October 2017
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Language changing with technology

Language changing with technology

Along with each new technological development, whether the development is mobile phones, cars, or computers, comes a new vocabulary. What is notable about the new and not-so-new technological vocabulary is its sheer size and volume. Perhaps that is not so surprising given the impact that computers have had on most of us working and living in the computer world.

But lest we forget, access to the Internet varies from country to country and within each country. Only 2.5 percent of the population in Uganda have access to the Internet; in Nigeria the figure is 11 percent; in Brazil the figure is 50 percent; in Ecuador 1.1 percent; in South Korea the figure is 77.3 percent; in Nepal those with access is 1.4 percent; in Germany 67.7 percent of the population has access; the figure is 45.9 percent in Greece; in Yemen 1.4 percent of the population has access while 72.8 percent in Israel have access (Figures from Internetworldstats on the Web). People traveling in cyberspace remain the few in some places, while in others, they are the many. Given that only some of the global population has access, it is unlikely that those without access use the same vocabulary that those with access do.

In the United States, approximately three quarters of the population has access to the Internet at home. Only 38 percent of Americans in rural areas have broadband. That is compared to 57 percent in cities and 60 percent in suburbs (Figures from Cetfund on the Web), and this distinction between those with and those without access has generated a new term, the digital divide. While the term digital divide may specifically relate to the gap between those who have computer and Internet access and those who do not, the term is only one in a series of terms that has been used for describing the haves and the havenots and the insured and the uninsured.

A significant number of technical terms, such as digital divide, are not newly coined words. These terms are words with new meanings such as spam, download, vaporware, surfing, zip and virus. Spam, for example, is the name of a canned Hormel meat product, which I suspect many avoid as if it carried the plague. According to Wikipedia, Spam is made of chopped port shoulder meat with ham, salt, water, sugar and sodium nitrite, and sales of Spam have increased in the current economy. The bottom line for computer spam is something you do not want, junk, something to trash.

Technical language can be subdivided into term categories. We could talk about Internet, hardware, software, and technical terms. We could also have a list of technical acronyms and the non technical acronyms that abound in email messages. I imagine that many of the Internet, hardware and software terms would be familiar to computer users.

Suppose we look at the term multitasking. The term originally referred to a computer that could perform several tasks at the same time. As words are apt to do, multitasking soon morphed from one meaning to another. From a computer term, multitasking became a general term that was applicable to individuals performing more than one task at a time. The ability to multitask is generally a prerequisite for getting an office job in today’s offices.

One of my favorite terms is motherboard, which is the main circuit of your computer. From what I know about technical terminology, using either the word mother or father is not the norm. Motherboard first appeared in a 1971 British article with the term daughterboards, which were secondary boards. These daughterboards have disappeared from technology, and fatherboards, sonboards and auntboards have not been generated. What I find intriguing is that the that the term has stayed and remained central to the computer. This “mother” functions well and is in command of our systems.

Technological terminology is a gold mine of words and language change, and we hope to present more ideas in the near future.

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