Correspondents (of the radio kind) have been keeping the phone hot this week in the wake of a report claiming that spelling mistakes on websites can cut online sales by half. I'm not surprised. If website writers don't take the trouble to satisfy the norms of standard English - which is defined chiefly by its spelling, punctuation, and grammar - then they must expect to encounter trouble. People are very ready to make deductions about the background of a user based on language use, and the argument 'carelessness in spelling must mean carelessness generally (and thus an unsatisfactory product)' is applied regardless of the realities. Quite clearly, firms need to employ proof-readers if they sense they have a deficiency in the spelling department. There are plenty of free-lancers out there willing to help.
Interesting research questions still need to be answered. What are the areas of internet activity that generate these expectations? Clearly there are some outputs where deviations from standard English are normal, expected, and valued. And what pragmatic effects does nonstandard usage on the internet convey? One point which didn't get a mention in the BBC report is the way nonstandard English can be an important clue to the dubious origins of a message. Here are three examples of phishing that I received recently, all from someone purporting to be a gmail service provider and wanting my personal details. The nonstandard English provides the clues (some of which I italicize below). There are pointers of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as well as awkwardness of style and inconsistency (eg in the use of capital letters). Probably the whole of the first example should be in italics, given the blend of sentence structures!
(1) 'We make every effort to ensure that we provide the Ultimate Security required for maximum protection because we are detecting unusual activity on some user account, we have decided to protect each account with a user account control to protect user privacy and make sure each user account is not accessed unauthorised.'
(2) 'We have received several complaints from users unable to gain access to their email account, as a result of that, we are upgrading our security systems and making sure each user account is not accessed unauthorised. We do not want you to loose access to your Account since your login information are no longer valid on our database system. Now, the Gmail Account Team need to confirm your profile details below for verification purpose and to confirm that you own this Account.
NOTE: If you would like to continue using our services, please click on the reply button and email us the afore mention details immediately for confirmation and validation. We apologize for any inconveniences. Thanks for Using our Service.'
(3) 'This is an important information regarding your Google account. We have just realized that your account information on our database system is out of date, as a result of that we request that you to verify your Information by filling your account information below.'
As time passes, and people become increasingly experienced in reading and interpreting web pages, they are developing intuitions about the status of the originators. This applies as much to matters of graphic design and choice of style as to content. What we are seeing in these examples is the emerging role of nonstandard English as an index of internet illegitimacy. I expect the same sort of thing takes place in other languages? Examples welcome.