Social Media is Changing Language and Companies Should Adapt
Language has always been fluid. Otherwise, Americans would still be using “thee,” “thine”, and “thou,” and Shakespeare’s plays could remain footnote-free in English-speaking countries. However, the advent of social media, which thrives on abbreviations, conversational colloquialisms, and acronyms, has accelerated the natural evolution of language. That makes it challenging for businesses, organizations, and politics to remain socially relevant.
Similarly, the evolution of social media itself means that, to leverage – and target – their messages accordingly, international companies must know which language-speakers use which platforms.
Social medial language is the same – but different
Linguist David Crystal, author of the book, Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide, argues against the idea that “social media is ‘ruining’ language.” To prove this, he cites the fact that historians can still read documents dating back 300 to 400 years and understand them without the need for translation. In fact, Crystal’s research shows that language has largely remained unchanged for the past several decades, and that roughly 90% of text- and social media-based language still consists of “modern English.”
What has changed, however, is how we express ourselves on social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. For example, we use emojis and symbols that auto-populate from chat boxes (a cute car where you typed “car” or a heart option when you type the word “love”). This can lead to legible texts that look similar to a picture-based word puzzle. We may also use periods to emphasize words, as in, “This.is.not.a.drill.”, or use of ellipses (…) to accentuate pauses or to indicate the lead-in to the reader’s thoughts or intimations.
Some of these changes are easy for linguists to adapt to, others are more difficult. For example, linguists are hardcore grammar-snobs, but we’ve had to learn that casual or conversational language dominates in blogs and social media platforms. This includes the reality that passive language is now the norm (since companies don’t want customers holding them to absolutes that lead to litigation issues) and that sentences often end with a preposition – something that was frowned upon in the past.
All of these subtle but distinct ripples, emanating from how written language translates in the social media arena, are important for those of us who translate for a living; and it’s equally important for companies and organizations using social media – particularly when developing their brand in the international marketplace.
Using social media in other languages
The most common languages spoken in the world are Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi. These are not, however, the most common languages found on social media platforms. According to snaptrends, that distinction goes to:
- Russian – Russian speakers, whether in Russia or elsewhere, use a social media platform called VKontakte (VK).
- Chinese – While most social media platforms are not allowed in China, the Weibo platform is allowed and hosted in Chinese.
- English – the lion’s share of social media platforms originated in the United States or other English-speaking countries.
- Spanish – whether in Spain or in Latin America.
- Portuguese – and not just in Portugal and Brazil.
- and Malay!
Twitter, one of the world’s largest social media platform also experiences an increase in Arabic.
If your prospects speak another language, you’ll benefit greatly by researching the social media platforms most used in that country and adapting your messages accordingly. This can be tricky when you’re working in East Asian languages, which have characters and scripts that aren’t as readily adaptable to social media platforms as Roman characters.
Different words and acronyms pose interesting translation challenges
Another factor worth mentioning is that the advent of technology and gadgets, paired with “less is more” social media modes, have led to the creation of new words and acronyms. For example, the word “Google” is now a verb as well as a brand name (“Can you Google directions to…). Other “new” additions to the English language include, “selfie,” “blog”, and “vlog”. Social media has also brought an entirely different meaning to preexisting words such as “like”, “friend/unfriend”, “profile”, or “status”.
Then, there is the fact that acronyms are only as relevant as the language they represent. For example, your Arabic-speaking clients may not recognize that “LOL” means “laugh out loud” or that OMG means “oh my god”. Other things easily become lost in translation as well, such as B4 (before) or F2F (face-to-face). These seem insignificant when you’re living in the culture/language in which they’re created – but as an international business or marketing firm, you need to have a grasp of what means what for your global target audience.
Not surprisingly, English speakers aren’t the only ones who create their own Internet slang and acronyms. For example, in France or for French-speaking social media users, our LOL is their MDR (mort de rire = dying of laughter), our CU (see you) is their A+ (à plus [tard] = see you later), and our BRB (be right back) is their Je Re (je re[viens tout de suite] = be right back).
Having a handle on the social media acronyms and slang in your target language – and using them naturally – is essential to your marketing strategy and the ability to build a respectable brand image.
Are you looking to work with professional translators who can help you build trustworthy, fluent and meaningful brand recognition across the globe? Contact us here at Chang-Castillo and Associates and we’ll show you why we’re known as the industry’s platinum standard.