How I Saw My Language Change

Cover art for Beacause Internet is black text on a yellow background with the subtitle in highlighted blue.Language is my family‘s industry. My dad taught reading to middleschoolers and my mom was a speech therapist. My sister works in education and you know how I like to write. When I come across books like Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper or Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, I save them to my TBR list with eager anticipation. I admit, I’m a word nerd.

This week I finished reading the new book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch. A closing quote grabbed my attention:

“The momentum for making the internet hospitable to every language is slowing where it should be increasing. Nonetheless, users are still finding out ways to communicate online. People who are illiterate or who speak languages that don’t have well-established writing systems or auto complete tools, are among the highest users of voice texting, or sending 5 to 30 second audio clips through chat apps.”

For people who live with blindness and low vision, there are parts of the internet certainly which aren’t automatically accessible. The visual parts–in most cases–do not come with automatic prompts for captions and description. For the ten percent of people who are blind who communicate through braille, braille keyboards can be expensive. I read braille at a rudimentary level. For me and many others like me, it’s way more efficient to use tools like speech-to-text and screen readers like VoiceOver, but the language tool I embraced the quickest was the humble voice text. I press and hold the play button and my smartphone records as I talk into the microphone and it stops when I lift my finger. I hit send like I do on any text. It becomes part of the chat thread.

My support group from the Utah retreat maintains a WhatsApp chat. Texts and audio texts and links and described pictures flow between us across the country daily. My support group friends switch between old school typing, speech-to-text, and leaving voice texts, as we vary in communication styles elsewhere. Sometimes we forget when we’re on a voice text and we still say punctuation aloud, period. Nevertheless, we have turned an aspect of the inhospitable internet into our own playground.

Immediate family and friends occasionally communicate with me through voice text as well. The increase in unlimited data plans and Wi-Fi availability make the data usage of voice texting a non-issue. 

Messages to each other–especially in the chat group–are almost always longer than the 30 seconds McCulloch described. The amount of time it takes my finger to cramp used to be how long I left voice texts. Oh the joy we felt when my friend Melissa discovered how to lock while recording a voice text on iMessage. Now I lock and I’m all set to gab.

When a group of people get together, they communicate and you never know what will come out of it. When I was a kid at a Christmas gathering at my grandparents house, some of us were of course talking. We were scattered around the living room on couches and chairs and even the carpet.

Someone said to one of my younger cousins, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

He was about six and without missing a beat he replied, “I want to be a dictator.“

It still makes me laugh when I think about it. It isn’t the identity my cousin was talking about, but I realize living with vision loss and the language tools available to me turned me into quite a dictator. But hey, dictators do tend to run in the family.


Has the digital age changed your language? Tell me about it.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Casee says:

    My handwriting has gotten so bad over the years I really appreciate being able to just dictate an email or a text message. I don’t want to force anyone to try to understand the scribbles of my writing since I can barely make them out myself!
    I have definitely found that since I spend so much time online Internet lingo has followed me into real life. I will often find myself dictating my punctuation when talking to people because I’m so used to doing it when writing my messages.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Casee. Punctuation gets the best of us.

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