The Changing Language of Search

By Herther, Nancy K. | Searcher, January 2009 | Go to article overview

The Changing Language of Search


Herther, Nancy K., Searcher


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Part 1. Nu Speak

In any successful search, you have to consider not only the client's information needs but also the nature of the information in the source database. For example, in studying cultures with oral traditions, searchers face the challenge of determining all the potential spelling variants that might have been used in source documents. Descriptors, suggestions for variant terms, and other advanced search features in databases can help both novice and experienced searchers. However, with the increasing numbers of full-text databases and web- based repositories, finding information is becoming more difficult--reducing one's trust in the comprehensiveness of any search.

And if that weren't enough, besides the constantly changing structures and features of databases, searchers face major changes in language, changes that affect the very nature of the search. This two-part series deals with two important movements: The increasing use of short message systems such as instant messaging (IM) and changes to English as it becomes a global language. As newer words and phrases become common, they add another layer of complexity to the search for information. With these changes expected to accelerate in the future, it's worthwhile to consider both.

Do U Speak Nu Speak, IYKWIM? (Translation: Do You Speak Nu Speak, If You Know What I Mean?)

The international distress signal, SOS (three dots, three dashes, three dots), was formally approved as a worldwide standard in 1908, just over 100 years ago. Having a short signal that could be quickly used and easily recognized across the globe was imperative for rescue efforts. This simple code met the need. Although the Morse code SOS system for ships at sea was replaced in 1999, the use of shorthand symbols and abbreviations to convey information lives on today in the form of Nu Speak--also called net speak, netspeak, chatwords, chat room shorthand, internet jargon, chat speak, tech talk, internet lingo, text speak, geekspeak, net lingo, or chat slang. Add to this the use of emoticons (those graphical and text representations of happy, sad, or other faces to express emotions), and you have the makings of a new type of shorthand.

IM and other short messaging services (such as Twitter) drive the use of this abbreviated language for their quick short messages.. In fact, the standard itself requires this. The maximum single text message size is 140 8-bit characters, including spacing. Add to this the small physical size of the display screens on text messaging devices and you have all the incentive needed to create a new terminology.

Just as SOS was adopted as a way to cross language barriers and provide the fastest possible distress signal, Nu Speak is intended to provide shorthand phrases to make today's text messaging or internet-based communication easier and faster. Like it or not, Nu Speak is becoming mainstream--used in traditional publications (print and otherwise), included in dictionaries, etc., as well as becoming the preferred communication medium for an increasing number of young people.

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With Internet World Stats [http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm] now predicting that more than 1.4 billion people worldwide have access to the internet--and more than 2 billion use cell phones, Nu Speak has become too important to ignore. In the 2004 Pew Internet study, "How Americans Use Instant Messaging," more than four out of 10 Americans (that's about 53 million in the U.S. alone) use IM, particularly the young. If you don't use it (or, even worse, don't understand it), you will probably have problems communicating with anyone under 21 in this new environment.

'I Need Help, LOL!'

Have you gotten any interesting IMs lately? I find myself getting IM-generated emails often. My first appeared in an email about a failed search strategy. …

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