Wednesday, March 25th, 2020...21:43

The Linguistic Treasure Trove of Twitter

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Olivia Lenferna

When most people think of Twitter, they simply view it as a place where people go to vent their thoughts, opinions and frustrations to the world in 270 characters or less. It is an avenue for celebrities, world leaders, organizations, and different public figures to interact with the world in a safe, controllable and more personal way. Twitter allows people to react simultaneously in live time whether it is to movies, TV shows, sports, world events or disasters. It is also a place full of internet trolls, divisive opinions, rampant debating (educated or otherwise) and spam posts. Whether you’re looking at the light or dark side of Twitter, linguists can find the silver lining.

With the advent of social media, different ways of communicating are developing. While previously linguistic evidence for dialectical differences had come primarily from oral evidence because written sources often did not reflect spoken language due to standardization (Carnegie Mellon University) social media platforms like Twitter have allowed written communication to evolve (Jamieson & Ryan). These forms of writing behave more like speech than writing with the writers using slang, conversational tone and representing their regional dialects in ways that are both very apparent and ones that are more hidden, requiring deeper investigation.

Social media is an interesting mix of both private and public interactions, public because your posts can be available for any user to see from anywhere in the world but private because most people are writing for a smaller imagined audience, either people that they know or live in the same area (Jamieson & Ryan). This difference between perception and reality leads to a wider audience for the regional dialects that are appearing in the world of social media. Because Twitter invites a different type of writing, it opens up writing to include more creative ways of thinking. One example of a specific regional dialect that is inspiring creative thinking on Twitter comes from Scotland.

More and more, people are looking at their way of speaking and figuring out how to visually represent their dialect, to have their voice come across more authentically (Jamieson & Ryan). Looking at tweets written in Scots, we can see how the tweets really represent the Scottish accent, with even slight changes that can help linguists locate where in Scotland the user is from. Words like “cannot” appear as “cannae”, “canny” or “canna” depending on where you are from. Other specific words like “oot” for “out”, “wae” for “with” and “aw” and “a” for “all” and “I” demonstrate minor changes that create the written representation of the Scots dialect (Jamieson & Ryan). This representation of Scots is also evolving the more that users are experimenting and using the language in this new way, like “didnae” meaning “did not” changing to “deh” to be more like “don’t” (Jamieson & Ryan). Reading tweets coming from Scotland seems like almost another language, visually representing the authentic accent of the Scottish people.

The more obvious differences developing in the Twitter linguistic sphere are not the only things occurring, however. Regional dialects are apparent throughout Twitter, appearing much like they would in everyday conversations and oral communications. While the usual regional differences appear, like “soda/pop/coke” or “sneakers/runners/tennis shoes” or specific regional words like the southern “y’all” or Canadian “eh” there are also smaller differences that researchers are finding while looking at tweets, for example the difference in how a person might spell “cool” informally; from one place the convention is “coo” while a different person otherwise located might use “koo” (Carnegie Mellon). These differences can help researchers “predict the location of a microblogger in the continental United States with a median error of about 300 miles” by using a statistical model that looked at just word use and topic (Carnegie Mellon). As linguists and researchers dive deeper into this research it makes sense that this ability to predict location based on language is going to become more precise.

Linguists are also using twitter to collect data and information on minor differences in regional dialects as well. A group called Tweetolectology is “using data from social-media platforms like Twitter to build an up-to-date picture of how languages like English, Welsh, Norwegian and Turkish are being used right now” (Tweetolectology). By using Twitter, this group of researchers is able to “gather large quantities of localisable data from many places across large areas” (Tweetolectology). Their primary project is currently looking at how small innovations of language are being spread out from a small number of speakers and diffusing to a greater portion of the population. By including tweets as data and twitter as a primary source of research in their projects, researchers now have greater access to wider variation of language use and ways to study how language evolves and how people creatively create new ways of using their language in newer ways of communicating, like social media.

As the world evolves and adapts to the modern age, it makes sense that the language we use in these new mediums changes and evolves along with us. Documented written communication does not just exist in formal pieces of writing anymore as it had in previous eras in the history of English. A new form of writing has developed along with the digital age, one where people are experimenting and considering how to represent their everyday speech visually. For linguistic differences, large or small, Twitter has become a convenient and abundant resource for discovering where these changes are occurring, and how where you live really does affect how you communicate with others.

Works Cited

Carnegie Mellon University. “Regional dialects are alive and well on Twitter: Slang terms likey’all, yinz, koo, coo and suttin predict location of tweet authors” Science Daily, 07 Jan 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110106171011.htm. Accessed 19 Feb 2020.

@_dylanjohnstone. “Just oot the post office n they asked ma auntie if shehad any other ID wae her n she went “av got this keyring that says Karen on it” :))).” Twitter, 17 May 2017, 9:37 a.m.. https://twitter.com/_dylanjohnstone/status/864867575083278336Fox.

“Black Turned on Xiaomi Smartphone” Pexels, 09 Nov 2016, www.pexels.com/photo/black-turned-on-xiaomi-smartphone-226664/?utm_content=attributionCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pexels. Accessed 19 Feb 2020.

Jamieson, E., Sadie Ryan “How Twitter is helping the Scots language thrive in the 21st century” The Conversation, www.theconversation.com/how-twitter-is-helping-the-scots-language-thrive-in-the-21st-century-121783. Accessed 19 Feb 2020.

@Kaneo_67. “Maw keeps buying dark chocolate biscuits knowin fine well am allergic tae ithinkin it’ll stop me tanning them  hink again Alison hen get the epi-pen ready.” Twitter, 13 Nov. 2017, 12:10 p.m., https://twitter.com/Kaneo_67/status/930135778038034433.

@NoamDar. “Canni make a wee comment about the rain in Florida without getting “hey nowwhoa now buddy ain’t you from Scotland buddy?” aye mate but oor rain doesne come wae mad thunder & high speed winds that fling alligators intae yer back door.” Twitter, 14 June 2018, 3:25 p.m., twitter.com/NoamDar/status/1007373597634162688

Tweetolectology. University of Cambridge and Lancaster University. http://www.ling.cam.ac.uk/socmedia/summary.html. Accessed 19 Feb 2020.



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