What is this Internet Speech We Speak of?

What is this Internet Speech We Speak of?

By Elise Bryan

No, it’s the period slay hunty finna on god boots the house down chile sis for me. Comment sections on various social media platforms are riddled with these words in strings that are unintelligible to the casual viewer. These words are not new by any means, but have somehow been absorbed by Generation Z as colloquialisms that serve various purposes for which they were not originally intended. I suppose it’s trendy to use these words and phrases on the latest TikTok video, hoping that you’re able to get at least a few thousand likes, however, the misappropriation of verbiage that has been used by black and queer communities for decades is somewhat irresponsible. It is upsetting to see people who do not belong to these communities take credit and receive benefits for something that, when created and used by its originators, garnered nothing but ridicule. For those who are not within the cultural epicenter of fame and success, these words are deemed inappropriate, unprofessional, illiterate, and ghetto –– a complete reversal of the effect white cishet TikTok users experience for using the same language.

What was once a unifying form of communication amongst marginalized black and queer communities, has now become an integral part of the ‘internet speech’ lexicon. Many have argued that the roots of this so-called internet speech are not a direct distillation of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), extracting the most important aspects of the language and doing away with them for they have no innate connection to the people who have adopted them. AAVE, also known more controversially as ebonics, is typically used by working-  and middle-class African Americans. A significant portion of the grammar and phonology can be traced back to rural dialects of the Southern United States due to the historical connection (hint: it’s slavery) between the Southern states and African Americans. The attitude surrounding this form of communication that demonstrates consistent internal logic and grammatical complexity, has been primarily negative. Oftentimes, those who speak in this fashion are well-versed in code-switching, which is essentially switching between AAVE and standard English to avoid ridicule for presumed ignorance or laziness on the account of their grammatical practices.

Considering that individuals who speak in this manner have been disparaged due to their form of speech, the appropriation of this language by those who do not understand it’s significance is frustrating. To make matters worse, I and many other of my peers use these words both on the internet and interpersonally, ironically and unironically. With that being said, they have become such a staple in our daily interactions, without even knowing what they mean, how to use them, or the purpose that they served and continue to serve for their originators. It is almost as though we believe these words represent us as a generation on- and offline, while simultaneously alienating those who first popularized them within their communities despite the often serious repercussions they faced for doing so. 

Our comfort with donning these words as if we were trying on clothes at a local store, not looking at the label to see where they came from or if the materials were sourced ethically is indicative of where we truly are as a society. Trying on different words in a comment section may seem like innocent fun, but it is a means of stripping someone of their native tongue for the amusement of another until it’s no longer of use to us. The discrepancy lies between this generation’s desire to be champions of change while maintaining flippant attitudes regarding the very matters we claim to care about. We frequently talk about this generation being ‘the one to get it done.’ The elusive ‘it’ being world peace, saving the glaciers from melting, or something to that effect. There is a huge responsibility that has been placed upon the shoulders of young individuals who are still, for the most part, trying to find themselves. In doing so, finding the causes we care about and working towards dismantling the systems that maintain their grip on society, are we developing blind spots? The various causes that our generation has been saddled with may be obstructing our view. 

We put in so much work to be politically correct social justice warriors that perhaps the real repercussions of using words like these go unnoticed. Even after reading this some may catch a fright as if the finger of immorality is at long last being pointed at us! Consider for a moment the implications of this epiphany, if we can’t even stomach the possibility that some of our seemingly inconsequential habits are exacerbating the problem, then we are not the solution we aim to embody.

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