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Changes to the English Language: Has Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) altered it forever?

Updated on March 26, 2014
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Anne has a BSc Hons in Applied Psychology.This Hub was originally written as an assignment for University as a mature student. It got an "A"

Computer Mediated Communication

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

This is a debate that has been going around for some time now and I'd just like to add my voice:

The above quote is attributed to George Bernard Shaw

The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines the word “Alter” as “to change in character”(p 29).

The character of a language reflects the character of the people who use it. In order to remain a living language, it must evolve.

According to Philip Durkin, Principal Etymologist at the Oxford English Dictionary, the English language has been evolving since the fifth century, with standardization beginning around 1300[1].

There have been countless changes in society and in the way language is used since then.

New words and grammatical structures have evolved, as studies have shown,[2] [3] but I would argue that although the English Language has changed, the character of the people, and therefore the character of the language, has remained principally the same.

Learning English Online


Learning English On-line

Far from causing any changes in character to the English Language, the internet is at the forefront of preserving it.

  • The internet can provide better on-line English teaching courses in an environment where there may be no English mother-tongue teachers available.
  • The internet also provides an opportunity for students to practice their English with native speakers where no opportunity may have existed previously.
  • A case study in China illustrated this point when students of English reported the use of on-line lessons with mother-tongue teachers and synchronous and asynchronous media (such as email, blogs, chat and Skype for example) with people from English speaking countries as being helpful in learning the language.[4].
  • Even the much maligned Facebook, when integrated with other teaching methods, has been reported by third level students and their tutors as being useful for practicing, thereby improving, their English. [5]
  • Other experts contend that because people spend so much time on-line, they are constantly immersed in language and that internet communication improves fluency in the language.[6][7]
  • Even on-line gaming has been shown to improve the learning of English in a study in Turkey; In fact, the findings were significant enough for the Turkish Education Department to seriously consider including on-line gaming in the school curriculum. [8]

Why Learn to Speak English?

But why are so many people from non-English speaking countries anxious to learn the English language in the first place?

Because it has become a global language due to its predominance on the internet.

The Japanese Ministry of Education has said that ‘for children living in the 21st century, it is essential for them to acquire communication abilities in English as a common international language” [9].

And once again in China, Lin Pan and David Block reported the majority belief that learning English is an essential component of education if China wish to build on their global economic growth [10].

I would argue that the more people who use the language, and who speak it as it is spoken in English mother-tongue countries, the stronger it becomes as a living language.

The internet has changed the media of communication

The internet has brought about many changes to society, not least in communication.

But on the other hand, the internet may have changed the media of communication, but not the way we communicate.

It has been shown that people still differentiate between formal and informal communication, and contrary to popular belief, the use of “text-speak” is generally confined to informal communication by the majority of young people, as illustrated in a recent study [11].

The world renowned linguist, David Crystal, in his wonderfully titled book, txtng.the Gr8 Db8, argues that the origin of texting actually goes back to the origins of writing itself, and considers the negative attitude towards text-speak as based on a misunderstanding of its importance in the evolution of the written language [12]

.Others argue that people write with more flow and energy when communicating on line because they feel as though they are actually talking to the other person, and that this results in improved fluency.[13]


Technology and Communication

Technology is entwined with our evolution as a species, no more so than from the time of the industrial revolution,[14] through to the massive growth of television in the 1950’s and 1960’s [15] and on to the growth of the internet in today’s society.

It is simply a reflection of our evolution as a world society, and all languages, including the English language, continue to evolve with the people who use then.

So in conclusion, I argue that for someone to say the English language is altered forever is to misunderstand the nature of a vibrant, living and evolving language.

To me, the evolution of the English language epitomises the saying- The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What do you think?

Has Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) altered the English Language forever?

See results


[1] Durkin, P. (2009).Dialect and Non-standard Language in the New Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[2] Landsbergen, F., Lachlan, R., Cate, C., & Verhagen, A. (2010). A cultural evolutionary model of patterns in semantic change. Linguistics, 48(2), 363-390. doi:10.1515/LING.2010.012

[3] Lee, N., Mikesell, L., Joacquin, A.D.L., Mates, A.W.& Schumann, J.H.(2009). The Interactional Instince: The evolution and acquisition of language. Oxford University Press. Doi: 10.1093/applin/amr043.

[4] Yang, S.C. & Chen, Y. (2007). Technology-enhanced language learning: A case study. Computers in Human Behavior, 23,(1), 860-879

[5] Kabilan, M.K., Ahman, N., & Abidin, M.J.Z. (2010). Facebook: An online environment for learning of English in institutions of higher education? The Internetand Higher Education, 13 (4) 179-187.

[6] Hawisher, G. E. (1992). Electronic meetings of the minds: research, electronic conferences, and composition studies. In G. Hawisher & P. LeBlanc (Eds.), Re-imagining computers and composition: teaching and research in the virtual age. (pp. 81-101). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

[7] Langston, M. D. & Batson, T. W. (1990). The social shifts invited by working collaboratively on computer networks: the ENFI project. In C. Handa (Ed.), Computers and community: teaching composition in the twenty-first century. (pp 140-159). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

[8] Turgut, Y. & Irgin, P. (2009). Young learners’ language learning via computer games. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1) 760-764

[9] Cozy, D. (2010). Philip Seargeant: The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language. Applied Linguistics, 31(5), 737-740.

[10] Pan, L., & Block, D. (2011). English as a “global language” in China: An investigation into learners’ and teachers’ beliefs. System, 39 (3) 391-402.

[11] Rosen, L. D., Chang, J., Erwin, L., Carrier, L., & Cheever, N. A. (2010). The Relationship between "Textisms" and formal and informal writing among young adults. Communication Research (37) 420-444. DOI: 10.1177/0093650210362465.

[12] Crystal, D. ( 2008). txtng.the Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[13] Langston, M. D. & Batson, T. W. (1990). The social shifts invited by working collaboratively on computer networks: the ENFI project. In C. Handa (Ed.), Computers and community: teaching composition in the twenty-first century. (pp 140-159). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

[14] Millward, C.M. & Hayes, M. (2011). A Biography of the English Language. KY.Cengage Learning.

[15] Abramson, A., & Sterling, H. (2003). The History of Television, 1942-2000. N.C:McFarland.

[16] Ceruzzi, P. (2003). A History of Modern Computing. MIT. USA.


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