Discuss some of the ways in which new technology can influence the forms and uses of English.

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Discuss some of the ways in which new technology can influence the forms and uses of English

Technology has been one of the important factors which causes language to change; it is not something which we should think of in terms of occurring in the last 100 years or so but as a concomitant factor with language development. Technology means, in general terms, new vocabulary, words and phrases; new written forms, new genres. These are the most obvious changes and the last really huge technological change for language was the invention of the printing press - resulting in new written forms and the standardisation of English. There have been tremendous technological changes since the middle of the 19th century with the advent of the telegraph; the radio; the television; the telephone; the film and video industry; the expansion of news and advertising and, over the last 15 years, the rise of the computer and Internet. I am going to focus on four of these technological areas to see in what ways they have initiated changes in the forms and uses of English: the production of news; television and radio commentary; advertising and computers and the Internet.

In considering the growth of the daily newspapers it is important to realise that they have come to define the nature of modern news, that they have developed their own discourse structure and learnt to embed texts from a wide range of sources to produce a story. News stories have also developed a time structure which is different to traditional narratives. The technology which appears to have encouraged these forms is the mid 19th century telegraph which enabled news to be transmitted quickly and sowed the seeds of the news industry's primary value: the scoop, almost live' news. The industry's obsession with speed has led to many changes in form compared to other narrative structures. William Brewer, a cognitive psychologist, talks about the way people understand stories; event and discourse structures: the order in which events actually happened and the way they are told in a story. Apparently, the chronological order is the natural way because it matches the discourse structure to the event structure. News stories are very rarely told in chronological order, possessing a quite complex time structure. The reason would seem to be that news stories are not concerned necessarily with immediate ease of understanding but with suspense, interesting and holding the reader's attention, titillating and gossiping - being tangential for effect. William Labov's analysis of the structure of personal narratives is helpful in highlighting these differences. He gives six elements of a personal narrative: abstract; orientation; complicating action: evaluation; resolution and a coda - occurring in this order in a personal narrative in chapter

I of the course reader, Allen Bell observes that with the news, ;order is everything but chronology

/is nothing', [p. 10], It is sufficient to say that news stories are deviant to Labov's elements in many ways: order and omission. They have their own order and reasons for fulfilling and not fulfilling certain elements. For example, the lead sentence in a news story might not set the scene or begin chronologically and, at the same time, it might evaluate events because the function of the lead is not merely to summarise the main action but to focus the story in a particular direction. There are other features worth noting like lack of cohesion [use of words like then, therefore;, however, and] there are false ending in stories - often to allow editorial chopping to reduce length without affecting the sense. One of the most noticeable features must surely be the inclusion of texts from elsewhere in the composition of a story. News is produced against the clock; it is not a solo
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performance but a composite - what Mikhail Bakhtin [1981] calls heteroglossia: the mixing of many voices. This can be in the form of interviews; conferences; speeches; documents; press releases; earlier stories etc. There are a couple of effects on the use of English that are worth noting from the development of news reporting over the years. Bell describes its production as, becoming,

"A serial, along the lines of a fictional television forms like soap operas or situation comedies. It is shifting from recapitulating the day' s events to continuous updating, with television adopting the practice of hourly ...

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