In the pre-digital era, he says, “most texts we read came from published works — books, newspapers, journals, et cetera. This means they represented the variety of English associated with such media — generally formal, edited prose using the grammatical and orthographic conventions of ‘standard English.’ ”
Such texts are still part of our world today, Gordon says, “but we also encounter very different kinds of writing online and sometimes elsewhere.” He cites the use of “U” to represent “you,” confused homophones such as “you’re” and “your” or “it’s” and “its,” and the use of newish terms like “LOL” for “laughing out loud” and “totes” for “totally.”
But it would be wrong to take such contemporary usages as indicative of the deterioration of the language or even a relaxing of the rules of grammar, Gordon says. “They are trivial matters in terms of the overall structure of English.”
Such liberties are not new. “People have always had trouble with homophones,” he says, “and they have always used language creatively, coining new words or respelling established words. … What’s different today is that we can see these ‘mistakes’ more commonly because we’re encountering a broader swath of writing on the Internet.”
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