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A leading linguist insisted today that that the destruction of the English language by perceived abuses on the World Wide Web was "not remotely likely".

Speaking at the Royal Society of Arts in London, Dr David Crystal chose rather to highlight ways in which the Web "is giving a creative range to the language", while conceding that it is having "an impact on languages quite unlike any previous technology".

One example of this impact is the instant dissemination of new words: "A new word coming in in the morning can be on everyone's screen in the evening," Dr Crystal noted, adding that such possibilites were "fostering language change in a way that was not possible before."

Although seemingly spared the cruel fate of death at the hands of geeks and chat room devotees, Dr Crystal stated that although English currently accounts for around 70 per cent of Web content, this would fall as speakers of other languages acquired Web technology and expertise.

One positive result of this trend would be the international dissemination of endangered languages. There are currently around 1500 languages represented in cyberspace.

Dr Crystal's 60 or so published works include The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and, more recently, Netspeak - an analysis of English on the Web. He held a chair at the University of reading for ten years and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He was awarded an OBE in 1995 for his services to the English language.

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