Is the internet changing how we talk about slang?



When did Tony Thorne first start searching? slangHe was pretty much alone.

This was in the 1980s, when, according to Thorne, “the academic community virtually ignored” slang As part of linguistics.

Today, Thorne is King’s College London’s resident language consultant – a role created specifically for him – and founder of the school. Slang and the New Language ArchiveA live dictionary of new words and phrases. He devoted the greater part of four decades to the topic, which, he says, has become more prominent over time.

“When you have an accelerated society with rapid change in technology and lifestyle choices, you inevitably have to craft new language to encode those changes,” Thorne told In The Know.

Thorne says this acceleration began in the 1950s and 1960s, like television, Movies And the music introduced new words en masse. Things have accelerated even more with the spread of the internet and now with our current social media landscape.

today, tik tokAnd Instagram And Twitter Allowing new words to reach millions of ears overnight, blurring the lines between niche and ubiquitous niche.

“Language that was once private is now public,” Thorne said. “New expressions that may have taken years to spread or that would eventually disappear can be shared right away.”

new landscape

This phenomenon may be more evident tik tok, which is Daniel Heber, a researcher linguist with a Ph.D. From the University of California, Santa Barbara, she showed up just in time.

“employment tik tok“You have an entire generation going online all at about the same time,” Heber said. “In the past few years, Generation Z has suddenly had this massive online presence that it never had before.”

Heber who runs popular TikTok page call Linguistic discoverywitnessed this change in real time.

After debuting in the US in late 2018, the app quickly became the primary vehicle for digital language and culture. all over the world, TikTok was the most downloaded app In both 2020 and 2021.

As Thorne points out, the app has “enabled” young people to exert a greater influence on our language. According to a recent survey By Forrester, 63% of 13-17 year olds use TikTok weekly, a rate that now outperforms both Snapchat and Instagram.

There is an obvious process in place when statements like “middle” And “Understand the referral“They are exploding on the Internet. First, words are finding a foothold on TikTok, often among younger creators. These users are increasingly dropping words Viral videosand reach more people – and more social platforms – so the term can go global.

“One of the most important things about language, and how new words appear, is frequency,” Heber said. “If something happens WidelyIt obviously has a very high utilization rate.”

Today, the word list that follows this guide is close to infinite. In 2021, former In the Know reporter Kelsey Wakeman began archiving these terms In Gen Z’s sprawling glossary. The sheer scale of the project is a clear statement about how powerful TikTok is.

Starting with Shakespeare

However, every linguist who spoke with In The Know for this story noted that while TikTok is shaping our language ecosystem, it is not reinventing the wheel.

“I don’t actually think TikTok is necessarily accelerating the language change process,” Heber said. [But] It definitely speeds up the speed at which new words and combinations are brought into the audience’s mindset and made available.”

For previous generations, language modification was a slower, albeit still highly influential process.

In the 16th century, words like “overblown”, “watchdog” and “dawn” entered mainstream thanks to Shakespeare, who included slang Conditions in his dialogue. Meanwhile, American slang has its own historical pedigree, which relied heavily on black culture.

sun m choo, a Harvard professor who teaches in the school’s African language program, explains that coded language has always been part of the black American experience. During slavery, for Jim Crow and beyond, slang often acted as a “survival instinct”.

“Our freedoms, our freedoms, were all based on being able to communicate with one another, often in the presence of other people we knew could hear us, and so we had to be able to speak over their heads,” m’Cheaux said. in knowledge.

Over time, these words were – everything from “sucker“for”Jazz“for”Exaggerated“They were adopted by white Americans, usually without proper adoption. Now, this same issue is triggered on social media.

Online slang is a black language

Like Hieber, m’Cheaux watched firsthand how social media shapes our everyday language. In addition to teaching jolam’Cheaux, a creole spoken mainly by black residents of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, also operates m’Cheaux Popular TikTok Pagewhich gives him a clear idea of ​​how easy it is to hack the black language online.

“Most of what we call ‘slang’ and ‘internet slang’ is black language,” m’Cheaux said. “It’s African American English that has polarized, transcended, and normalized to the point that it is not considered a slang language anymore.”

As “Online Slang” has increased its impact on everyday language, you have concerns about how these trends fit into African American Slang (AAVE). As BuzzFeed reporter Sydnee Thompson described in detail in 2021 piece on AAVEwords like “on fleek,” “AF,” “savage,” and “shade” are just a few of the entries in a nearly endless list of examples.

“The people driving this conversation are 100% black, which is why I refuse to have any conversation about slang and trends that don’t specifically mention black’s association with these things coming into being,” m’Cheaux said. “It’s just erased not to mention it.”

This, as m’Cheaux notes in one of his book Most Popular TikTokswhich is why the “fertile mixture of words and expressions” that white Americans call “colloquially”, is really something simpler.

“For us, it’s just talk,” m’Cheaux says in his clip.

And while the AAVE exploit is nothing new, the process has clearly evolved. As m’Cheaux points out, one of the distinguishing features of TikTok is the ease with which creators can copy each other.

On TikTok, trends are being shared, borrowed, and remixed at an alarming rate, be it audiosAnd needle directions or Viral Life Superherowhich often spread so quickly that its origins cannot be determined.

However, what amazes m’Cheaux the most is how the app actually rewards imitation.

“TikTok is one of the weirdest apps where you can literally get leverage to take someone’s entire content,” he said.

Language, meanwhile, is more prone to emulation than anything else.

Perhaps a typical example of this problem lies in the controversy in 2020 about Brittany Prosci, one of the oldest TikTok apps. influencers. In a series of now-deleted TikToks, Broski, widely known as “Kombucha Girl,” explains why she thinks it’s okay for non-black creators to use AAVE.

“When someone quotes that or when someone says ‘period’, ‘sis’, ‘snatch’, ‘all of that, it’s very similar to internet culture,'” Prosky said in part, according to Insider.

Brusky later apologised, admitting she “didn’t learn properly” about the issue. However, the saga highlights a much larger problem in our current linguistic framework. Oftentimes, the person promoting a new word or phrase is not part of the group that you invented.

Hieber notes that although AAVE has a long history in Western culture, it has been particularly prominent among Gen Z-ers on TikTok.

“You’ll see these posts that are like, ‘This is a dictionary guide to Generation Z slang,'” Heber said. “And they’re all things taken, like, straight from African American English.”

Hieber ultimately believes TikTok can be a positive force, as the app has the potential to normalize terms historically ostracized by white culture. However, this advantage can only be realized if the content creators are willing to give proper credit.

Plus, says m’Cheaux, Black TikTokers can play their own role.

“What I’m trying to encourage in particular black creators to do is to raise the bar so high, and make it so unique, that the people who try not to give us credit are putting themselves out,” he said.

democratization of slang words

In general, says Thorne, our current social media landscape has led to a kind of democratization.

For centuries, slang has been largely excluded from “standard” English dictionaries, and instead Limited to cataloging specific books in vernacular languagesLike the American Colloquial DictionaryIt was published in 1960.

“[The internet] Breaking the barrier between spoken language — previously used in privacy — and written language, which is easy for experts to access but is usually a more formal part of social communication,” Thorne said.

However, this does not mean that we use more slang words than before. Instead, linguists who spoke with In The Know emphasized that it is slang awareness that is changing. Because now, in the words of m’Cheaux, “The word can go Widely In a day.”

Although we may feel we are in a constant flow of new words and phrases, Thorne believes that creating slang is actually a “compromise.” Decades ago, our culture collided with the way television and music add to the zeitgeist, and perhaps an adjustment is now taking place with social media.

Thorne refers to the short life of an “invented” slang – like “cheugy”, which was Seems to be popular by one TikTokernamed Hal – as evidence that there are still limitations to our ability to adopt new words.

Furthermore, Heber points out, because language is constantly evolving, it’s possible that our current concept of “internet slang” could look very different in five years. Words, he says, are made to be changed and replaced.

“Words in language are a bit like biological species,” Heber said. “If you look at all the biological species that were alive on this planet, a large percentage of them are now extinct. And words are sort of like that. Most of the words that have entered the English language are now gone.”

Our methods for adopting a new language are often the same, Heber says. What has changed is Vision from that language.

Social media gives us a vivid look at how words are evolving and recording, sometimes in just a few days. It’s a strange kind of amusing mirror, displaying the rough and often flawed ways in which we adopt a new language.

Every linguist who spoke to In The Know for this story stressed the same point: slang is language. Although the slang is Often defined as “informal” Vocabulary, history has shown is in fact an integral part of the evolution of our speaking styles. It is a vital and crucial aspect of culture.

This fact has always been true, but the difference is that today we see words evolve firsthand, and learn their true value in the process.

“There is an idea that slang is like an adornment in ResturantYou won’t eat it, said m’Cheaux, but it looks nice. “People look at the slang as if it was embellished on the plate, but that’s not how this works.”

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