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  • Writer's pictureAlexandre Richard

The end of language... as we knew it

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

IKR. Askip. Mav. #l4l - familiar to you or not, those new linguistic constructs are amongst the most frequently used ones by Gen Z.

The younger generations have embraced a new relationship to communication, and within that, reshaped language.

Full sentences, beautifully written paragraphs and grammatical flawlessness are becoming a thing of the past.

What matters most to this new generation is efficiency - conveying an idea as quickly and effectively as possible, even to the detriment of precision.

It can be seen everywhere - and it's backed up by huge numbers:

For many of the billion individuals on Instagram, hashtags are key to ensure/ boost visibility and help curation of content. Amongst my favorite ones (re: speed and efficiency), the hashtag "#me" (315M° tags on Instagram alone). There is obviously a lot to say about the very existence of this hashtag - but that's another topic.

Diving deeper into the matrix: hashtags x acronyms. #l4l (like-for-like) and #f4f (follow-for-follow) are a strong linguistic trick for Gen Z to indicate to the world that they will return the "favor" to anyone liking their post or following their account. The end idea being to boost each other's popularity as per their standards. This took me a whole paragraph to explain, but this idea is obvious to them with 3 characters alone.

Emojis of course. Which, one could argue, are essentially taking us back to the very principles and construct of hieroglyphs. Exploding the core definers of language and semantics as we knew them, emojis' popularity are showing that precision is becoming outdated and that a new golden formula for optimal communication is gradually taking over:

+ The first rule is obviously "encryption". Just like any other generation before them, current teens enjoy using an inside code that is hard to decipher if you're not part of the clan. But they are different in that this generation essentially managed to create a new tongue altogether.

+ immediacy: from the writer's standpoint, an emoji only takes 1 press of the finger. From the reader's standpoint, the icon doesn't need context and takes only one glance to generate a reaction

+ visual stimulation: cognitive studies have proven the extreme power of short/ bite-sized visual stimulation as well as its addictiveness. It's a means to hook people and make them come back for more

+ universality of language (the poop or banana icon, like any other emoji, don't need translation) - an Esperanto of sorts even though it's not exactly how we imagined it back then

+ room for interpretation (the eggplant is a great springboard for free association. It can equally work as a booty-call, a means to remind your spouse to run errands, or a way to show your activism as a vegan)

Below, a highly viral billboard campaign used for the launch of the movie Deadpool in the US. Read: dead + poo + L

In short, a shift from orthography to all-round fluidity:

Wording is pivotal in traditional communication (written/ oral) as words are as close as we can hope to get to successfully conveying the very intricacies of what we deeply feel/ mean. But words are limited and limiting. Which is why the most demanding and self-demanding communicants work hard to find the right word and word association to get as close as possible to their original idea. Once words have been said/ written, they can't be taken back.

The new model is far more fluid and less monolithic: if a combo of several acronyms and emojis are not well-received by your recipient, a bit of imagination will help you fall back on your feetand explain that is not what you meant to say.

It's also a global shift that transcends cultures.

This new language is as prominent in the US as it is in China, France, Germany or Brazil. And it follows the same patterns across regions. I wouldn't know for sure about emerging economies, but I suspect it may be the case for them as well. Just like they experienced technology-leapfrogging, language may have changed overnight as an aftermath of new information and communication tools.

When P&G tries to trademark the most obvious acronyms (WTF, LOL) to sell laundry products, you know there is something pretty big going on. Which is why it's about time we all get on-board with this new tongue. My recommendation being to not be too literal about the above (I am not suggesting to communicate only via emojis), but rather to elaborate from the values/ drivers behind this new language to refine your communication to this audience.

😌🙏🏼⏳🤓 (that's me trying to say « Thanks for your time and interest » but I'm 35yo and not totally fluent yet)

Alexandre RICHARD

Freelance Strategist: Brands + People + Culture

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