Towards a theoretical Internet linguistics
The purpose of a theory is to explain something. The aim of linguistic theory is to determine the characteristics of human language, and to establish general principles for the study of all languages. It does this by developing models of language structure and use which generate hypotheses whose validity can be tested against our linguistic intuitions or with reference to observable data. The emergence of the Internet does not alter these wellestablished maxims of scientific investigation: it simply provides theoretical linguistics with a new domain of enquiry. The question ‘Why is human language the way it is?’ becomes ‘Why is human language the way it is on the Internet?’ And it prompts the further question: ‘Does the way human language has come to be used on the Internet alter our conception of the nature of language in general?’ In effect, every question linguists have asked about language, in relation to speech, writing, and sign, has to be re-asked with the qualification ‘on the Internet’ appended.