The World Wide Web Of Language: When Icebergs Collide, LOL

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Words leave you winded. Some days, you will be walking down the street and hear something that punches you in the stomach. Other days, you will be reading a phrase that leaves you speechless. With increased international interactions, we are more aware that language has the ability to take our breath away.

We each react and adapt accordingly. Some find fascination in the meaning of sentences whereas others pick up on the inference of gesticulations — paying attention to the talky hands. Some absorb both. It’s evolutionary.

I recently read an article on World Hum about Frank Bures’ dissection of humans as lingual creatures. On his travels, he picked up words and phrases that reflect different meanings. To him, “[w]ords in other languages are like icebergs: The basic meaning is visible above the surface, but we can only guess at the shape of the vast chambers of meaning below.”

It’s as though phrases and words also have cultural implications: they seem to represent a people’s general ideology. Cross-culturally, studies have found that children raised in independent societies (like North America) tend to use the first person more often as opposed to interdependent cultures (like in those classified as “Eastern”). That was before globalization.

Since international travel has grown, a new language has surfaced: Globish. As Bures references in his article, this new language is comprised of approximately 1,500 commonly used English words and Robert McCrum, author of a book about Globish, states that it may become “the linguistic phenomenon of the 21st century.”

I wonder, especially with the internet, will this be so?

Another article on Vagabondish highlighted the key issues with the contemporary English language. In it, Turner Wright discusses the difficulties behind shortcuts and abbreviations like: “BRB,” “LOL,” and the ubiquitous “<3.” Some may think that these are key indicators of our inherent laziness or our devolution.

However, I feel as though language, in all of its forms, is supposed to be used as a tool to communicate a meaning. I guess that is obvious. Still, when someone “IMs” with a friend, he uses symbols to get his point across. (I say “BRB” to people’s faces because, first of all, it’s hilarious and, second, they get what I’m saying.) The reality is that people are busy and if they find that short-cuts in communication are just as effective, then it might give them more time to write about/think about/share/live life.

To me, the most important time for perfect communication, to get your point completely across, is in social interaction — when words, symbols, intonation of laughter and waving hands work together to imply something deeper and more meaningful. Those are the moments that leave you breathless.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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