News article about and an interview with Erin Jansen

"Internet Users Breed A Strange New Language:
Technology Newcomers Struggle with Lingo, May need to get a Translator"

By Glenn Roberts Jr., Staff Writer
TriValley Herald
August 18, 2002

Internet, e-mail, dot-com, login, WWW, URL, DSL, FTP, ISP, PDA, buddy list, cyberspace, spam, dial-up, broadband, backslash, the "at" (@) sign, online, offline.

Do you speak Net lingo? Those of you who just arrived online may need a translator.

The Internet has supplied us with more than a connection to the world. It has ushered in new words and symbols, new ways to use words, and new forms, forums and rules of communication -- a Net etiquette.

"Probably the most profound change has to do with the fact that people have to type in order to communicate online," said Erin Jansen,author and publisher of"NetLingo: The Internet Dictionary," and the Web site.

Jansen added, "Since typing takes more time than speaking, increasingly people prefer to type less and use less punctuation in order to get their point across, which results in a more relaxed communication style."

It's typical for people to type exclusively in lower-case letters when composing an e-mail, she said, because e-mail has been adopted as a more informal medium than other forms of communication.

All capital letters, on the other hand, could be interpreted as virtual shouting.

Jansen said she heard a story about a college student who sent e-mails to her father in all lower-case type.

The student was studying English, and her father was shocked at the poor grammar in her e-mail messages. "He couldn't understand how she could jump back and forth from proper grammar to what he viewed as 'this rebel way of writing,'" Jansen said.

"The Internet is still seen as an open frontier or a free-for-all which gives people the feeling that anything goes."

But some standards still apply. In Jansen's Net dictionary, she has included tips on writing office e-mail without appearing too casual or informal.

Although e-mail can be very impersonal, such as spam, which is junk e-mail sent to a long list of people, its informality can lead people to open up, said Andreas Kathol, a professor of linguistics at University of California, Berkeley.

"People tend to let down their guard on e-mail a lot more than if it had been (face-to-face) or on paper. It's a loose type of interaction," Kathol said.

While in the early days of e-mail people may have thought it "patently absurd for someone to send an e-mail across the room, these days no one would notice. It's not looked upon as violating the rules of interaction," he added.

Likewise, it's common for some people to answer cell phone calls while they are engaged in face-to-face conversations with others.

"The standards of what is acceptable behavior have changed," Kathol said.

Mary-Kay Evans, spokeswoman for the service, which hosts more than 1 million private family Web sites, said, "E-mail has become a nonintrusive way to communicate. People are much more willing to send you an e-mail than to call you on the phone."

Lori Kendall, an author who studied an online discussion group, said online chatting usually is characterized by short verse.

"You type a sentence and hit return and let it go out. It's difficult to discuss in-depth concepts. Instead it's a lot of casual conversation -- mostly dialogue, sometimes stories," she said.

The online community has developed an array of symbols and shorthand to convey emotion through typing. There are smiley faces or "emoticons," such as the :-) -- the colon forms the eyes, the hyphen is the nose and the parentheses is the mouth.

William K. Horton, who has authored books on the use of icons, said, "The Web, by empowering amateurs, has thrown new symbols sets and systems in our faces. New symbols come from the need to communicate.

"For example, smileys have entered the popular culture. Smileys evolved in chat and e-mail because facial expressions and tone of voice made emotional meaning unclear.

"A lot of new symbols appear on the Internet because people are using the Internet to communicate things for which we do not have words or symbols, " he added. "Each medium imposes new constraints on language usage, to which human beings immediately adapt."

Ultimately, the use of visual symbols on the Internet "is just a practical attempt to save time, have fun and perhaps reduce translation," he said.

Jansen said that as the Internet has become so entrenched in society, a lot of Net terminology has made the leap out of the virtual world.

"Internet lingo is changing the way people communicate off-line because more people are aware of it, using it, and taking what they've learned or experienced online into the off-line world," she said.

And for the benefit of "newbies," or Net newcomers, "offline" means the real world, or the world outside of "cyberspace," the online place. But you've probably heard it all before. ###

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