Friday, August 31, 2007

Leetspeak and the ire of linguists

[crossposted at PC]

Mark Liberman's already covered it (in fact: hat tip), but there is this WSJ article about leetspeak, focusing on how to pronounce some internet-emergent words/spellings/phrases. Nothing's really surprising, except when I got to this sentence I nearly snarfed my coffee:
The words' growing offline popularity has stoked the ire of linguists, parents and others who denounce them as part of a broader debasement of the English language.

Ack! Mark doesn't mention this (hopefully) misguided attribution. Thankfully someone thought to ask someone who studies the most treasured English language user of all time what Shakespeare would think of all this, and this puts our minds at ease:
Gail Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., has reason to believe that a certain English poet and playwright would cheer the latest linguistic leap. Just as the rise of the printed word and the theater spurred many new expressions during Shakespeare's time, the computer revolution, she notes, has necessitated its own vocabulary -- like "logging in" and "Web site."

"The issue of correctness didn't bother him," says Ms. Paster. "He loved to play with language." As for leet, "He would say, 'Bring it on,' absolutely."

If it's good enough for Shakespeare... The author also mentions some work on leet by Katherine Blashki, a new media studies professor in Australia. I am glad to hear of her work because I hadn't before, but check out how it's discussed:
Her subsequent, semester-long research on the subject found their use of leetspeak stemmed partly from wanting to find faster ways to express themselves online. As with other forms of jargon, it also enhanced a sense of belonging to a community, she says.

"It's ultimately about creating a secret language that can differentiate them from others, like parents," says Ms. Blashki. "That's part of being a teenager."

She presented her work at a conference in Spain and has since written nearly a dozen research papers on the topic. She admits she hasn't received much grant funding for her work. "My peers were aghast," she says.

I am confused about why they were aghast - aren't they media studies people? I think the author is trying to suggest that **even the uber-liberal relativistic academics are freaked out by leet**. And I honestly doubt that's the case - though if it is, it would be something good for me to learn now. I don't know about the media studies field, but in linguistics, people might be aghast at such study just because it's looking at writing and not speaking, and therefore studying something that lots of people still don't see as worthwhile to study. But it's not because they think that leet is awful or annoying or a sign of the downfall of society or language. No no.

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