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Language and the Internet: Book Review

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Unlike a library, the Internet is an interactive and dynamic world. In a library we find books, generally written by authorities in their fields, and readers borrowing these to draw from the information contained therein. This is analogous the Internet, with its countless web sites offering information, and many millions of readers – or visitors – ingesting the pages. But there the analogy stops.

There is so much more to life on the Internet than the passive one-way information flow in a library. People create their own web pages, send one another e-mails, 'talk' to complete strangers in chat rooms, keep in touch with friends via messenger programs, subscribe to mailing lists, interact in virtual worlds, and more. The language used online is that of real people of great diversity, whose output is largely unedited by proofreaders or publishers.

David Crystal examines the phenomenon of language use online in his book Language and the Internet. Is the Internet bad for the future of language? Will creativity be lost? Are standards diminishing? Crystal, in his thoroughly readable style, addresses all of these questions from a linguistic perspective.

"Hey can u gimme a lift 2 the party 2nite," someone writes to a friend online. "N/P :) cya l8r," comes the reply. What are the implications of such Netspeak – as Crystal calls it – and how should it be interpreted? Crystal devotes two chapters to discussing features common to most Internet communications. He compares these to speech and writing and argues that Netspeak is a distinct third communicative medium, something of a hybrid of the two.

He follows with separate chapters discussing email, chatgroups, virtual worlds, and the Web, and concludes with a look at the effects of the Internet on language as a whole. He largely dismisses the common view that Netspeak is an illiterate and dumbed-down language. But he admits, positively, that the phenomenon will change fundamentally the way we think about language.

This book will appeal to readers with an interest in linguistics, and is written sufficiently accessibly to be enjoyed by all. An extensive knowledge of the workings of the Internet is not assumed.

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