TEK SPK: Language change over time

TEK SPKPicture credit: Kamyar Adl

By Sammy King

I was never really one for History lessons at school – they typically involved trying my best to avoid completing yet another comprehension study on Nazi Germany and instead attempting to impress the girls of the class by being a complete sod to the teacher. Well, here I am about to dole out a healthy slice of history for all to see. Miracles can happen.

The evolution of language is a fascinating thing. It is an entirely fluid entity, forming stems and tributaries of new words, phrases and grammatical structures to reflect the times that we live in. One of the key influences on language evolution is technology – something that we are obviously very close to here at AnalogFolk. As we find new ways to communicate with each other, the message changes with the medium.

This has never been more critical for brands, as the rush to frequent new platforms and channels has created a need to understand the nuances of communicating with your audience on each. Get it right and you can be authentic and relevant. Get it wrong and you look like a dad at a disco.

What TEK SPK means for brands

Evolving language is something that all brands should be aware of, however it is also something that should be considered with caution. While there are many benefits of communicating on the same level as your audience, there are also pitfalls of getting it wrong. Below are the three key points that you should consider when adapting your tone of voice online.

Be true to your brand

First and foremost, you should be considering how your brand should be speaking. If your brand were sitting around a table with you and your friends, who would they be and how would they be speaking to you? If they wouldn’t be calling you ‘bae’ then you shouldn’t be using it to speak to others.

Think of your audience

Is your audience going to react well to your use of language? Is it going to feel authentic or relevant, or even amusing and ironic? Understand how they speak with each other - and how they talk about other brands - before entering the picture.

If you can’t do it well, don’t do it

There’s nothing worse than making a half-cocked attempt at trying to adapt your speaking style to fit in when you clearly don’t. Make sure that your audience doesn’t feel as though you’re using their language to talk to them without fully understanding the codes of their communication. You’ll come off much worse.

Back to the history lesson...

Now for a quick and informal dance through history to get your pulses racing. To showcase how technology has played a part in altering our methods of communicating with each other over the years, I’ve picked out some of the key moments that have helped define language today.

1440: The Printing Press

First created by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, the first mass-produced printing press lead to a huge change in the way knowledge was disseminated. Prior to this, scribes would hand-copy a few books a day, whereas the Gutenberg Press could churn out a vastly superior amount.

This lead to a democratisation of knowledge across Europe as previously unobtainable classical texts were now readily available for people to read and discuss. It also lead to the decline in Latin as the go-to language of the written word, instead leading to the rise in regional languages finding prominence on the page. Printers also tried to establish a standardisation of how words and grammar should appear – one of the key texts was Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary (1755), often referred to as the most influential dictionary in the history of the English Language.

1876: The Telephone

It was March 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell first spoke into his newly invented telephone and said, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” As well as being the demanding type, Bell had ushered in a new era of two-way spoken word electronic communication.

With this new technology there came a new set of rules. People had to adapt the way they spoke to accommodate for the lack of body language for them to react to. Instead of holding free-flowing conversation, phone calls followed an invisible pre-arranged script that still holds true today. Like the way that the person who receives a call always speaks first or that often when one person is speaking, the other will give positive feedback like ‘Mmm’ and ‘Yes’ at certain points.

1992: The Text Message

Text speak has been given a tough time by a lot of people, with much of the press (read the Mail and the Express) keen to label it as the death of language. In fact, it is an incredibly clever way of adapting language to evolve with changing circumstances.

The first text message was sent in the UK in 1992 and by 1998, there were over 5 million text messages being sent every month. In those days – crikey, that makes me feel old – phones had small keypads and required huge amounts of button bashing to send a text. SMS messages were also fairly pricey, with a 160-character limit. These factors lead to the rise in text speak as a quick and effective way of communicating via mobiles.

Some of the key features of text speak are:

  • Abbreviations (e.g. ‘Pls’ instead of ‘please’)
  • Acronyms & initialisms (e.g. ‘ASAP’ & ‘TB’ – this was ‘text back’ if you can remember)
  • Hybrids: compounds of numbers and words (‘2moro’)
  • Varied sentence structure (e.g. missing words)
  • Punctuation (e.g. missing full stops)
  • Emoticons

2015: The Internet Now

There are so many different platforms, devices and channels that form the world wide web today that it’s almost impossible to isolate individual elements that have contributed to language evolution. There are a multitude of smaller communities that each use and manipulate language in their own unique way – a sign of ownership and belonging as part of the group. From Directioners to Quickscopers, each are unique.

In addition to words appearing and evolving, visual languages have developed that have become a mainstay of our everyday lives. These vary from shared-cultural references (image macros and memes) to emojis, the latter a recent phenomenon in regards to its prominence in Western communication – only having really made a solid impact from 2011.

2020: The Future

So where will language and technology go from here? The continued search for brevity would suggest that communication will continue to become even more concise and to the point. Perhaps elements of haptic feedback (communication through touch or vibrations – a feature of the Apple Watch) will become prevalent like some sort of bizarre full circle to Morse Code. Or perhaps we’ll communicate exclusively through GIFs of late 90’s TV shows? No? That’ll just be me then.