A Conversation About Internet Linguistics

Last week I interviewed linguist Gretchen McCulloch at the Dictionary.com offices in Oakland, California. We discussed many pop-linguistic topics, including the role of memes in our culture, the lowercasing of the term internet, and her upcoming book. I was first introduced to Gretchen's work through her Benedict Cumberbatch piece on the Toast, and in our conversation I learned that while she might possess the skills to summon Wimbledon Tennismatch, she is more excited by the linguistic variations of his name than by his acting work.

One interesting topic Gretchen and I covered was the four major stages of English development (Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, and Modern English). Considering that we've been speaking Modern English since around 1700, I asked Gretchen if we're due for a new classification of English.

While we have linguists like David Crystal talking about computer-mediated communication as a new era of language development, this idea hasn't really made it beyond the linguistic community and we'd both love to see this happen more widely.

Here's a clip from our conversation: 

So often slang or grammar born on the internet is dismissed as "stupid" or "wrong," or as a sign that the English language is being ruined. Linguists and lexicographers, of course, see it very differently. This allows us to fully enjoy things like people purposely misspelling the word snake, another meme I learned about from my conversation with Gretchen.