|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||Juni 2004|
10.2. Cyberspace - die Verbundenheit
der Differenz: Kommunikation ohne Grenzen
Antonio Ferrero (Turin)
It cannot be doubted that language is in constant evolution, and the lucky definition of the world of communication as a "global village", given by McLuhan, implies the use of a common linguistic code rather than the means of communication: there is no point in being in touch with all the countries in real time if we are unable to communicate. In this sense, the study of the language evolution has an even more relevant meaning, as it is not simply confined to the phonetic translation of a thought or of a foreign language, but has to deal with the birth of a new language, a hybrid brought about by new conditions (electronic communication, elimination of distances) to which each country adapts and above all, thanks to young people, causes the development of a really new linguistic code.
In the age of e-mails, sms, mms, mobile phones, chat rooms, we can question one of De Saussurre's fundamental statements, that is, "a language is a form and not a substance": if it is true that even in the presence of new idioms the parole holds the supremacy over the langue, it is also interesting to see how the transformation of what Jakobson defines mere "informative function" radically affects the content itself. Using De Saussurre's terminology again, le signifiant determines more and more the value of le signifié. In the last decades, the massive and fast introduction of new channels of communication accessible to almost everybody (in particular the Internet and mobile phones) has caused changes, which have already been widely studied. Thus we will not analyse the sociological significance of the new opportunities of information exchange in real time, nor the psychological one due to habits modification, thanks to till recently unknown means (the certainty of knowing who is answering the phone and the identity of the caller even before picking up the receiver). We will see, instead, the linguistic novelties, the new codes introduced or invented and the real or possible consequences.
From a linguistic point of view, the average Italian teenager is able to use a great number of words that his parents hardly know, as these words did not exist until very recently. It may be interesting to sec that they are frequently abbreviations or terms whose meaning and use is perfectly known by a teenager, but whose origin is totally ignored: sms, chat, mms, newsgroup, nickname, etc. have become standard usage among teenagers all over the world, yet few people under 20 know their origin.
Another curiosity is the use of English terms transformed into Italian neologisms already included in dictionaries: all my students perfectly know the meaning of the verb "ciattare", but they probably ignore the translation from the original "to chat". Moreover our language has already absorbed and accepted "cliccare" (from "to click"), and English neologisms such as "emoticons" (fusion of emotions and icons) are freely used. The term emoticons can be considered the highest point of the evolution of a new language made up of abbreviations and images which do not represent young people's adaptability to a pre-existing idiom, but a real new language (indeed, the older generation has some difficulties in understanding and learning it). The means of communication has thus become the aim, since from the Internet and mobile phones a new language has originated, a language created and understood only by those who have already lived in this system of data transmission.
Nowadays the interesting linguistic question is whether this new transversal language - different in each country as regards words and expressions, but similar as regards its development - may significantly affect interpersonal relationships, namely, whether the birth of a new signifiant adapted to an old signifié may change the meaning itself. On the basis of this principle, one of my students at the Academy of Fine Arts in her degree thesis decided to re-write Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet, arranging it into strip cartoons and adapting dialogues and other forms of communication to modem age. The result was a funny story in which the Capulets and the Montagues exchange their threats or love promises through sms, chats, emoticons, video-calls, etc. According to my student, the story had to end as the original play in order to show that, after all, the parole prevails over the langue and the signifié does not change when the signifiant changes. As regards this thesis, I had to respect my student's ideas, although I think the girl, because of her young age, underestimated the immense importance of this new language she has been using since she was a child. I believe that, thanks to such language rather than new technologies, human relationships can powerfully change, not necessarily improve, but however deeply. Indeed, the famous Juliet's "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo/Why are you Romeo?" in the student's sms version of the play "RM Y R U RM?" is not simply a different way of writing the same thing, it is a new language, bearing a different meaning, from which most adults are nowadays excluded.
In view of this, the story of the two Shakespearean lovers would have probably developed differently and more significantly, the way of communicating, speaking and consequently living of today's young people changes daily. The linguistic revolution due to the information technology goes far beyond the creation of slang or new expressions and words bound to be ephemeral like fashions: it is the beginning of a new language that has all the elements of an idiom more and more structured, based on new and different codes, channels and meanings. Above all, this language has a fascinating and disquieting feature: it is more and more threatening to undermine the official language and exclude from comprehension most adults.
If it is true, as Mr. U. Eco writes, that at least a generation is required to conform oneself to epochal changes so that "apocalyptics" can become "integrated", the computer and technological revolution certainly broadens this reality. Thus, shocks induced by the coming of the radio, the telephone, the television have been absorbed with a certain difficulty but in relatively short times, also because their diffusion has not been immediately massive. The Internet and mobile phones, on the contrary, have become widespread and of common use in a very short time, giving birth to this new "computer generation" which does not allow its father's time to conform themselves.
Data are striking: according to research from the University of California, Berkeley, in Europe people exchange, on an average, 30 thousand millions sms a month (1 thousand million a day!); 98% of exchanged data pass through phone lines (mobile phones or Internet). But the datum showing that this is a revolution and not an evolution is that, even if traditional publishing trade is constantly - or so it seems - growing, printed papers only accounts for 0,01% of the total human production of information!
All this, apart from causing a clear change in customs, in the ways of communicating and in the very meaning of interpersonal relationships, brings about also a radical change in lifestyles. Again, according to the above-mentioned research, in the Western world an average man spends 46% of his life watching TV, surfing the Net, and speaking on the phone...
That is to say, except for the hours of sleeping, we spend the rest of our life in a virtual world.
© Antonio Ferrero (Turin)
10.2. Cyberspace - die Verbundenheit der Differenz: Kommunikation ohne Grenzen
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For quotation purposes:
Antonio Ferrero (Turin): ROMEOMONTAGUES@HOTMAIL.COM or the glottological revolution of the new information technology language. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW: http://www.inst.at/trans/15Nr/10_2/ferrero15.htm