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July 26, 2012 12:59 AM   Subscribe

Do other languages on the web have as much misuse as English?

Like many people, I continue to be horrified by the poor standard of English on the web, not just in teen chat rooms and sports, music and other fan-based sites but on those sites aimed at intelligent, well-educated users, including (sadly and far too often) (Ask)Metafilter. (For examples, see below - tl;dr). My question is, is this just a phenomenon among English speakers or is it just as bad with other languages? Anecdotal evidence from native speakers of other languages welcome. Bonus points to links of actual sites where this happens. I am not looking for occasional slips, typos or errors made by non-native speakers but a pattern of misuse of said language. Nor do I want to get into a discussion on the rights and wrongs of the misuse of English.

(Examples of what I mean: confusion of (quasi-)homophones - your/you're; they're/their/there; its/it's, lose/loose; misspellings of common words such as accommodate, receive, definitely, weird, supersede, etc.; adjectives used as adverbs (I'm doing real good); common solecisms such as between you and I, off of, most well known, different than)
posted by TheRaven to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Japanese people make mistakes concerning particles and prepositions like "de" "ni" etc. usually due to not knowing logically where there sentence is leading before hand. Then there is this other kind of mistake where they try to make sentences polite by adding incorrectly the polite form at the end, or where ever they please. People nowadays often say "datta desu" instead of "deshita" or "omeshiagari kudasai" which means "Please eat" often written on packages, which should actually simply be "meshiagatte kudsai". Etc. etc...There aren't so many spelling mistakes in Japanese though I think.

On the other hand, I think French speakers are even worse than English speakers when it comes to spelling, since many letters are silent, and often times they become homophones. For example, (Je) serai (il) serait (vous) serez is all pronounced the same. Most of my french friends make at least a couple mistakes in their emails if not a lot.
posted by snufkin5 at 1:26 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ironically, I just made the "there/their" mistake...haha!
posted by snufkin5 at 1:27 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some of your examples are anyway conceptual, and hence transferable to other languages.

Otherwise, yes (a little depending on where on the web).

Don't, for example, assume for a minute that Germans are all the way on top of German grammar, and especially (but not exclusively) of correct Genitive forms. (There's also that joke: "Man gewöhnt sich an allem. Auch am Dativ." Must be based on some type of real experience)

Patterns often show themselves when people who otherwise write little transfer their spoken-language quirks to the screen. In Dutch, for example, you often read 'heeft-heb' or 'd-t-dt'- confusions which will give you that ouch-feeling, while they (almost) slip by in spoken language.

In Swedish, a classic that has now even found its way into newspaper articles is the 'och' and 'att'- confusion. Och means "and", att means "to" (as in "to do"); their slop-pronunciation can be similar, and so people have started to write "och" no matter what. Another one is the wrong use of "vart" for "where". Vart is supposed to be directional, like in "vart ska du gå" - where are you gonna go. Typically, it is faultily used in the phrase "where are you", which is wrong. This used to be typical for the youngster-cellphone-realm, but...well...

[And stuff hasn't gotten easier with the advent of smartypants phones and autobungling tablets. I recently received an e-mail about some scholarly article (not mine. Heh), sent by guru-type senior member of my field, which was absolutely riddled with glitches, while he complained about the poor proofreading of said article; "sent from my iPhone".]
posted by Namlit at 1:49 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

In German, you have the differences between the "old" and "new" spellings. It doesn't result so much in "errors", but confusion. Many older internet users learned the old spelling in school and have been using it for years, some users have learned both in school or were in school during the reform, and the current generation only learns the "new" version. Frankly, years after all that, most people still don't know for sure what's right or wrong and use whatever looks "right".
posted by MinusCelsius at 1:51 AM on July 26, 2012

This is certainly the case in Viet, which is written in diacritics, but a large expat population on English-optimised keyboards often drop them or at least some of them, relying on context to do the work. There is also lots of casual expressions, and so on.

I would be wary, however, ascribing to malice or ignorance, what can be explained by haste, typos, colloquialisms, lingo or slang etc. (gasp! I did my etc wrong!). Additionally I would be especially ginger about making inferences about intelligence and edumacation, as you seem to be doing, based on casual commenting on casual web platforms.
posted by smoke at 2:26 AM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have a Welsh pop musician on my Facebook friends list, and the guy writes really hard-to-read Welsh -- badly spelled, badly punctuated. He also calques English a lot, i.e. just translates expressions word-for-word from English into Welsh rather than using idiomatic Welsh. He's a native speaker of the language in his early 20s, by the way. I'm sure it's what comes out of his mouth transcribed phonetically, and Welsh spelling is somewhat more "phonetic" than English, but yoo kant rite like dat n hav n. e. body reeditt.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:34 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a little philosophical, but these mistakes still exist in just don't hear them (because you're not seeing subtitles of people's understanding of the language as they're speaking) or you're normalising the speech stream (subconsciously ignoring the variation so that you can parse the content).

English may have more of these visible mistakes in writing due to a deep orthography (a very complex spelling system, where letters don't directly and consistently correspond to sounds) and/or the subtle negotiation of conventions over time.* Through use, some of the minor distinctions might be levelling out to one spelling variant for all homophones. For example, because there/their/they're or though and tho sound the same and we don't have a problem distinguishing them in speech, there's not a strong imperative to maintain the spelling distinctions in computer mediated communication (CMC), where ease, speed, informality and most importantly style of communication is more important than conveying prescriptivist ideologies.

As long as other factors are more attended to (such as speed, informality) than prescriptivism you will see less attention paid to correctness. This will be true for all languages in CMC, or any genre and context where there's covert prestige in NOT adhering to a prescriptivist standard.

Prescriptivism isn't inherently bad, and it serves a lot of helpful purposes. In CMC, it's actually useful for knowing what the mainstream conventions *are*, so that speakers can stylistically subvert, play or negotiate them, without having to take direct stances in doing so (because they're focused on other goals, such as conveying a message easily, quickly, etc.).

*Other languages may be displaying more or less of these *mistakes* in writing, for similar or wildly different reasons. Each language is its own little island of convention and structure, but people do the same basic things with it, for the same basic purposes. We all have comparable brains, just different codes for conveying the ideas contained in them.

posted by iamkimiam at 2:37 AM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

[Hi, everyone. We need to keep answers here focused on the question, which is "Do other languages on the web have as much misuse as English?" Some helpful context around this question is okay, but this isn't the spot for debate or general discussion -- however fascinating! Thanks.]
posted by taz at 5:19 AM on July 26, 2012

Swedes write pretty well online, although there is a lot of "talspråk" (spoken language), some filler words (like, kinda, etc) and "särskrivning" or disconnecting words that should be written together (to gether). I don't find their web-writing particularly worse than notes or for example emails that I receive in work context.

If I can generalise wildly for a moment, I think the Irish have more than any others embraced some sort of alternative style of writing for the web and text. My own mother is completely into txtspk, to the point of texting me a single letter (w; for whatever). She would never write a note like that on a post-it though.. Here's an example from my facebook feed: ha ha nah they wer 2 fkin dear haha also hows u ok what u up 2 the day. I think the people involved would all say "it's just the internet!" and tell me to chill out.
posted by Iteki at 5:47 AM on July 26, 2012

The equivalent of English's "LOL" in Thai is "55555555".
posted by deathpanels at 6:09 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My impression of internet Spanish (from Facebook, mostly) is that it's actually worse than English. Every other word is shortened or misspelled (often purposefully, I think). Of course, it's very possibly my Spanish-speaking Facebook friends aren't typical. I have no idea.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:44 AM on July 26, 2012

Yes, I have definitely observed patterns of misuse of French on the internet. In French, perhaps more so than in English, there are numerous instances in which words can sound the same if you say them out loud, but their correct spellings are in fact different. And surprisingly often, careless or ignorant native French speakers will make writing errors that I find egregious: for example, writing "J'ai parler" (I have [speak--inf.]) instead of "J'ai parlé" (I have spoken/I spoke), mistakenly using the infinitive of the verb instead of the past participle because the two forms sound alike. These types of confusions are so frequent, I can find them in the comments of almost any French YouTube video: "Elle à une jolie voix" (She [at/to--preposition] a pretty voice) instead of "Elle a une jolie voix" (She has a pretty voice), "Elle a fais" (She has do) instead of "Elle a fait" (She has done/she did), or "sa" (her/his--adj.) instead of "ça" (it/that--noun). It's mind-blowing to see native speakers make spelling errors like this that completely ruin the grammatical structure of their sentences by replacing one part of speech for another.

Furthermore, people make frequent agreement errors such "Je promet" (I promises) instead of "Je promets (I promise). Again, because most of the conjugations of the verb are actually pronounced the same when spoken out loud, people don't pay attention to the spelling, which is why native French speakers make errors that sound so shocking to the English ear.

And of course, the type of language online is filled with all kinds of shorthand spellings: "c" instead of "c'est," "kand" instead of "quand," "ke" instead of "que," and "2" instead of "de."

When you mix all these types of errors together, it can give you the impression that these people must have never gone to school and learned to write. I think it's a combination of ignoring their spelling lessons in school (not realizing that "fais" and "fait" are in no way interchangeable, or never having learned the patterns of verb conjugation spelling rules) and the inherent difficulty of writing in a language where there are five different ways to spell the same word as you hear it spoken. When we write, we hear the stream of words in our head rather than seeing it, so the correct spelling does not always come out naturally.
posted by datarose at 10:33 AM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, this occurs in many (most?) languages. For Russian, see this Wikipedia article and the "See also" links.
posted by languagehat at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2012

This occurs plenty in Chinese and I suspect it occurs a lot in other languages as well.

In the case of Chinese, there are so many homophones that it's easy to mix them up. For example, 的 (de), 得 (de) and 地 (de/di) often get mixed up; they're usually pronounced the same when used for purposes of linking two phrases/words together. There are a ton of characters that are like this, which leads to a lot of mix-ups.

Of course, because there are so many homophones, there are also plenty of "mistakes" that are instead puns - i.e., 粪青 (fènqīng, shit youth) instead of 愤青 (fènqīng, angry/nationalistic youth). Wikipedia has a fairly nice list.
posted by movicont at 12:05 PM on July 26, 2012

My impression of internet Spanish (from Facebook, mostly) is that it's actually worse than English.

When it's bad, it's pretty bad. Most people, even those with good grammar/spelling, don't use the opening exclamation/interrogation marks (¡ and ¿). Accents and other punctuation marks are usually omitted.
Some short words are substituted for single characters: que = q, por = x.

Many teenagers have a particular style, using zeros instead of o, z for /s/ sounds, k for /k/ sounds, i instead of y, and duplicating some of the letters, specially vowels. Some examples from a popular Facebook page:

Ahhs iiO no las puedo ver xq stoi en mi cel = Ah, yo no las puedo ver porque estoy en mi celular

te kiero mux0 graziaz x zer mi hermana = te quiero mucho, gracias por ser mi hermana

cossitta tee amooo = cosita te amo
posted by clearlydemon at 3:13 PM on July 26, 2012

If it comforts you, graffiti from ancient Roman Italy show that average Romans in the street had a terrible grip on Latin spelling and grammar.

The graffiti on the walls of Pompeii were the equivalent of Youtube comments.
posted by bad grammar at 6:08 PM on July 26, 2012

My experience is that a lot of intelligent, educated German speakers will write phonetically on Facebook to such a degree that if you saw it being done in English, you would assume the person was barely literate or a juggalo.

English is a lot more fussy in its written form than other languages, and correct spelling in casual conversation carries more clout. The rest of the world doesn't really feel this way, and it's hard to say "these people are doing it wrong" one way or the other.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:39 PM on July 26, 2012

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