No matter where you're from, we're probably all familiar with the fact that different people from different places might speak with a different accent or dialect from our own. But are there Internet dialects? At first, the thought can seem a little strange; after all, we generally understand someone's accent as having to do with their pronunciation of words, something we can only pick up through hearing it. Dialects, generally, refer to accent as well as regional phrases or words you don't hear in other parts of the country, meaning it's something we often recognize both by hearing it and by reading it. So how can someone have an "accent" or a "dialect" if they're only communicating over the Internet? How do those ideas transfer into Internet language?
We can probably all agree with the fact that some aspects of Internet language have become so widespread that they're recognizable by the masses, including people who aren't super tech-friendly. Basic emoji, for example, are often used in advertisements and on TV, as are Internet abbreviations like "brb" or "lol," which have made their way into texting and casual emails. But we also know that there are whole communities inside the Internet — and given that communities often share the same accents and dialects, might those online communities have their own version of a dialect, too? And if so, how does the language users post with reflect or reinforce those community values?
Luckily for us, Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel recently hosted a video which explores this very subject entitled, "Are There Internet Dialects?" Here's a look at two of the communities featured in the video, along with an examination of how we might use these two communites as case studies to understand Internet dialects. Be sure to scroll down to watch the full video, too!
1. Case Study 1: Tumblr
A lot of people joke about "Tumblr speak," referring to the way that Tumblr users frequently "speak" in a similar fashion. As Rugnetta points out in his video, Tumblr speak typically refers to text-based posts consisting of run-on thoughts or sentences without capitalization or punctuation.
Interestingly, Rugnetta frames this observation around several common subjects of these kinds of posts: Many topics Tumblr users post about involve anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. The emotion- and thought-based posts that reach out to other users for interaction (typically in the form of "reblogs") mirror these topics, expressing the needs and desires of those suffering from them. The very simple diction and language, too, makes Tumblr accessible for an outsider to read and immediately welcomes people into the community.
2. Case Study 2: 4Chan
Ah, 4Chan. 4Chan exists on the opposite end of the spectrum from Tumblr. Similar to Tumblr, 4Chan is a massive Internet community where people can share links, write posts, message one another, and so forth. Unlike Tumblr, however, 4Chan is known for being not-so-welcoming to outsiders. As Rugnetta explains in the video, 4Chan users tend to post things "you wouldn't want to show your grandmother," much of which is considered offensive to the every day Internet browser.
Interestingly, 4Chan's anti-outsider vibe bleeds into their Internet language, too. Unlike Tumblr's accessible and easy to catch onto Internet jargon, 4Chan's "speak" is written largely in codes and abbreviations that feel difficult to crack as an outsider. In this sense, the language reinforces the content — unwelcoming to outsiders, but fiercely meaningful to those who are in the community and "get it," creating a sense of solidarity and bond among users.
3. So, How Do Internet Communities And Dialects Differ?
OK, so using Tumblr and 4Chan as examples of Internet communities, let's think of them in terms of dialects. Both Tumblr and 4Chan have their own unique ways of using language; in Tumblr's case, the presentation is accessible and easy to hit the ground running with, whereas in 4Chan's world, the language is only welcoming to people who have a certain level of specific knowledge and former familiarity with the content of the site. Both sites, though, connect users and offer them a sense of community to one another through their shared use and understanding of language.
Does this mean it's a dialect? Well, Rugnetta thinks it doesn't quite fit the definition. He explains that the way language is used in Internet dialect "reflects the values and norms of the community itself," which differs from say, people in New England who all refer to awesome things as "wicked" or shoe repairmen as "cobblers." How is it different? There isn't a value system or ethical rationale for calling something "wicked" or hiring a "cobbler" — it's simply the word frequently used in the region. In this sense, the language is dictated by geographic place more so than by seeking out a community.
Interested in learning more about Internet languages and dialects? Definitely check out the full video below:
Images: PBS Idea Channel/YouTube (3)