I’m an 18-year-old girl who is currently in high school. And I believe that I’m at the forefront of a formative movement in new uses of language. My age group — given the nickname Generation Z (anyone born after 1996*) — knows two voices:
- The proper, this-is-what-we-learned-in-school language and
- The improper but slightly more fun this-is-what-we-learned-on-the-Internet language.
Not only do we know both languages, but many of us have become effective at knowing when to implement which voice.
Newsflash — both voices serve a purpose.
At school, teenagers learn the “right way” to write papers and communicate with a group of people, as has every generation before us. We learn the skills to write and speak with formality, respect, and precision. From research papers to student emails, we learn to structure ourselves.
This type of structure, along with all of its MLA–formatted glory, depends upon Gen Z learning how to be careful with words. I, for one, go through four or more drafts of each history paper I write before submitting that final draft to my teacher. I know that the school-taught version of language offers a lot, namely helping me gain the respect of authoritative figures and perfecting my message.
Here’s what makes Gen Z different: Due to basically growing up on the Internet, we realize that formality is not the only way to achieve effective communication. We have busted down a door, in a sense, of what we and the world consider “proper” language.
Look anywhere on social media platforms, and you’ll find the generation of kids who speak boldly about, well, all of their opinions without fear of holding back. We’ve learned to concern ourselves less with “proper” grammar and spelling, and more about the message we want to get across. I see my fellow Gen Zers taking on this new attitude toward language because of instant access. We’re accustomed to getting information fast in bite-sized formats.
So, when we put our own voices out into the world, we understand the effectiveness of bold statements, short words, and slang that our peers can relate to. Familiarity is key, which is why Internet–popularized phrases like, “no cap” (I’m not lying), “bet” (For sure!/Cool!), and so many others work well when we want to communicate with our peers.
Even big corporate communicators and advertisers have noticed the validity of this “Internet” language. Just take a look at the Wendy’s Twitter account. On August 19, 2020, they tweeted “Been working on the ol’ photoshop skills. Hit us up and we’ll spice up your profile pic.” With this tweet, Wendy’s is speaking Gen Z. They’ve used short sentences, slang (“hit us up”), and technology that Gen Z is quite familiar with (photoshop) to promote themselves.
Notice how they don’t even mention those signature square burgers or their red-headed mascot girl. They’re talking about a part of our lifestyle, and they’re speaking in ways we relate to. These techniques result in high engagement from their online audiences who want to interact with media that sounds and feels like something their own peers post.
I look at these uses of language and communication from a big-picture perspective.
To be successful and respected in professional situations, I need to know how to articulate myself in a manner that my English teachers are proud to see. Yet, my generation finds more and more ways to express ourselves to the world through our own adaption of language. We know that the world is moving in a more fast-paced, Internet–based direction. And we show that shift through our own style of communication. Being fluent in both styles of communication is a strength.
I, along with the rest of my generation, can use this fluency to our advantage. And we’ll continue to evolve with it as we move forward into new jobs, an ever-changing political climate, and a technologically inclined world.
* Source: Pew Social Trends