I admit it — as far as I can tell, I made up the term “eLinguist” and “eLinguistics”.

I don’t say that to mean “Hey, I’m the originator of this term, give me credit where it’s due!”, but rather to mean, “There may be a better word for what I do, but I can’t figure it out”.

One of the most popular terms that floats around is CMC, or Computer-Mediated Communication. This term has morphed into CMD (Computer-Mediated Discourse), and recently CMCMC (Convergent Media Computer-Mediated Communication), among others.

I’ve seen the variety of English that is used online referred to by many names — Online English, Internet English, eEnglish, eSpeak, netspeak, etc. I even called it “Online Written English (OWE)” once, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek attempt to give it a dialectal name.

The point is that, as far as I can tell, we don’t know what to call ourselves, those of us who study Computer-Mediated Communication. Linguists who study syntax are called syntacticians, linguists who study social uses of language are called sociolinguists; I count myself as a sociolinguist, a discourse analyst, but more than those, I am a linguist who studies CMC. We don’t have a fancy name. When I was asked to define myself several years ago, I came up with the term “e-linguist” on the spot, and I’ve used it ever since.

I like the term for a number of reasons. The e- prefix is a shortened form of “electronic”, and really, a lot of the stuff that those who might be dubbed eLinguists do is electronic. We use software to gather our data, we observe virtual communities, we correspond by e-mail and twitter, we publish in online journals. Furthermore, I think it really reflects the kind of tradition I’ve “grown up” in, academically, that being a computer-central one. I did most of my reading of articles online, have typed and printed my papers, even read textbooks online. I submit all of my publications electronically (I was recently turned off by a submission process that required a hard copy — how last-century!), and I correspond with my colleagues in online spaces. I am a native speaker of whatever it is that we call the online version of English.

I’m not saying it’ll catch on, or that it SHOULD catch on, but for lack of a better term, it’s what I use. I’m interested to know what other people who study this field have called themselves.


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