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Linguistic Trends in the 2010s

in Language Connect

It was the decade that brought us Game Of Thrones and Angry Birds, Brexit and President Trump, smartphones and cloud computing – the 2010s saw controversy in politics, mind-boggling scientific discoveries, and giant leaps in technology that will change our lives forever.

Although things might have moved at a slightly less frenetic pace in the world of language and linguistics, change has been happening nonetheless. So as we close the door on the last ten years, let’s take a look at the linguistic trends that shaped the 2010s.

Social media altered the English language

Social media went mainstream in the 2010s, and with it, increased the volume, speed, and frequency with which we are able to communicate. Tweets, Facebook status updates, and Instagram posts replaced, to an extent, individual conversations, and, in turn, gave us the freedom to use the English language in whichever way we choose.

One notable effect of this has been the appropriation of existing vocabulary to mean something else in the online world, which has then trickled down into common use. A tablet is now widely accepted as a portable device, streaming refers to watching a video or listening to music in real-time, and a wall no longer protects your house but is where your Facebook posts reside.

Similarly, a whole host of new words and phrases that started life on social media have made their way into our everyday vocabulary. LOL (laugh out loud), FOMO (fear of missing out), selfie (a photo of yourself taken by yourself), and srsly (seriously) were even added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Srsly!

Emojis transformed the way we communicate

Although emojis aren’t new, over the last ten years their use has exploded. Introduced in 1999 as a simple set of 176 pictograms, now, more than 3,000 of these little characters exist and it is estimated that they are used over 700 million times a day in Facebook posts alone.

Although not a replacement for language, emojis have changed the way we interact. Used in messaging, social media, and email, they augment communication by expressing a greater range of emotion than is possible with limited words or characters.

Emojis allow us to convey tone of voice and can help avoid miscommunication in a world of rapid chatter. It’s no surprise then, that the top ten most used emojis are largely facial expressions, hand gestures, and hearts – those used to depict emotion.

Machine translation technology experienced a radical shift

Scientists have been working on machine translation since the 1930s, but the output of their early efforts was unreliable and ambiguous. In the 1990s, new methods emerged and accuracy increased, but it wasn’t until the 2010s that rapid advances in technology brought the quality of speech recognition to unprecedented levels.

Artificial intelligence, and more specifically deep learning have caused a radical shift in machine translation capabilities, vastly improving quality and increasing its use.

Although human involvement is still essential for generating highly-accurate, professional translations, online content can now be simultaneously translated into a language of your choice at the click of a button, text from images can be read and translated in real-time, and your phone can double as your own personal translator just by speaking into it.

A note of caution, however: word-for-word translations, no matter how accurate, can often miss important cultural nuances. This is why businesses should always look to ensure that their messages and materials are being transcreated, rather than just translated.

English remained the dominant global language

English is spoken by an estimated 1.5 billion people around the globe, though just 400 million of those are native speakers. It’s still the world’s lingua franca – the language chosen when both parties have different native languages – and despite impressive economic growth from China, has not been toppled by Mandarin.

The continuing rise of the internet over the past decade has been partly responsible for the continued dominance of English. As of the end of 2019, English was the most common language for content on the Internet by some margin, used by 56.9% of the world’s top 10 million websites.

Technological advances further bolstered its prominence. The world’s top ten most popular programming languages are English-based. Interestingly, Python – the technology behind Instagram, Spotify, and Netflix – was created by a Dutchman. Despite being a non-native English speaker, he chose to develop Python in English, demonstrating the stronghold the language has in global importance.

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