The isms of Internet Linguistics

The internet is a miraculous place. Whatever one’s convictions may be towards it, there’s no escaping the huge impact the world wide web has had on our lives. And entangled in its sphere of contact is linguistics. In his book, Inventing English, Lerer talks about the impossibility of having one standard English because of what theorist Jacques Derrida would refer to as (linguistic) flux. And yet, there’s a recent rise in criticism of Internet Linguistics, with linguists complaining that it is corrupting the language.

Internet Linguistics is s fairly new study. Through social media platforms, linguists have been able to study patterns in Internet speech and between speech communities online. The findings are quite interesting. While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seem to have common tropes in Internet language, it’s Tumblr that can be discerned from the others. In fact, having done my research, I’d venture to say the terminology used on other platforms originated from Tumblr. As such, here are three common tropes of Tumblr language:

1. A Play With Verbs

The very first thing any new Tumblr user must know is its 101 terminology. A crash course on it would teach one that verbs on Tumblr have usages that are different from the one used in colloquial speech. In fact, the colloquial on Tumblr inverts the notion of grammatical correctness.

Two common phrases often used on the website are “I cant even” and “Im so done.” The first means “this link is so amazing that I have lost my ability to express my appreciation for it in fully formed sentences. All speech has been reduced to this ill-formed sentence. Thus is the depth of my excitement about this. Click on it. Click on it if you too would like to experience this level of incoherent excitement,” as per The Toast. The second one indicates the inability to even deal with something beyond the point of reading; that what the user sees is so ridiculous, all hope for humanity is gone. There is nothing to be done. Stupidity. Stupidity everywhere.

As can be seen, both terms are quite lauded. It’s interesting to see how Internet users unconsciously adopt them. Here’s an example from Twitter:

2. no punctuation or capitalisation is used in these posts what why

It is an unwritten rule that no punctuation or capitalisation be used in Tumblr or Twitter posts. This reflects a sense of urgency or dismay in others or in oneself, according to PBS Idea Channel. It’s interesting to see how context and place play a role in this. Incoherent texts make no sense if one were to read them randomly from a piece of paper. But if the same text were in a Tumblr post or a tweet, it would be perfectly legible.

3. Abbreviations and Memes/GIFs

How else would one express one’s feelings on tumblr? Just like “i cant even” and “im so done,” abbreviations and memes speak a thousand words. Courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries Blog, here are two prominent examples of abbreviations:

TL;DR: this acronym (Too Long; Don’t Read) is included by a user to tell other users that their post will be very long.

SMH: an acronym for the words “shake my head.” It’s usually used to express disappointment or dissatisfaction over something.

There is a wide range of abbreviated vocabulary that holds a stronger meaning that the longer form of the same word. The study of Tumblr language lies within these intricacies and language dynamics. Interested to read more about how to talk Tumblr? Click here!  


Above is a word cloud created with Voyant Tools from a sample block of tumblr text.

With all that said, can one say there exists an Internet dialect? I would say so. Tumblr is just one of many, many platforms with its own dialect. Hopefully, when more research is done in this direction, we’ll have a better understanding of the socio-linguistic dimensions and importance of Internet linguistics. Check out what PBS Channel had to say about it.

Works Cited/Further Reading

alksjdf;lksfd: the language of Tumblr


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