Many people are lamenting the disintegration of English and point to cellphone messages, online chatting and the internet as the culprits. They say that the language is being distorted by SMSing teenagers, second-language speakers and mistakes that spread online to all corners of the globe. This worry echoes the fears expressed when any new technology that has an impact on language is introduced; even Gutenberg’s press was not immune from this.

However, the truth is very different: throughout history, people have never read and written as much as they are doing now. Consider your daily work routine: reading and writing emails, reading online news articles and reports, liaising with colleagues in writing, communicating with friends over social networks and SMSes, reading books and magazines for learning and entertainment – the list goes on. Writing and reading are central factors of doing business.

Despite concerns, research has shown that people who SMS frequently actually have better language skills than those who don’t. And it is well known that the more you read and write, the better your command of the language becomes. In other words, there is good reason to be optimistic about the widespread use of English online in our businesses and daily lives.

One of the interesting offshoots of this technological influence is the introduction of new words to the language – and even to the dictionary. Most dictionaries now include “to google" as a way of saying “to search online”. Other additions include “to unfriend”, the Facebook act of removing somebody from your friends list, and even the unusual word “meatspace”, which means “the physical world” as opposed to the digital online one.

There is one valid concern with the widespread and varying use of English: UK and other regional variations may be overtaken by the already-predominant use of American English spelling and grammar. Web usage tends to standardise towards US spelling, which may confuse or annoy other native English speakers, and which may remove some of the subtleties and quirks in regional English. Whether this is a problem or not depends on your point of view. However, it is important for a business to decide which variation it will use for all of its written communication, to maintain consistency and coherence.

What does all this mean for the businessperson? Far from being stagnant and old-fashioned, English is growing and evolving daily – and people who write for business need to keep track of trends and changes, remaining aware of what is happening online.

The University of Cape Town (Law@Work) Business Writing course starts on 30 August 2010. For more information contact Abby on 021 685 4775 or, or visit


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