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Book Reviews

Crystal, David Language and the Internet
Cambridge University Press 2002 (ISBN 0 521 802112 1)

This review has been written by Ma³gorzata Zdybiewska, who teaches British Studies at TTC in Radom and is a contributor to the British Studies Web Pages.

The Internet revolution, which has irreversibly shifted the scale of information exchange and the perception of the modern world (or at least its richer and more technologically advanced part), is according to David Crystal primarily a linguistic one. This rapid global communications revolution, and the changes in the fabric of the English language that it generated over the last ten years, provide the themes for his book.

The book is the fruit of extensive linguistic research, both in language corpora, and on the ground following the routes along which the Internet language, called ‘netspeak’ by David Crystal, has developed. It is a scholar’s book in terms of the authority behind its interpretations; yet at the same time, it is written in such a way to be easily digestible to the general reader who is a common e-mail user, and for whom the World Wide Web is more and more frequently the first port of call for information enquiries or the first resort for a variety of leisure activities. David Crystal presents the results of his language research with a simplicity and clarity that is so characteristic in the very well known Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.

From the eight chapters: A linguistic perspective, The medium of netspeak, Finding an identity, The language of e-mail, The language of chat groups, The language of virtual worlds, The language of the Web, and The linguistic future of the Internet; the chapter The language of e-mail may turn out to be the most interesting one for readers. The reason being that all e-mail users are indeed ‘experts’. The Internet has grown with most of us and it is still developing rapidly. It is perceived by the majority of its users as a free and independent medium - so who can dictate conventions or restrictions?

E-mail writers generally agree that electronic messages are a strange and unique blend of a conversation and a letter that is not only faster but also cheaper. However, you will find it very difficult to explain what an e-mail is to a Martian. Try this dialogue:

A Martian: What’s an e-mail?
You: It’s something you write on a computer.
A Martian: What’s a computer?
You: Well

This dialogue may only look like this if Martians are less technologically advanced than us which may not be the case!

Yet, Internet users from the whole world have no problems in communicating or even if they have, they are able to work out their differences. Consider for example, the problems Polish Internet users usually have, if they write their electronic messages in Polish but often without the Polish graphological signs. When an e-mail in the Polish language appears on the screen, without all those lovely extra signs that make our language so charmingly exotic to most foreign learners, the invisible on the screen becomes visible in the Polish readers’ minds. That is indeed the power of the medium.

David Crystal is sure that the skill of writing e-mails will soon be part of the school curriculum. He argues that despite fears often expressed by language purists that the language of e-mails may introduce linguistic anarchy in the minds of school learners because it allows radical graphological deviance, e-mail has actually extended the stylistic range of language making it interesting and playful. It is not a threat to language education but a great opportunity to revitalize it. Although we all use language to communicate information, it is a living working language that is truly central to our lives.

Language and the Internet is a very thorough and informative comment on the influence of the Internet on language and although it cannot describe the language changes in full, due to the scale of the phenomenon and its dynamism, it provides the reader with linguistic and editorial help such as an extensive list of references, indexes of authors and topics, and large samples of data. I recommend this book to the British Studies Web Pages readers as it gives a valuable insight into the future of language in our electronic age.

On our webpages you will find an article by David Crystal The Language Revolution including a paragraph on Language and the Internet to whet your appetite for the larger book.

Professor David Crystal is also the author of such books as:

·         English as a Global Language

·         Language Death (Click here to read our book review)

·         Words on Words: Quotations About Language and Languages

·         The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

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