356 examples within the BNC1994. These days, software program is used a lot much less incessantly with a 49% lower in use. Then again, app has significantly elevated its frequency of use in elanguage (167 per million phrases) in addition to usually British English (41 per million phrases).

4. Farewell to modals

The usage of modal verbs equivalent to should, could and shall has reached new lows. Should is now used simply over 350 occasions per million phrases, a 42% lower during the last 20 years. Could marked an analogous lower (41%) as should, whereas shall modified much more dramatically, a 61% lower.

These adjustments are related to the general shift of British English in direction of informality. The next sentences, each from BNC1994, now sound barely old school and formal:

In fact, we will not be staying right here lengthy.

Could I take my jacket off, please?

The lower within the frequencies of modals began in English firstly of the 20th century, when should and will appeared effectively over 1,000 occasions per million phrases. Shall has at all times been the verb with the bottom frequency (400 per million phrases firstly of the 20th century and 64 per million phrases in present-day English). The graph under reveals a transparent trajectory of lower of the core modals in English. If the development continues on the similar charge, these modals shall be virtually out of use by 2050. Word, nonetheless, that language change not often follows an easy linear sample of lower.

A graph showing that the use of modals like may, must and shall has declined steadily from 1930 to 1990 and then more sharply from 1990 to 2020.
Modals are on their method out.
Creator supplied

5. Punctuation

Language change can be demonstrated in refined linguistic options like punctuation marks. These point out how lengthy our sentences are, and what message and tone these carry: statements, questions or exclamations. The desk under reveals 5 hottest punctuation marks in English writing and the way their frequency per million phrases has modified from the early 1990s to the current.

Most typical punctuation marks are used extra incessantly now than they have been within the early 1990s. That is notably noticeable within the case of query marks (64% improve) and exclamation marks (103% improve). This is likely to be an indication of language changing into extra interactive and carrying a extra emotional load. There’s a small (5%) lower in using semicolons, that are usually utilized in a extra formal type of writing.

The corpus research affords a novel perception into the adjustments to lexical and grammatical options of British English over time – only some examples of which got on this article. These mirror adjustments in know-how in addition to society. Whereas language is at all times altering, the unprecedented entry to quite a lot of types of language on the web, the place one doesn’t must be a fiction author or a journalist to achieve 1000’s or tens of millions of readers, has accelerated informalisation of language.


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