The meaning of e-: Neologisms as markers of culture and technology

Lucinda Jane McDonald
Communication and Culture, York University
April, 2005
 

Abstract


Language has a natural capacity to mark the historical and cultural changes of a community. Ideas, thoughts, new inventions, values and cultural conventions are recorded in our language through the vocabulary that moves in and out of use. New words or neologisms are constantly entering the lexicon and older words are falling out of use. Since the industrial revolution the world has seen massive shifts in the way we live and by extension how we talk about the world. By far science and technology are the most prolific sources of neologisms in recent times, in which the creation and popularization of the internet has played no small part. In particular the prefix e- has spawned a seemingly endless supply of new words such as e-mail, e-commerce, e-solution, e-vite, e-newsletter, e-book, e-publishing, and e-ticket to name just a very few.



This MA thesis considers what the prefix e- means, how productive it is, how we are using e-words and what these words signal about our attitudes towards computers and technology including the influence of the dot.com boom and bust on our language. This research uses combined methodologies from lexicography, corpus linguistics, communication studies, English and cultural studies.



The results support the following key finding; the way we use e-words reflects our attitudes towards both computers, the internet and technology in general and the high tech sector specifically. The frequencies, institutionalization patterns, use of stunt and pun formations and additional meanings all point to frustration with technology in some respect. Economic forces such as the rise and fall of numerous high tech companies are also reflected in our language at first with enthusiasm and then with sarcasm and distain.



This work on neology (the study of new words) represents a new area of academic inquiry as it is balanced at the intersection between several established disciplines such as linguistics, English, communication studies and cultural studies. This research demonstrates that neologisms are a rich resource for understanding not just how our culture is changing but how we are reacting to this change. In summary, it proves that neologisms can act as valuable markers of both linguistic and cultural change.
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