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Language and Technology

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Language and Technology

In this day and age, it's increasingly difficult to escape technology; it pervades almost every facet of our lives. We use technology:

  • to communicate with people, whether they're geographically near or far from us

  • to organise our schedules and budgets

  • for banking and paying bills

  • to warm and cool our homes and execute other daily functions (programmable coffee machine, anyone?)

  • for creating and distributing media

  • for making and showcasing art.

The list goes on and on. Most ways we use technology in day to day life require or facilitate language, and therefore, the two are very closely linked. For example, chatting to a friend on social media requires you to use language and, at the same time, facilitates ease of communication over distance. Regulating the temperature in your house requires you to input values into the thermostat - this is also an example of using language to complete a technological task.

Language and Technology + Technological Assistance + StudySmarterNowadays, our lives are almost inextricably linked with technology, Pixabay

On that note, let's take a closer look at the link between language and technology.

The Relationship between Language and Technology

As we've mentioned briefly above, language and technology are inherently intertwined. All technological feats would have required vast amounts of language to bring into existence. This could be through researchers, scientists, and engineers communicating with one another to bring an idea to life or through users communicating directly with the technology itself to prompt it to execute its function.

Wherever you find technology, you'll also find language. The relationship between language and technology is therefore unbreakable.

The role of language in technology

Not only does technology rely on the presence of language to exist, but technology is also controlled, instructed, and modified by language. You could say that language has one of the most important roles in ensuring technological success.

So what exactly IS the role of language in technology?

In most cases, language is required to make a piece of technology or technological programme work. This begins from the roots when the coders and programmers first create the code that tells computers and other machines what they're supposed to do. We also speak about this code in linguistic terms, such as 'coding language' or 'programming language'.

Language and Technology, lines of programme code on a dark screen, StudySmarterTechnology uses its own language, called code, to function. Pixabay

Once the technology is successfully up and running, the users will often use language to get the technology to perform its intended function. This could come in the form of typing sentences into a social media platform to send a message to someone or inputting someone's personal and bank details to pay them online.

Language and Technology Theorists

As with any sub-topic in English, many theorists have focused their work on language and technology. Here are a few of the ones you should know about.

Caroline Tagg

Caroline Tagg is predominantly concerned with the relationship between communication and social media, looking at how social media has impacted language use and sense of identity. In her book, The Language of Social Media: Identity and Community on the Internet (2014), Tagg and Seargent investigate how the invention of various social media platforms has transformed the way people connect.

Six degrees of separation

The book references Frigyes Karinthy's concept of 'six degrees of separation', where the idea is that everyone is connected to everyone else via several 'chains of acquaintance'. Although this idea is not meant to be taken literally and is more meant to show the significance of human social networks, introducing technology to the mix means it is much easier to connect with different people than ever before.

According to Tagg, identity is not a concrete, unchanging phenomenon, and people are constantly altering their identity based on the people and factors around them. People can present themselves in different ways to communicate their updated sense of identity, and technology has made this much easier and faster. Essentially, creating an online version of yourself that you can present to the whole world is much more efficient than distributing your new sense of self to every person you know individually.

Language and Technology, social media icons around a woman's head, StudySmarterThanks to social media, we are able to present our identities to a much wider audience, Pixabay

Naomi Baron

Naomi Baron talks a lot about the convenience of communication technology and how this has impacted communication and people's attitudes towards it. In her book Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World (2008), Baron discusses the domestication of technology and how the exponential development of communication technology has altered our behaviour and attitudes.

For example, she notes that it is much easier to Google the weather forecast nowadays than to tune in to the weather channel on TV or the radio. The convenience of having an internet-powered search engine quite literally at our fingertips has diminished our need to communicate information with other people more directly. Baron also states that communication technology has allowed us to remain in contact with people who are far away without the costs and time associated with travelling to different destinations.

As a result of this new convenient and inexpensive era of technological communication, more and more people are 'always on', as Baron puts it. This refers to the fact that most people in the developed world are now largely reliant on technology every day.

Gretchen McCulloch

In her book Because Internet: Understanding How Language is Changing (2019), McCulloch explores how the surge in online social media platforms has impacted language use and communication over the last decade and a half. She states that before the internet, people were exposed primarily to a written language that used standard linguistic forms, whereas the internet has allowed anyone to become a writer. She says:

Writing has become a vital, conversational part of our ordinary lives.

As we use technology more and more to facilitate communication, our language use changes to reflect this. For example, social media has allowed us to become more informal with our linguistic choices. The rise of abbreviations, acronyms, and emojis has further cleared the way for more colloquial written communication.

McCulloch also talks about how people, most commonly the older generations, often reminisce about the 'good old days', when people had proper, face-to-face conversations instead of sending each other silly, informal messages. Younger generations, however, tend to celebrate the introduction of new technological features that supplement online communication. Regardless of the mode, communication comes down to one key thing: attempting to ensure all our needs and desires are met. These needs could be:

  • physiological - a child asking a parent for food because they are hungry.

  • emotional - sharing your feelings or opinions with someone, seeking validation, acknowledgement, or support.

  • safety - warning others of danger or risk.

  • social - building relationships and making memories with people you care about.

Human Language Technology Applications

Human language technology applications... Wow, that's quite a mouthful! What does it mean?

Human language technology (HLT) refers to any technological device or programme that enables more effective or efficient communication. HLT applications can be used by people with difficulties such as deafness and other conditions such as cerebral palsy and ALS that may impede verbal communication. HLT can also be applied to computers, where the aim is to get a computer to do a job previously executed by a human. Common examples include information extraction, machine-assisted translation, and speech/voice recognition.

How can HLT applications help people to communicate?

There are many reasons why a person might require additional support with verbal or written communication. Here is a selection of examples:

  • Hearing-impaired people use devices such as hearing aids to improve their hearing and can also use speech-to-text programmes to turn someone's spoken language into readable text.

  • People with disabilities that impede their speaking ability can utilise computer-based communication systems to give them more communication independence. A good example of this kind of technology is Stephen Hawking's computer system that allowed him to speak using a voice synthesiser.

  • Anyone wanting to communicate in a language they do not understand or speak can use translation apps to help their understanding. Google Translate is a popular machine-assisted translation application that allows us to translate text to and from any language.

Language and the Power of Mass Media

This far down in this article, you're probably forming a good idea of how language and technology impact one another. To further this exploration, here are a couple of examples of how mass media can inspire global collaboration and societal change:

Before the 2008 presidential election in the United States, there were concerns of potential voter suppression in various areas. To combat this, citizens from all over the country banded together as the Video the Vote movement to take photos and videos of their polling stations and any subsequent evidence of voter suppression. This was all to provide evidence for and call out any unsavoury tactics used in the election. Anyone with access to the internet could access the information people uploaded and make more informed choices about where they went to place their vote.4

In 2008, a massive earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter Scale hit the Sichuan province of China. Before the Chinese government could update its citizens, people in the heart of the earthquake began documenting the destruction themselves, uploading their photos, videos, and text descriptions to the internet to inform others. After the earthquake, information circulating via mass media revealed that many of the collapsed school buildings had been built to subpar standards, leading to allegations of corruption against government officials. This information was shared across the whole country and led to massive protests across China.1

Impact of Technology on the English Language

There are many unusual and wonderful ways technology has impacted our language use. Some people might argue that technology has ruined our ability to be in the moment and have real, deep conversations. In contrast, others would say that technology has enriched our language and given us more communication freedom.

Language and Technology, emoji faces on a dark screen, StudySmarterTechnology has led to extensive language change including the introduction of emojis, Pixabay

Whatever camp you find yourself in, some language changes cannot go unnoticed:

  • Abbreviations and acronyms have become much more commonplace in both written and verbal communication. It is mainly younger generations that use these devices in spoken discourse - acronyms such as JK (just kidding) and IDK (I don't know) are often used in speech as well as text.

  • New terminology has erupted into our vocabularies based on new technological functions added to social media (for example, to 'unfriend' someone).

  • Many English words have been appropriated to mean something completely different online (the word 'troll' can now mean to make fun of someone on the internet in an attention-seeking manner).

  • Technology has generally made our communication style and language choices more casual and colloquial, whether that's in written or verbal modes.

  • Technology has also changed the way we communicate with writing. For instance, WRITING SOMETHING IN ALL CAPS can be interpreted as shouting, whereas lowercase letters represent a normal speaking volume and tone.

  • Technology has led to a rise in multimodality across communication: communicating via different technological applications has given us the ability to combine several modes of communication, including linguistic (e.g. text), visual (e.g. images and colours), gestural (e.g. YouTube videos), and aural (e.g. music and sounds).

Some of these language changes, such as abbreviations and acronyms, have occurred due to technological constraints. For example, older SMS and apps like Twitter impose character limits on what you can write and post, meaning people have had to adapt their language. These methods of shortening text allow people to fully express themselves whilst adhering to technological constraints.

Think about how you interact with technology. Do you feel the need to alter your communication style to fit the technological constraints?

Technology and other Language Topics

As technology continues to develop and spread across our lives, it's only natural that we would start finding links between technology and other facets of linguistics. Just as people of different demographics use spoken and written language in various ways without technological intervention, the same is true for communication aided by technology.

In this last section, we'll look at some of these social factors and how technology has impacted language use within them.

Technology, language, and gender

Just as language use differs across the genders during spoken discourse, it changes when technology is added to the equation. Technology can be a powerful tool in building and sharing one's identity, and gender is a significant factor. Therefore, different genders will inherently make different linguistic choices over social media and other technological applications to consolidate their identity and present it to their peers.

Deborah Tannen (1990) said that women are generally more supportive, intimate and emotional than men2. This can often be seen on social media with the common 'u ok, hun?' comment (meaning 'are you okay, hunny?'). You might have seen someone posts a status on Facebook sharing how they're not feeling their best, and perhaps there was a comment underneath saying something along the lines of 'u ok hun?' or 'DM (direct message) me'. These types of concerning comments often come from women, and by posting such responses, these commenters can position themselves as caring and reliable friends.

Technology, language, and power

In your English language studies, you might have explored the relationship between language and power. In essence, language can be utilised in many different ways and in many different environments to gain, assert, or maintain power. The same is true for language exchanged over social media or other applications.

Power is often linked to technology in how technology allows people to reach different parts of the world without having to travel great distances.

Big international companies and organisations are not the only ones who are able to leverage technology in order to gain or expand power. Every day, people can utilise technology to achieve significant results too, and therefore, technology gives 'the people' power as well.

Technology, language, and age

Linking into the point above, age is a significant factor in language use and this can be seen across technologically-aided communication as well. Younger people tend to use more abbreviations, idiomatic language, and other more recent linguistic features than older people. This is because younger people have known social media and other technological programmes their whole lives whereas older generations have been introduced to them later in life, and have had less time (and perhaps inclination!) to adapt their language.

Older generations are also less likely to understand social media terms such as 'troll', 'meme', 'catfish', and 'emoji' than younger generations, again due to having had less exposure to the technology.

Language and Technology - Key Takeaways

  • Language and technology are inherently linked as no technology could exist without communication.
  • Caroline Tagg explored how technology has impacted the way people connect with one another, finding that technology has made it easier for people to build social networks and negotiate a sense of identity.
  • Naomi Baron says that technology has altered human interactions and attitudes in terms of providing people with more convenient solutions to communication and other daily issues.
  • Gretchen McCulloch discusses how language is used to communicate a need, but that different generations see the aid of technology in this endeavour differently - older generations often have a more negative view of technology whereas younger generations celebrate it.
  • Human Language Technology Applications can help people with all kinds of communication difficulties to communicate more effectively.
  • Technology has strong links to social factors such as gender, power, and age as people from different demographics will use technology to communicate in different ways.

References

  1. Clay Shirkey, How Social Media Can Make History (TEDTalk), 2009
  2. Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, 1990

Frequently Asked Questions about Language and Technology

Language and technology is a sub-topic of linguistics, looking at how technology has impacted language use.

Language and technology are inherently linked, as technology cannot exist without communication, which has affected language use in many ways. People use language to control and instruct technology, and technology alters people's linguistic choices over time.

Language can be used in conjunction with technology in many ways. For example, entering an instruction into a computer programme is a way of using language to communicate with the programme and get it to execute a function. 

New technological features develop, new linguistic features enter our vocabulary and linguistic understanding. For example, technology has led to new words entering the English language, acronyms being used more frequently in spoken discourse, and words appropriated to mean something completely different from their original meaning. 

People with disabilities or other communication difficulties can use technological devices and programmes to help them communicate more effectively. These strategies are often referred to as Human Language Technology applications. 

Final Language and Technology Quiz

Question

What is multimodality?

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Answer

The use of more than one mode of communication in a text to create meaning. 

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Question

What are modes?

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Answer

Different ways in which we can create meaning.

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Question

What are the different types of modes?

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Answer

The different types of modes include: linguistic, visual, aural, gestural, and spatial.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a type of mode?


A. Aural

B. Digital

C. Visual


Show answer

Answer

B. Digital

Show question

Question

Multimodal texts always contain all five modes of communication.


True or false?

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Answer

False.


A multimodal text can contain two or more modes. It does not need to have all five.

Show question

Question

What does the linguistic mode refer to?

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Answer

The meaning of spoken or written language.

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Question

Which mode is the most commonly used?

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Answer

Linguistic mode.

Show question

Question

What does the visual mode refer to?

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Answer

The meaning of what can be seen by a viewer.

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Question

What does the aural mode refer to?

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Answer

The meaning of what can be heard by a listener.

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Question

What is the focus of the gestural mode?

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Answer

The meaning of communication through movement.

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Question

What is the focus of the spatial mode?

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Answer

The meaning of communication through physical layout.

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Question

What are mediums?

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Answer

The forms in which the different modes are carried; the ways modes can be accessed.

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Question

Texts can only have one medium.


True or false?

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Answer

False.


Texts can have more than one medium (e.g. online newspapers).

Show question

Question

What do multimodal teaching methods refer to?

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Answer

 Different ways of teaching that use different sensory modes.

Show question

Question

What are the four modes of multimodal learning?

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Answer

Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, reading/writing

Show question

Question

True or false: language can be used to control, instruct, and modify technology?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

List two ways in which people can use language to get technology to execute its intended function.

Show answer

Answer

  • typing out words or phrases to send as a text message
  • entering someone's bank details into a banking app in order to make a payment to them

Show question

Question

Briefly describe the 6 degrees of separation concept.

Show answer

Answer

The six degrees of separation is the idea that everyone is connected to everyone else by no more than six chains of acquaintance. 

Show question

Question

According to Caroline Tagg, how does technology relate to identity?

Show answer

Answer

Technology makes identity much easier to navigate and present to others, as your online self is easily shareable.

Show question

Question

What effect does Naomi Baron say technology has had on the need to communicate directly with other people?

Show answer

Answer

Technological applications can often take the place of people where seeking and distributing information is concerned.

Show question

Question

What does "always on" refer to?

Show answer

Answer

Most people in the developed world are heavily reliant on technology for daily functions. 

Show question

Question

According to McCulloch, what is the primary function of all language?

Show answer

Answer

To ensure our needs and desires are met.

Show question

Question

What is an example of a physiological need that can be met using language?

Show answer

Answer

A child asking a parent for food because they are hungry.

Show question

Question

What is an example of an emotional need that can be met using language?

Show answer

Answer

Sharing your feelings or opinions with someone, seeking validation or support.

Show question

Question

What is an example of a social need that can be met using language?

Show answer

Answer

Making friends, building relationships, and making memories with people you care about. 

Show question

Question

What is an example of a safety need that can be met using language?

Show answer

Answer

Warning someone of danger or risk.

Show question

Question

What does HLT stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Human Language Technology

Show question

Question

What does HLT refer to?

Show answer

Answer

HLT refers to any technological device or programme that enables more effective communication. 

Show question

Question

List three examples of functions that HLT can enable technology to carry out, replacing humans.

Show answer

Answer

  • information extraction
  • machine-assisted translation
  • speech recognition

Show question

Question

What does writing something in all capitals often mean in online communication?

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Answer

Writing in all capitals can denote shouting or heightened emotions. 

Show question

Question

Name three everyday things we use technology for.

Show answer

Answer

Any from this list (or your own ideas):


  • to communicate with people

  • to organise our schedules and budgets

  • for banking and paying bills

  • to warm and cool our homes and execute other daily functions

  • for creating and distributing media

  • for making and showcasing art


Show question

Question

What two linguistic terms do we often use to describe technological code?

Show answer

Answer

programming language and coding language

Show question

Question

According to Caroline Tagg, the introduction of technology has made it ______ to connect with different people. 

Show answer

Answer

easier

Show question

Question

According to Caroline Tagg, identity is a concrete and unchanging phenomenon. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

According to Naomi Baron, which of these is easier for most people?

Show answer

Answer

Googling the weather forecast

Show question

Question

Who said: 


'Writing has become a vital, conversational part of our ordinary lives.' 

Show answer

Answer

Gretchen McCulloch

Show question

Question

What are four types of needs that can be met using communication?

Show answer

Answer

  • physiological
  • emotional
  • safety
  • social

Show question

Question

Give an example of an existing word that has been appropriated to mean something else thanks to technology.

Show answer

Answer

The word 'troll' can now mean to make fun of someone on the internet in an attention-seeking manner.

Show question

Question

Has technology generally made our communication style more casual or more formal?

Show answer

Answer

More casual

Show question

Question

What is an example of gestural communication on social media?

Show answer

Answer

YouTube videos

Show question

Question

What is discourse analysis?

Show answer

Answer

Discourse analysis refers to the in-depth analysis of spoken, written or sign language.

Show question

Question

Who defined a mode as 

'[...] a socially and culturally shaped resource for making meaning. Image, writing, layout, speech, moving images are examples of different modes'.

Show answer

Answer

Gunther Kress

Show question

Question

Which type of mode covers choice of words, vocabulary, grammar, and structure? 

Show answer

Answer

Linguistic mode

Show question

Question

Which type of mode covers position, spacing, the distance between elements in a text, and proximity between people/objects.

Show answer

Answer

Spatial mode

Show question

Question

Name five different kinds of mediums.

Show answer

Answer

Any from this list:


  • Books

  • Newspapers

  • Radio

  • Television/Film

  • Billboards

  • Theatre

  • Websites

  • Social media posts

Show question

Question

What does 'denotation' mean?

Show answer

Answer

Denotation refers to the literal definition of something.

Show question

Question

What is a connotation?

Show answer

Answer

The secondary cultural meanings we apply to something. 

Show question

Question

Which learning mode would be most effective for people who learn through physical activity?

Show answer

Answer

Kinaesthetic

Show question

Question

Why is multimodal teaching important?

Show answer

Answer

Multimodal teaching ensures that students who respond to different teaching styles will all be able to benefit. Multimodal teaching also makes teaching more dynamic and engaging. 

Show question

Question

Can a person use multiple modes of learning at one time?

Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

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