Whether they’re blocking out the haters or have been to oovoo javer, people have been doing it for the Vine since its debut on January 24, 2013. Now, this sentence might come across as a little confusing to some; it might not make any sense at all! That could be because most of the content of the sentence came from Vine, a popular video sharing app used by teenager from 2013 till its closing in 2016. Users could upload six second videos of whatever they wanted; fresh avocados, freestyle dancing, roommates, uber drivers, or dropping croissants.
Whatever was going on in their lives, Viners could share with the world. Some of these Vines made a bigger impact than anyone expected, going viral and slowly creeping their way into our conversations, and some, like the phrase “on fleek” have even made it to the dictionary.
Teenagers, and anyone who frequently spends time on social media apps, use vine quotes, movie quotes, and meme references in their speech every day, most of the time without even realizing it! However, when a member of an older generation listens in on younger conversations, they are often confused, because they are unfamiliar with the context, which has to do with personal experiences and influences of the younger generation.
This is quite similar to if an Old English speaker, perhaps an Anglo-Saxon, were to listen in on a conversation between individuals just a few decades younger than themselves. The Anglo-Saxon would be confused as well! Language is always changing and adapting to the world through its experiences, successes, tragedies, and events, which leaves today’s version of English more diverse and vast than ever before.
This pattern is showing no sign of slowing down.
Conversations from each generation to the next can be easily “lost in translation” by an outsider looking in, due to the experiences each cohort possesses that the outsider does not. This paper will shed some light on some of the ways and reasons that media has influences our language, and how it has affected this generation of English speakers. Before I can begin to unpack all the ways that language has changed because of the media, we have first understand what language change is. It is defined as “the phenomenon by which alterations are made in the features and the use of a language over time.” (Nordquist, 2018). A few linguists refer to this change as “corruption” or the “degradation of a once great language” (Wikipedia, 2018), but most linguists describe it as neither good nor bad, but simply just a change.
Social class, ethnic groups, and gender are the biggest factors that play a role in variation of a language, shaping and molding each aspect of conversations to be unique and diverse. However, one of the biggest, and often most unconscious influences on language change is media. Whether it’s social apps, music, movies, or television, each has had an enormous role to play in shaping our modern version of English by influencing our use of bad language, jargon, dialects, catch phrases, slang, vocabulary, and acronyms. During a recent survey of American families, it was concluded that 95.9% of households in the United States have a television (Nielsen’s National Television Household Universe Estimates, 2017). This means that most of those families have access to a wide array of programs, shows, movies, and documentaries to occupy their free time. Based on a study in 2010, profanity on television has risen almost 70% in the previous five years (Foust, 2010).
This profanity includes the usage of muted f-words, along with many other inappropriate words, which had increased from eleven occurrences in 2005 to nearly three hundred in 2010, and the usage of “anatomical and sexual references”(Foust, 2010), which had increased significantly during the family hour (8:00 pm – 9:00 pm, ET). In a study of 223 American middle school students, one study found that the children “exposed to more profanity-laced TV shows or video games” (Norton, 2011) proved to be more aggressive, physically and verbally, towards their peers. According to the lead researcher on the study, Sarah M. Coyne, none of this information proves that televised coarse language necessarily causes bad behavior, but just bad language in the kids themselves.
Coyne advises parents to closely monitor what their children are watching and playing, because we tend to become “passive viewers”, meaning that because coarse language is so prevalent in television shows, older viewers begin to tune out profanity when we hear it and forget the impact it could have on younger minds that are still developing their language use (Norton, 2011). In a survey of over 800 individuals in Great Britain, another study found that 68% of the participants believed that profanity in television has risen significantly in the past decade, and 76% believed that this rise is having a negative effect on the public’s use of profanity in casual conversation (Lyle, 2010). Media platforms, such as Vine, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook often do not censor profanities that are shared by users, further increasing the reach of coarse language, and making it more mainstream than ever before.
This is known as conversational swearing, where expletives are used simply as filler words in sentences and conversations. This is mostly used among adolescents, and according to Timothy Jay, a leading scholar on cursing in the United States, the average teen uses about 85 swear words a day on average. Jay also states that this shift in the use of curse words is “just different, not better or worse. Cursing is a natural behavior learned from family members and the environment; It starts as soon as they learn how to talk. At a young age, they’re attentive to it. When the TV swearing to be funny or when you’re angry, that just draws them right to it.” (Glover, 2008). While media is not the sole influencer of bad language in society, it has definitely helped make it more mainstream and casual than it has been in recent years.