At one time, in the not so distant past, computers were not commonly found in homes. Computers served as a time saving device for businesses and offices and they were big, heavy, unattractive and very expensive. Over time computers, have become smaller, lighter, operate faster and have price significantly dropped in price. Thus many more of us have incorporated computers into our daily lives and homes. Today, most of us would be lost without our computers, electronic devices and the Internet!

Before the age of computers, the only way to correspond with others at a distance was through letters written by hand or on a typewriter. There was no spell check or grammar check to make life easy. People had to rely on their own proof reading and language skills in order to be understood.

In the 1990’s when computers began popping up in homes all over the world and the Internet became readily available, chatting programs such as ICQ, MSN, and AOL Instant Messenger made their debut. With these developments, communicating through writing was forever changed, and the English language has never been the same.

The development of instant messaging programs has resulted in the use of a new ‘spin-off English’ and has quickly become the de facto means by which many young people communicate. The most common spinoff would have to be using short forms and it is common to see entire phrases abbreviated. This new language is often referred to as “Internet slang”. Examples include:

• lol = laugh out loud
• ur = you are, your, or you’re
• h2gtw - have to go to the washroom
• cmitm - call me in the morning
• btw = by the way
• b4n = bye for now
• l8er = see you later
• teotwawki - the end of the world as we know it
• p911 - parent emergency / parent near

Internet slang is a form of chat room shorthand that should only be used informally. However, this slang has spilled over the chat room wall and has made it into e-mails, written correspondence, and yes, it has even found its way into research papers and the homework of schoolchildren and college students.

When writing formally, important points such as capitalization, punctuation, and grammar structure should always be used. Writing English is a craft, and this craft should be practised regularly in order to train and engrain proper techniques. Unfortunately, the use of chat rooms and slang has begun to replace reading and letter writing as primary forms of communication, ultimately harming our language skills.

The use of Internet slang has undeniably affected grammar, punctuation and spelling. Grammar is the foundation of the English language. Punctuation sets the tone and the overall meaning of a sentence - without tone, meaning can be easily misconstrued. There are often many mixed-messages in chatroom slang and e-mails!

Today many people spend more time conversing over the Internet than they do face-to-face. The Internet (including instant massaging and e-mail) is quickly becoming the most prevalent form of written correspondence. It is therefore easy to understand how the use of Internet slang for hours a day can lead to the development of poor English habits. People even belting out “LOL” in the middle of a conversation instead of laughing when speaking to a friend or colleague!

So what can be done to keep slang out of formal writing such as research papers and homework? Upon finding slang in homework and test, are deducting are more pints than they would for the usual grammar mistake. This makes the student more mindful of what they are writing and for whom.
Replacing the use of chat rooms and slang with regular reading and writing with a conscious effort to observe proper English grammar, punctuation and spelling will go a long way. Practice certainly makes perfect where the English language is concerned.

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