Online Language Symposium

With the vast growth of social media in the last decade, children around the world are most often communicating through different technologies. What does that mean for the English language? 

“Children have started using the internet younger and younger, and it is not uncommon to see a tablet-using toddler in a shopping cart seat or elementary school kids with smartphones, when just ten years ago teenagers were denied flip-phones by strict parents,” said psychology major, Cole Cline. 

Cline presented his paper, “21st Century Verbal Man: A Defense of Children’s Internet Language” at the 2020 Piedmont Symposium. Cline says society has become obsessed with social media and screen time, in general. Through multiple academic sources, Cline was exploring whether this newfound “internet language” was having a detrimental effect in learning the English language. 

”I found the topic through a video by Tom Scott, who is a frequent collaborator with McCulloch,” Cline said. “Before, I had a passing interest in linguistics, but seeing that I could be able to link psychology with it really sent me down one of the few good paths of no return.” 

After viewing the video, Cole said he had the feeling of “wanting to know more” — the internet researcher in him came out. It led to him wanting to find the missing link. “The social and linguistic behaviors all made sense, they fit together like a puzzle more than I was expecting. Honestly, it was lucky that it got to be a defense rather than an attack.” 

The results of his research surprised him – there is no noticeable negative impact on learning. “I was expecting it to contradict developmental patterns, but it just … didn’t. In the words of developer Todd Howard, ‘It just works.’ There’s the researcher in me who wanted there to be a missing link, the final thing I could find and put together that everyone else would have missed! But it seemed just too logical, too much of what we should have expected,” Cole said. 

Sheere Irvin, a teacher at Level Grove Elementary has seen the changes firsthand. “I have truly seen the change through this technology advancement in the last decade,” she said. “I have been around public school systems and it seems every year in recent memory that kids come in with new tablets and things like.” 

Sheere has seen the changes with her own children, 18 and 10 years old. “Raising Peyton (18) was a lot different than Oakley (10). She has spent a lot more of her time on her i-pad or TikTok, where Peyton was always outside and playing sports. I do believe Oakley has benefitted in her learning more than Peyton was at her age, and she has a lot more knowledge about technology in general.”

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