Twitter dialectology

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 11 20:52:47 UTC 2011

Twitter is full of regional 'accents,' study finds
Tuesday, 6:31 AM



Tweeting about what club "y'all" are going to tonight? Must be from
the South. Looking forward to "suttin" special? Then you probably live
in New York. Think that new movie was "koo"? Northern California.

The words you write on Twitter can tell people more than just the
status of your relationship or how you like the latest Bon Jovi CD. It
may just indicate not only how you're living, but where you're living
in the U.S.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University examined 380,000 messages
from Twitter during one week in March 2010 and found that the social
networking site is full of its own kinds of geographical dialects.

Take the word cool. Southern Californians tend to write the shorthand
"coo," while their neighbors up north use the phonetic shorthand

The 4.5 million words the researchers examined were full of similar
examples. Some were obvious _ like "y'all" in the South or "yinz" in
Pittsburgh _ and some more mysterious. The word "suttin" was found
over and over in New York City, a shorthand for "something."

Jacob Eisenstein, a post-doctoral fellow of computer science in
Carnegie Mellon's Machine Learning Department, and his colleagues were
able to analyze the geotags attached to Twitter messages sent from
mobile phones for the study. In all, they looked at 4.5 million words.

"Some of what we found really just confirms previous intuitions, but
some things were much more specific for social media," said
Eisenstein, noting the phrase "very tired."

Northern Californians tend to substitute "hella" for very, whereas New
Yorkers opt for "deadass" tired; those in Los Angeles would be more
likely to follow the word tired with the abbreviation "af" _ short for
"as (expletive.)"

Some of the differences across Twitter can be explained by the need to
write concisely to fit the site's 140-character limit. But others, not
so much.

While using "u" in place of the two-character longer "you" is pretty
common, a lot of New Yorkers do the opposite and lengthen the word to
"youu." Or even emphasize "I" by writing two of them _ as in "II."

Scott Kiesling, associate professor of linguistics at the University
of Pittsburgh, said social media provide researchers lots of easily
obtainable data in which they can explore and examine how people are
speaking. He said the next step is examining whether these phrases
spread like "pancake batter hitting a pan or hop from city to city" _
if they spread at all.

"That's sort of the big question," Kiesling said. He said there's a
burgeoning interest among linguists to study online speech more
closely, and noted a conference this year at Georgetown University
that will be examining language and new media.

Eisenstein said some of the online "accents" mirror those in the
spoken language, but not all. For example, many people in the Great
Lakes region tend to have similar accents when speaking, but that
wasn't necessarily found to be true in the study, he said.

"One thing I think that it shows is that people really have a need to
communicate their identity: their cultural identity and their
geographic identity in social media," he said.



All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

Once that we recognize that we do not err out of laziness, stupidity,
or evil intent, we can uncumber ourselves of the impossible burden of
trying to be permanently right. We can take seriously the proposition
that we could be in error, without necessarily deeming ourselves
idiotic or unworthy.
–Kathryn Schulz

The American Dialect Society -

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