[Ads-l] Article: Linguists Not Exactly Wow About Facebook's New Reactions

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Tue Mar 1 01:58:28 UTC 2016

What are these linguists complaining about?  Facebook's Reactions are clearly aimed at the emotional and intellectual level of Donald Drumpf, the favored candidate of half the Republican primary voters.


      From: ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
 Sent: Monday, February 29, 2016 2:20 PM
 Subject: [ADS-L] Article: Linguists Not Exactly Wow About Facebook's New Reactions
Website: Wired
Timestamp: Feb. 28, 2016, 7:00 AM
Article: Linguists Not Exactly Wow About Facebook's New Reactions
Author: Emily Dreyfuss


[Begin excerpt]
When my 4-month-old son is angry he turns bright red. When he finds
something funny, he makes an alarming gurgling sound. When something
surprises him, he says "Ah!"

You know: Like Facebook.

The introduction of Reactions, a set of five new "graphicons" with
assigned textual meanings, probably isn't supposed to be
infantilizing. The social network just wants people to do more than
"Like" someone else's post. The new kids: Love, Sad, Angry, Wow, and

What do those words have in common? Not a lot, actually. To a grammar
purist, that's annoying. "These words are in radically different
categories," says Geoff Pullum, a linguist at the University of
Edinburgh and contributor to the blog Language Log. "It looks like
syntax is being thrown out the window here and being replaced by
grunts like animals would make."

Syntax, as you might remember, is the organization of words into
sentences. By way of counter-example, syntactic conventions are what
Internet meme languages like Dogespeak or Lolcats abuse. When you are
sad because Monday, you are contravening the syntax of standard
English. Much disappoint.

The Reaction words, though, have different syntactic uses. "Love" is
either a noun or verb, depending on how you read it; "Sad" and "Angry"
are adjectives; and "Wow" is an interjection, expressing astonishment.
Pullum considers "Haha" to also be an interjection, expressing
amusement, but Susan Herring, a linguist at Indiana University who
studies language on social media, sees it as a non-speech sound.

Pullum and Herring agree, though, that the syntax of the new Facebook
Reactions makes no sense. When Facebook asks you to respond to a
status with that set of six words, it's actually asking your brain to
do something that's slightly complicated: to fill in an implied
sentence, or to "predicate" it. Programmatic linguists call this
"inferencing." The problem is, because these words are not the same
category of speech, they require different predicates.
[End excerpt]

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list