OMG! Guest speaker discusses how netspeak impacts language

Older grammarians hypothesize that the use of acronyms such as LOL and OMG are examples of the English language crumbling. But a researcher will speak at Brock this week about how that’s just not the case.

Sali Tagliamonte

Sali Tagliamonte

Sali Tagliamonte, professor of Linguistics at the University of Toronto, is the next presenter in the annual Department of Applied Linguistics Speaker Series at Brock. Tagliamonte did a two-year study showing that Internet and text acronyms such as PAW (parents are watching) or TTYL (talk to you later) show a sophisticated grasp of language, rather than a linguistic doomsday scenario.

From 2007 to 2009, Tagliamonte’s first-year students volunteered their email, text and instant message correspondence so she could analyze how they were using language. The result was millions of pieces of correspondence — more, Tagliamonte believes, than has ever been obtained by a linguistics researcher.

The students also submitted Grade 12 English essays. Tagliamonte found that underneath the acronyms, grammar was intact. The short forms were a case of adapting to the medium rather than a decline in grammatical skill.

“Kids are versatile, creative and flexible in maneuvering across a broad range of new media,” she said. “They have a remarkable flexibility to move from one register to another.”

By far, the most common acronym is LOL (laughing out loud). But acronyms only accounted for about 1 per cent of the words the students used, Tagliamonte said.

Their usage of acronyms is not exclusive to their generation either. For example, we barely notice older acronyms such as TV anymore, she said.

“The acronyms our grandparents used may be recognized as common words in our language now,” she said. “Acronyms aren’t new. But these ones are used by young people, so they’re reviled by older people.”

Veena Dwivedi

Veena Dwivedi

Tagliamonte has two research projects on the go. The first, Directions of Change in Canadian English, looks at recent chances in Canadian English. The second, the Toronto English Project, looks at how language usage is evolving in Toronto.

Four speakers are featured annually in the Department of Applied Linguistics Speaker Series. It culminates in a Department of Applied Linguistics Research Day where students and faculty present their work.

“It’s all about the exchange of ideas, and generating new ideas,” said Veena Dwivedi, associate professor and series co-ordinator.

Tagliamonte’s presentation, “Student language in the new media: So sick or so cool,” will be from 12 noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20 in the Sankey Chambers.

Gary Libben, Vice-President Research, will present on Friday, Feb. 3 from 12 noon to 1 p.m. in Sankey Chambers. Libben is a psycholinguist who studies how words are represented and processed in the mind. He is former president of the Canadian Linguistics Association and co-founder of The Mental Lexicon Journal.

The Department of Applied Linguistics Research Day will be Wednesday, April 11 on the sixth floor of the Plaza Building from 2 to 4 p.m.

Everyone is welcome to attend the events. For more information, contact Veena Dwivedi at or 905-688-5550 x5389.

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