Language and the Internet

David Crystal

Cambridge University Press 2001
A book review by Danny Yee © 2001
There is nothing really spectacular, provocative, or unexpected in Language and the Internet, but it offers a survey that is lively and accessible while solid and reliable. Crystal is often chatty and informal, but only a few times does he ring a wrong note (Unix talk does not, for example, work "using a normal phone connection between e-addresses"). Anyone curious about language use on the Internet should find Language and the Internet compelling reading; some may also find it practically useful as a guide to different kinds of Internet communities. And it may not offer much that's novel to those with extensive online experience, but it is still interesting to see what familiar phenomena look like from the perspective of a linguist.

After a brief introduction, Crystal devotes two chapters to what he calls "Netspeak", looking at features common to most Internet communications. He compares this to speech and writing and argues that it is different enough to be a genuine "third medium". He also considers some broad pragmatic themes (communicative effectiveness, spamming, lurking), the limitations of Net style guides (which often lapse into prescriptivism, even when they are prescribing idiosyncrasy), and some widely occurring features (such as emoticons and abbreviations).

Crystal continues with separate chapters on email, chatgroups, virtual worlds, and the Web, and even within those he is mindful of the diversity of Internet users and communities. He is also open about the limitations, in both quantity and quality, of the linguistic work that has been done on Internet language — his presentation is heavily reliant on his personal experience, for example for statistics and generalisations about email, and a few key studies, such as Lynn Cherny's work on ElseMoo. A closing chapter looks briefly at the effects of the Internet on broader language, and at the use of the Internet by linguists and language students.

December 2001

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%T Language and the Internet
%A Crystal, David
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 2001
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0521802121
%P ix,272pp