The advent of social media meant that individuals could easily connect, communicate, and also share their opinions with a broader audience. Different online platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and so on have unique features, with each having its limitation to how a user can communicate with others. The limitations and free use of the platforms have led to the development of online slang. The variations in traditional language have not been limited to the English language alone. Still, a similar trend can be noted in all the other languages that have an online presence. However, after critical analysis, as will be shown throughout this paper, the language on social media bears most, if not all, the attributes of any other traditional language. An essential quality of any language is communication. The sole purpose of any language is to pass a message from one person to the other. Failure to do this, a language may not meet the thresh hold of being termed as one.
According to Danesi (2017), social media communication can either be informational and or conversational. In informational communication, users do not direct their message to anyone in particular. The target audience for such a form of communication is usually more extensive, and the user may use this to notify others of critical incidents. Such notifications include informing others of an event (Just like in news reporting), or the user may be just airing their opinion or thoughts to other users. This form of language usually takes a unidirectional model where the communicator may not expect nor receive a response from anyone.
The other form mode of computer-mediated communication is conversational communication. In this mode of communication, an individual shares information to interact with other social media users. It is from this interaction that grammar for a particular language can be observed and hence, the growth of speech communities (Danesi, 2017). Speech communities comprise of users sharing the knowledge of the use and interpretation of speech. The speech communities can further be described in terms of speech networks. There are two groups of speech networks, which include weak and dense speech networks. Dense speech networks are characterized by frequent interactions such as in various active chat forums such as WhatsApp groups. Weak speech networks lack daily interactions and are less likely to be linked by a particular bond (Danesi, 2017).
Conversational interactions on social media platforms among dense speech networks are the basis of the arguments in this paper. It is from those interactions that we can observe the patterns assumed by the language of the involved individuals. One key characteristic of this communication is the grammaticalization of English words and phrases. According to (Jager and Rosenbach, 2008), grammaticalization refers to a semantic process in which the grammatical elements of a language evolve out of lexical features. It is from this process that grammar changes or splits to create a new one (Hopper and Traugott, 2003). The language used in communicating on social media platforms is characterized by the use of nonstandard variations of the English Language that can be attributed to grammaticalization.
One of the vital indications of grammaticalization in online communications is the phonological reduction. In phonological reduction, an expression loses some of its phonetic characteristics (Schachtenhaufen, 2013). Online conversations are full of this form of reduced phrases. The explanation for this rampant phonetic erosion is because most social media platforms limit the number of characters one can type or send at a given time. Another reason is that unlike spoken language, typing is tiresome, and a single sentence that would have taken a fraction of a second to pronounce may take a while to type. This primarily relies on the typing speed of a user. Also, to save on time and ensure a conversation flows flawlessly without keeping the other party waiting for too long, phonological reduction comes in handy. The commonly affected phrases and words are as below:
Because- The word’s new form coz has now been widely accepted as a substitute for the original. Some of the examples in use of the word are; I couldn’t make it to practice today coz mom was sick. The meaning of the sentence remains the same in as much as the word because changes
I am going to- This has been the most affected phrase in matters phonological reduction. It has assumed various variations depending on use. It can take the form of imma, I gotta and, I gonna. Examples in sentences include, I gotta finish this task, imma do that and, I gonna see about it. These are shortened forms of I am going to finish this task, I am going to do that and, I am going to see about it respectively.
Another form of grammaticalization exhibited by the language on new social media is auxiliary verbs assuming a contracted form (Veliz, 2007). Examples, in this case, are in the use of will, would, and could. The three assume uses as in the examples below;
I’ll be home on time, I’d want to see what happens next and I’d use some help here.
Negated forms of auxiliaries are also contracted in the same manner. I would not assumes wouldn’t, and the rest follow the same convention. Other contractions such as I’dn’t’ve have taken root in social media language. In this case, I would not have is reduced to one single word I’dn’t’ve. In this contraction, the negation of auxiliaries is further shortened from, for example, wouldn’t to …dn’t.
While still in an effort to reduce the word count, the abbreviation of the English language is taking root in both informal and formal uses. Some of the most commonly used official abbreviations that have, with time, become accepted are FYA and FYI. The two are, for your approval and for your information, respectively. Informal abbreviations, such as but not limited to, lol, wyd, wbu and, wth have gained widespread use. They represent the shortened forms of laughing out loud, what are you doing? what about you? and, what the hell, respectively. There has also been the development of new words to express one’s feelings, such include tsk and nkt. The two are used to express annoyance and irritation. We can attribute these developments to the fact that unlike in face to face communication, social media communication lacks the use of non-verbal cues (Manuel et al., 2010).
The use of images and other visual symbols like emoticons and emojis characterize language on social media. Emojis and emoticons are used to represent emotions and other non-verbal cues but in written communication. Lately, there has been a new form of language that uses gifs and images (memes) to communicate. Some meme users incorporate ideas borrowed from English grammar to communicate via memes. One classic example is the use of doge/doggo and LOLcat on images of dogs and cats, respectively. In as much as the two are wrong grammatically, they are correct according to the slang they are attributed to. However, a user of the same needs to understand their proper forms so that they can relate to them in their new forms (Manuel et al., 2010).
Although there are significant differences between online language and the standardized English language, the two serve their primary goal, which is communicating. The two are continually evolving and taking new forms. However, online language changes faster as it is unregulated and non-standardized. Most of the attributes mentioned in this paper do not only apply to the English language alone but other languages as well. They all share characteristics when it comes to how they are used in social media.