Language on the internet

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 5.57.52 PMm8! Do u know that what u r typing (& reading) rn is also part of ‘language evolution’? Yes, let’s talk abt language on the Internet LOL.

As the Internet and instant messaging have become a crucial part of today’s life, digital communication has substantially increased over the past decades. Due to this change in communicative means, ‘new’ languages have accordingly emerged as well, such as Internet slang. At first, the emergence of Internet slang may come from the need and wish to ease communication. To type more efficiently, abbreviations and acronyms are largely used. Yet, just like spoken language, Internet slang evolves over time and varies across cultures. It can also be very language specific; for instance, 555 used by Thai speakers stands for ‘hahaha’ because the Thai pronunciation of five resembles laughter. In addition, the use of Internet slang can be subject to users’ identity and indicate group membership. In other words, you would come up with certain slang that is only used among certain friends, perhaps in your online group chat, as much as what you would do with those people in face-to-face conversation.

Language used on the Internet can also have influence on spoken language. For instance, when people ‘speak’ an expression of Internet slang, it can add some sense of humour to the conversation. Abbreviations and acronyms originated from digital communication can be used as an identity marker of group membership or euphemisms to avoid uttering, say, bad words.

Another widespread language on the Internet is emoji, which originated on Japanese mobile devices and literally means ‘picture character’ in Japanese. Emoji are essentially a visual language or a pictographic script that can convey both linguistic meaning and non-linguistic information. Similar to emoticons, derived from ‘emotion’ and ‘icon’ and made up by typographics—if you know what it means : -) —emoji are able to express users’ emotion and even body gestures which are not originally present in digital communication.

In 2015, the emoji Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 6.00.04 PM‘Face with Tears of Joy’ was selected as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. It marked a milestone in the development of emoji, as well as the instant and visually focused demands of today’s communication. While emoji are believed to be a communicative means that transcends linguistic borders, emoji are also evolving to describe more culturally specific events and concepts—again, just like all languages do.

Okay, you may be familiar enough with the use of emoji, but don’t forget, emoji can be a topic of linguistic studies too. Linguist Lauren Gawne notices the directions of emoji do not usually match with English speakers’ instinct (visit here and here for more discussion on emoji deixis). That is, most of the transportation emoji face left, which contradicts to our habit of writing English from left to right. This may be related to the Subject-Object-Verb word order of Japanese, spoken in the country where emoji originated. When we start to think from this point, we can actually envision a much longer way for emoji to evolve into a more thorough system that caters to various linguistic needs of different speech communities, right?


Videos: A 2007 and a 2008 commercial for an American mobile phone service company show how Internet slang can spread to spoken language (though exaggerated!).

Book: The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet by Marcel Danesi (2016).


  • Emojipedia provides a search service for emoji and their meanings and shares latest news related to emoji.
  • The American Dialect Society has been running Words of the Year awards since 1990, compiling trendiest and most used words each year, with Internet slang, emoji and hashtags included. Some awarded expressions are newly created, while some are given new connotations. This article discusses the emoji phrase ‘Dumpster Fire’, which was 2016’s winner.

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