Translating Social Media Slang

[ 0 ] August 3, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Translating Social Media Slang artSocial media may not be the most original thing to write about, but honestly, there is no way to avoid it these days. Social networking sites have become hugely important for almost every company in terms of advertising, not to mention the data mining that happens on so many of them. The interesting thing we are going to look at in this article is the idea that perhaps these sites is creating a language, or several languages, of its own.

We can safely say that Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites are not the first ones to trigger linguistic innovations á la “lol”. As soon as AOL Instant Messenger was created, people were creating newer, simpler ways of communicating. Some of these new acronyms and phrases are still used, like “g2g”, “brb”, “imho”, and others, while many have fallen out of use. They served their purpose at the time, however, and while being used were instrumental in connecting so many people across the Internet.

No social media site is created equal, either. For instance, LinkedIn is not a place where people will feel comfortable communicating in the same informal and abbreviated manner they might use for Facebook. This is largely due to the nature of LinkedIn, which was created to be a sort of professional version of Facebook, where people could connect for professional networking purposes. Facebook, on the other hand, is a bit of a free-for-all where you can post whatever and express yourself however you want.

The development of different  slang is not unique to English, either. Every single community that uses networking sites is figuring out ways to ease communication, and creating new ways of doing so in the process. Something that is becoming more and more common is the mixing of two or more languages in the same post. This is especially difficult for the machine translation engines used to translate, “in bulk”, as much social media content as possible.

Though some may still doubt the impact that Facebook and other sites have had on language in general, it should be pointed out that the owners of Facebook specifically wanted to use a machine translation engine that was built to their specifications. This is because of the complexities and difficulties third-party engines had to deal with when faced with the task of translating status updates, comments, and more. The fact that Facebook and social media in general seem to be catalysts for modifying languages that were not modified much before also points towards a linguistic revolution.

Regardless of whether you agree or not, this is something that translators will have to deal with when it comes to not just translating, but also in helping to design new translation software. If we simply act as if nothing has changed in online communication since the emergence of social media sites, we won’t be able to keep up with the evolution of language and the implications it has on translation at all. Maybe it isn’t as revolutionary as the great vowel shift, but it is still impacting everyone who uses social networking sites, and that is a lot of people.

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Category: Business Translation