PIle of birthday books

Well, I’m pleased to say that I have now read and reviewed all the books from my Birthday Book Pile (I acquired this one just into February when I met up with my friend Sian and she gave me this one and I spent the money she gave me for charity shop book shopping on more lovelies, which are coming up on the TBR soon). This was a super book and I’m not sure how I didn’t grab it and read it earlier, but waited for it to bob to the top of the TBR …

Gretchen McCulloch – “Because Internet: Understanding how Language is Changing”

(04 February 2020)

One type of writing hasn’t replaced the other: the “Happy Birthday” text message hasn’t killed the diplomatic treaty. (p. 2)

This is just my thing, a book about how the Internet is changing language or language is changing alongside the Internet – especially because we now have a new method of informal writing which hadn’t really existed before, or not in a wide form that could be studied (personal letters and of course diaries were the closest thing to informal writing: now there’s a huge range of it out there and in digital form so manipulable). The author’s stated aim is to look for the patterns and describe what is happening, and also to give her readers some tools to do their own Internet language research.

McCulloch is an engaging and confiding writer, offering asides to the reader and involving herself in the text. This makes it fresh, fun and relatable and takes away any dryness. She also has a knack of explaining concepts in an easy-to-understand way – although I’ll say here that I have studied sociolinguistics and do work as an editor so I might have a vested interest and a bit of understanding and interest pre- reading the book.

After looking at language and society – demographics and especially youth language culture – and introducing the word “familect” for the words and phrases used solely in a family or friendship group, the first chapter also covers McCulloch’s own language use in the text – her style sheet – including lowercase “internet” and “email” rather than “e-mail”. She explains she used corpuses of currently used language to develop this – and indeed in the couple of years since this was published both these uses have come into the big style guides so are accepted or even preferred forms. She’s also keen on singular “they” (hooray!).

The best chapter for me was on the one on “Internet People” and their language use. I was pleased to find myself defined as an Old Internet Person (my first-used social media were usenet, bulletin boards and listservs and I have an alias I’m known as rather than my real name by people – there are three other groupings coming up to modern-day adopters of Instagram and Snapchat as their first online channels of communication).

The chapter on emoji was fascinating, covering their history, different uses and control. I was a bit less engaged with the chapter on memes as they’re something I’ve never really got involved with, and I wasn’t even familiar with the two examples she cited. But she finished with a great call for maintaining space for innovation, many Englishes and other languages and linguistic playfulness.

A great book, fun to read and fascinating.