In decades past, linguistics was a field dominated by tangible texts. But today, in the digital age, ignoring the ever-increasing multitude of texts that the internet enables would be an archaic way to conduct work in any field. “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language” is internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch’s revelatory recent work that addresses how the internet is changing language.
Her website says, “I analyze the language of the internet, for the people of the internet.” “Because Internet” gracefully synthesizes two pertinent aspects of our daily lives: language and our constant use of the World Wide Web.
Picking up a book about how the internet has altered linguistics may seem daunting, but McCulloch’s writing is light and accessible, proving that not only dense writing can carry deep meaning. McCulloch addresses an all-too-familiar setting of language early on: Twitter. She references studies done by Georgia Tech, Microsoft and Columbia to emphasize the functionality of the site. The utilization of Twitter to study linguistics allows researchers to conduct studies without jumping through the many logistical and technical hoops that the pre-internet world presented. McCulloch takes the arena of Twitter, a platform many are at least somewhat familiar with, and informs us of its significance in the field of linguistics.
While it can sometimes seem like many adults are criticizing the value of being online, and telling their kids to get off their devices and into the real world, McCulloch honors the significance and presence of the internet. One idea that McCulloch challenges is that the internet is exclusively isolating. She presents a statistic that “over a third of couples who got married between 2005 and 2012 met online.” McCulloch highlights how the existence of “Internet grandbabies” is quite probable, due to the fact that “children born of the first internet-mediated relationships are — at least hypothetically — now old enough to internet date and have kids of their own.” It can seem like the internet is a cruel and unkind place, but reading McCulloch’s writing reminds us that the World Wide Web can instead supplement or even produce positive, beneficial human interaction.
A book about internet linguistics would immediately be deemed uninformed without a chapter on memes. “Because Internet” does not commit this sin. Though it feels a bit out of place to have links in the footnotes of a print book, the time and effort McCulloch spends on exploring memes is apparent. The fact that McCulloch, who holds a master’s degree in linguistics, is giving attention to memes is validates the daily experiences of young people, whose daily experiences online are often written off as frivolous and or immature.
The field of linguistics generally encapsulates less democratic applications of language, and exists largely in exclusive settings such as those of higher education. But McCulloch discusses vernacular forms of language from the standpoint of an adult who is knowledgeable about these traditionally less democratic applications, and her book feels especially remarkable because of this. McCulloch approaches the sphere of youth culture earnestly wanting to understand its effects on language.