Approximately 30 million people world-wide use the Internet and on-line services daily. The Net is growing exponentially in all areas and a rapidly increasing number of people are finding themselves working and playing on the Internet. The people on the Net are not all rocket scientists and computer programmers; they’re graphic designers, teachers, students, artists, musicians, feminists. The Net community exists and thrives because of effective written communication, as on the net all you have available to express yourself are typewritten words.
“Netspeak” is evolving on a national and international level. The technological vocabulary once used only by compute programmers and elite computer manipulators called “Hackers,” has spread to all users of computer networks. The language currently spoken by people on the Internet, and is rapidly spilling over into advertising and business. The words “on-line,” “network” and “surf the net” are occurring more and more frequently in our newspapers and on television. The argument rages as to whether Netspeak is merely slang, or a jargon in and of itself. The language is emerging based loosely upon telecommunication vocabulary and computer jargons, with new derivations and compounds of existing words, and shifts creating different usages; all of which depending quite heavily upon clippings. Because of these reasons, the majority of Net-using linguists classify Netspeak as a dynamic jargon in and of itself, rather than as a collection of slang.
Linguistically, the most interesting feature of Netspeak is its morphology. Acronyms and abbreviations make up a large part of Net jargon. FAQ (Frequently Asked Question), MUD (Multi-User-Dungeon), and URL (Uniform Resource Locator) are some of the most frequently seen TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) on the Internet. General abbreviations abound as well, in more friendly and conversationally conducive forms, such as TIA (Thanks In Advance), BRB (Be Right Back), BTW (By The Way), and IMHO (In My Humble Opinion.) These abbreviations can be baffling to new users, and speaking in abbreviations takes some getting used to. Once users are used to them, though, such abbreviations are a nice and easy way of expediting communication. Derivation is another method by which many words are formed. The word Internet itself is the word “net” with the prefix “inter-” added to it. Proper names also make a large impact on the vocabulary of Net users. Archie, Jughead, and Veronica are all different protocols for searching different areas of the Internet for specific information.
Semantically, Net jargon is also quite interesting. Many, many words used in Net jargon are taken from regular English and applied to new ideas or protocols. For example, a gopher is not a furry rodent on the Internet; a gopher is a software program designed to gopher through the vast amount of information so that the user can find what he or she’s looking for. A server is not a waitress or waiter; a server is another computer that tells your machine what it needs to know to communicate on the Net. Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of Netspeak, however, is pronunciation. Most frequently, a user’s first encounter with a new vocabulary word is by reading it, rather than hearing it. This presents interesting pronunciation differences among different people.
Many terms used on the multi-lingual yet English-dominated internet are borrowed from language to language. The words “internet” and “cyberspace” are used around the world, as is evident when one is cruising the Net and encounters a piece of writing entirely written in Norwegian or Russian. According to the Hacker jargon File, Italian Net users often use the non-existent verbs “scrollare” (to scroll) and “deletare” (to delete) rather than native Italian ‘scorerre” and “caricellare.” The English verb “to hack” has been seen conjugated in many European languages. As the Internet and computer on-line services further invade life in the United States and the world over, more and more people will contribute; to, change, and further develop Net jargon as we know it today. As more and more speciality words make their way into our; dictionaries, Net jargon will become increasingly prevalent in our written and spoken communication. Everyone, not just Net users will become familiar with the new words and usages, as is already; evident in the increasing use of the terms “networking” and” “cyberspace.” As business, advertising, and entertainment move onto the networks, Netspeak will continue to grow, change, and become more a part of everyday communication. This dynamic language reflects the very rapid development of new concepts and the need to communicate about these concepts. As linguists, tracking this language development is one interesting way of documenting, the progression of the “Information Age,” just as the language changes of Early America allow historical linguists to track the! Movements of our early ancestors.