, Research Paper
November 20, 2000
The Effect of Technology on English
Technology has always had a hand in the shaping of languages. From the time cavemen formed tools to draw pictures to the internet age, technology has changed the way we write and speak. With the spread of the ?internet age? we have seen many changes in English in the last few years. The English language will continue to evolve and spread with our increased dependence on these new technologies.
The December 31, 1999 issue of the Economist wrote ?The birth of the computer and its American operating systems gave English a nudge ahead ; that of the internet has given it a huge push?(p85). With America being the leader in computer and internet technology, English speaking people have reaped the benefits. Silicon Valley is going to cater to the clientele that it is most apt to reach and make the highest profit from. That is good news for English speakers, bad for those that speak another language. The main option for these non-English speakers is to learn enough English to be able to work
the computer software. This leads to the spread of English throughout the world.
The global economy is another way that technology effects English. In an article in Fortune, Justin Fox writes, ? To compete globally, more and more European businesses are making English their official language?(p209). The global economy is only successful if the technology available works. The technology that encompasses the global economy includes: telephone orders, telecommunications, internet businesses, web sites etc. Without adequate technology, the economy would be more focused on local business. In this technology, as with computer software, English is the dominant language. In order for non-English speaking companies to compete on the global market, they must be able to communicate with English speaking customers. If they force the customer to communicate in their native tongue, odds are that they will not reap the benefits available. The increase in global businesses led to the spread of English throughout the world.
The combination of computer software and global businesses leads to the internet. The internet is the most important tool in the spreading of English throughout the world. Through the use of chat rooms and voice chat sessions, non-English speakers are exposed to English. This exposure leads to
more English speaking people. English speakers comprise the great majority of internet users, so most web sites are written in English. In order to get the most out of the internet?s capabilities; users must be able to understand English. This leads to a further spreading of English throughout the world.
The product of this increased dependence on English and technology leads to the formation of new words. Wilson Quarterly wrote in an article about the addition of new words in the Merriam-Webster?s Collegiate Dictionary in the 1990?s that, ? Contributing 24 of the 99 terms added in the second half of the decade, technology is the leading language generator. The internet alone(amazingly, the term was only added in 1997) has spawned a brood of 12 nouns: newsgroup, chat room, clip art, home page , hyper link, netiquette, netizen, screen saver, search engine, spare, URL, and World Wide Web? (p13). The addition of these words in such a short span of time shows the influence of technology on English. English is evolving to accommodate the new terms needed to function in the ?wired? world.
The advent of these news words leads to confusion dealing with origin of the words former meanings. Richard Lederer writes in Writer?s Digest , ?The hot new technology of the computer thoroughly befuddled the meanings of back up, bit, boot, browser, crash, disk, dot, hacker, hard drive, hit, mail,
memory, menu, mouse, net, park, prompt, provider, scroll, spam, surf, virus, web site (no longer just where Charlotte lives), and window? (43). Even if the article quoted from was written in jest, we can envision a future where words are muddled. Seemingly everyday new technology based words pop up that have their origin in already used words. With the increase of these words, it is possible that English can become cluttered. One word may possess many meanings that have no direct correlation. This would make it difficult on people learning English, or at least make it harder to grasp.
The formation of these new words and meanings also widens the gap between those that are computer savvy and those that are not. There are a large percentage of people that have phobias dealing with computers. With the increase of new words, people not already using computers may be less willing to start. The increasing dependence on computers makes it a necessity to be computer literate. It will be harder for those that do not understand computer lingo to become successful.
Another important effect of technology on English deals with the way we write and spell. When communicating over the internet, grammar and spelling is not as important as in formal writings. The purpose of this communication deals with getting your thought across. Spelling is not seen as
terribly important as long as the reader can understand what is written. This can lead to poor spelling habits and grammar usage. When composing an e mail or using a chat room, rarely does one reach for a dictionary. With the increasing use of e mail as a way to communicate, these bad habits will not be corrected. Eventually, words deemed misspelled today may not be considered misspelled in the future. English words could eventually evolve into a totally phonetic type language.
Of course we can always use spell and grammar check on our computers in order to correct our mistakes. Dick Teresi writes, ? Even in the days of typewriters, writers knew that their word choice would be second guessed by editors, reviewers and the like. Now we must face the additional intrusion of our own computers, which critique us before we can even print out? (p39). These spelling and grammar tools can be seen as short term solutions to long term problems. The computer will correct your spelling, but you are not correcting your spelling. This leads to using the computer as a crutch. People will not work on their poor spelling if they know that the computer will do it for them.
These computer tools also take away from a writers creativity. By letting a computer edit and clean up your paper, a large component of writing
is taken from the writer. With the increasing technology, writing could eventually become a ?by the numbers? activity. The user could type in a few abstract ideas and the computer could fashion a paper from the keywords. This could lead into the loss of words that the computer world could deem as unnecessary.
We can see from these examples that technology has had a profound effect on English. Technology has revolutionized the way we can communicate with people from around the world instantaneously . English speaking countries hold a monopoly on the technological world and our language is spreading because of it. The spreading of English helps us communicate, but it is also evolves the language. The effect that technology has had on English shows that language changes and adapts to the world around it.
1. ?The World Language? Economist 12 Dec. 1999. p 85
2. Fox, Justin. ?The Triumph of English?
Fortune 18 Sept 2000. p 209
3. ?Words to Live By?. Wilson Quarterly Winter 2000. p13
4. Lederer, Richard. ?Brave New Words?
Writer?s Digest Dec. 1999. p43
5. Teresi, Dick. ?Call Me Fishmeal?
Forbes Winter 2000. p39