INNOMINATA

Review: Because Internet


Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language was published in 2019. It is written by Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist from McGill University who has found a niche writing about language on the internet. In this book, she explores how the internet has shaped language and vice versa - with the caveat that it's heavily focused on North American English, which she points out in no uncertain terms.

I'm a total stranger to the world of linguistics, and I found this an incredibly accessible, entertaining, and informative read. Obviously I can't vouch for the scholarly merit of this book, but McCulloch is a household name in the geeky realm of internet linguistics, having written extensively for publications such as WIRED and The Toast in addition to her podcast, Lingthusiasm.

McCulloch starts with a broad overview of what linguists do and the forms of language that interest them. Informal writing, she writes, is one that was difficult to study in pre-internet times. Now that so much of the world is online, social media sites such as Twitter are a rich vein of data for researchers to tap into. McCulloch then describes the intricate relationship between language and society, and how one cannot survive without the other. To study linguistics is to dive into the tangled web of anthropology, to learn about interesting cultural and historical phenomena in human societies - in this case, our singular, wonderful internet. An entire chapter is dedicated to how each generation was introduced to the internet, while a later chapter traces the evolution of chat interfaces. Equal attention and care is given to the linguistic components of the internet: emoji, slang, and yes, memes.

McCulloch displays an intimate familiarity not just with linguistics, but also with the internet. A self-described Full Internet Person, her love and enthusiasm for both subjects are evident throughout this incredibly entertaining book. She writes with a wink and a knowing smile, proudly displaying all the linguistic idiosyncrasies of the internet that is the very subject of this book. Her passion and intellectual curiosity are infectious, as is her warm and humanistic approach. Her optimism about social media is a refreshing drink in our current hellscape.

This book is a must-read for anyone curious about linguistics or the internet. Don't let the page count put you off: McCulloch has included plenty of references to point the reader to all manner of rabbit holes. I hope someday I'll find a niche as special to me as internet linguistics is to McCulloch. Here are some personal takeaways from the book.

Day 25 of #100DaysToOffload

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