Articles

Vocabulary and Spelling on Facebook

In Serious fun stuff on May 14, 2011 by azybazy Tagged: , ,

Introduction and Literature Review

The aim of this research is to explore the ways in which the informal nature of conversations in the Digital Discourse of Facebook is having an effect on the use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling. This study shall analyze conversations that take place between friends on a personal level in order to identify the significance in the use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling due to the casual and electronically mediated nature of these conversations.

Davis and Brewer (1997) mention that the Digital Discourse is a relatively new form of discourse with certain peculiarities. They mention that language used in the Digital Discourse is similar to a conversation that presents a number of performance features such as repetition, direct address, disfluencies, and markers of personal involvement. Moreover, Crystal (2003) mentions that the electronic medium presents us with a channel which ‘facilitates and constrains our ability to communicate in ways that are fundamentally different from those found in other semiotic situations’. As a result it is evident that the Digital Discourse is changing the way in which individuals think and interact. Consequently, it is redefining the spatial and temporal parameters of the interaction it mediates which in effect is transforming the way individuals write in particular (Abdullah, 1998).

Tornow (1997) in his study mentions that the languages used in the Digital Discourse is blurring the past distinctions between writing and talking. He also describes the written interaction that occurs in electronic mail and on-line courses, for example, as a kind of “written talk,” while Davis and Brewer (1997) use the term “electronic discourse” to refer to written talk. Significantly, Tornow also shows the way in which language used in the Digital Discourse includes terms from different disciplines occurring as conversations across disciplines becomes more accessible through networking. I believe that this is a very important finding as it creates a distinction between the language used in a Digital Discourse from another form of discourse. Consequently, it is a feature of the digital medium that creates this distinction. Hence this study is also significant as it shows the way in which language is influenced by users according to the medium of communication.

Sims (1997) notes that the language used in the Digital Discourse of e-mail is deliberate in that the writer has the opportunity to plan and organize the discourse. Yet, it has some of the spontaneity of oral discourse in that most of the users reported spent livery short spans of time planning and revising electronic mail messages. Therefore, she states that it is spontaneity that leads to misspellings and the use of unconventional punctuation, diction, and capitalization in electronic discourse. I believe that this is also an interesting study as it highlights the factor of spontaneity as the cause for the type of language used on this particular Digital Discourse. I shall attempt to identify through this study whether it is only spontaneity that results in the patterns of spelling within the Digital Discourse of Facebook. Moreover, Crystal (2003) in his study introduces the concept of ‘Netspeak’ and displays features that are unique to the internet which are encountered in emails, chartrooms, web and virtual worlds.

As mentioned previously, the aim of my study is to explore the ways in which the informal nature of conversations in the Digital Discourse of Facebook is having an effect on the use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling. There has been one study conducted by an undergraduate named Russ on Facebook although there have not been seminal studies on this topic of research. Russ’s study examined lists of the most common words, frequency rates of various terms, message lengths and other similar topics related to the ‘Facebook walls’ according to College of Arts and Sciences website (2010). In his study he identified that the most common word was “I,” followed by “you,” “to,” “the,” “and,” then “a.” Additionally, he also found that Facebook conversations are relatively colloquial in tone and have a particularly large amount of neologisms, slang words and typos. I personally feel that this study is not of significant consequence although; it does provide a clear understanding about the type of language that is predominantly used on this social networking website.

Hence my study shall contribute to the cumulative research on Digital Discourses by analyzing the significance in the use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling used in the social network of Facebook. In doing so, it proposes to enhance the research already conducted on Facebook by highlighting the existence of words that emerged as a result of the nature of this social networking website. Consequently, this study could possibly be used as a foundation for future research in this area due to the lack of research on the language used on the Digital Discourse on Facebook in particular. Moreover, I believe that this topic of research has the potential to identify novel features that have not been pointed out in other linguistic studies. This is because the subject population of this study has not been analyzed much in comparison to the age group of this subject population in a first world country. Moreover, this study is also significant as it attempts to identify distinct patterns of spelling on Facebook that do not belong to the traditional conventions of spelling.

Subject population

This study is based on a corpus of informal conversations initiated by twenty Facebook users who reside in the Colombo district. This subject population belongs to the age group of twenty to twenty five. Furthermore, they consider English as their first language

This particular group of Facebook users was chosen to provide a relatively fair representation of the subject population to the best of my abilities. Furthermore, these particular individuals were also chosen due to the advantage of observing their use of language in their natural state as I am their friend on Facebook. Therefore, I have access to their personal accounts and the conversations they have with their friends whom I may not necessarily know. Consequently, this feature of accessibility shall contribute to this study greatly due to two reasons. Firstly; it shall pave way for the exploration on their use of language on several occasions. Secondly, the data that is collected is invariably authentic as they are conversations the individual in the subject population had with another.

The limitation of this subject population is that due to its inclusion of only twenty Facebook users, the research findings of this sample is not fairly representative of the Facebook users who live in the Colombo District. Furthermore, due to the time constraint on this assignment, it was hard to increase the number of Facebook users within this subject population.

Methodology

The data on the language used on Facebook was collected by analyzing a corpus of forty Facebook status updates, forty Facebook photo comments and forty Facebook wall posts of the subject population. For purposes of proportion and fair representation, two Facebook status updates, two Facebook photo comments and two wall posts written by each Facebook user included in the subject population were included in the corpus of this study.

All posts were collected on the 25th of July from the profiles of the Facebook users who belong to this subject population. Data was collected on a particular day purposely, in order to eliminate the chances of only including posts that were unique and unconventional. Thus the data collected is reasonably representative of the language used on a frequent basis.

Data Presentation and Analysis

The collected data indicates significant use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling on Facebook. Moreover, the information from a linguistic perspective highlights that the language used in this social networking website is mostly colloquial, informal and is vested with unconventional use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling.

This study identifies five types of vocabulary usage on Facebook. The data collected indicates that slang words are used to a great extent for purposes of communication and informality. Interestingly, the slang words that are used are not only restricted to the English language alone but also to Sinhala and Tamil. The slang words that are used mostly in English include ‘buddy’, ‘fuzzy’, ‘chilling’, ‘hungry jacks’, ‘sappy tearjerker hits’, ‘shopaholic’, ‘sexy stud muffin’, ‘darn’,  and ‘chuddered’. Sinhala slang words include ‘aiyo’, ‘aney’, ‘kiyanna ko’ , ‘ado’ while the Tamil word ‘appa’ was used at the end of the phrase ‘what appa’. Interestingly, the use of an English and Sinhala word together such as ‘godey shit’ also highlights an interesting phenomenon within the Digital Discourse of Facebook.

Words such as ‘hungry jacks’, ‘sexy stud muffin’ and ‘darn’ are not commonly used in Sri Lanka although Sri Lankans do use English slang words in their conversations. These words that are commonly used in America are perhaps used within this subject population due to the global presence of Facebook and its feature of enabling to have friends from different nations. In effect, it is evident that cultural transformation is taking place with regard to the use of vocabulary due to the above features of Facebook. Henceforth, I argue that the vocabulary used in this networking website helps individuals from different nations share a common ground.

The above feature can also be attributed to the use of abbreviations in place of words for purposes of communication in Facebook posts. Abbreviations such as ‘lol’, ‘omg’, ‘ttyl’ and  ‘gbu’ were very common in most of the posts that were analyzed. Interestingly, Driscoll (year unknown) in his study that analyses the language used by players of Action Quake II also mentions that ‘lol’ and ‘rofl’ is commonly used in the digital discourse of gaming as well. Henceforth it is evident that the vocabulary used in the Digital Discourse promotes a sense of solidarity through the use of vocabulary. Although the abbreviations can be considered as a form of a ‘dialect’ of the online community, the use of slang specific to nations is a phenomenon that highlights the interconnected nature of Facebook users due to its medium. Thus I argue that the vocabulary used in Facebook is not contextualized only to a specific region and therefore assists in creating a ‘global community’.

Thirdly, this study also highlights the way in which vocabulary is used to reflect actions and sounds that usually take place in a spoken discourse. For example ‘*happy dance*’, ‘*squishes*’, ‘*big sloppy kiss*’, ‘*sigh*’, ‘*rolls eyes*’  clearly indicate that these words function as a form of ‘written talk’ as pointed out by Tornow. This is because they attempt to bridge the gap between the written and spoken discourse. Furthermore, words that denote sound such as ‘eeeek’, ‘grrrrrr’, ‘hmmm’, ‘eeeya’, ‘mwa’, ‘ouch’, ‘sheesh’ also function in the same way. I believe that this is a very significant factor about Facebook as it attempts to incorporate characteristics of both written and spoken discourse within a Digital Discourse.

Fourthly, this study identified two words that were specific to Facebook alone. The word ‘epic facebook rape’ indicates the concept of a Facebook account being hacked whilst the word ‘facebook whore’ indicates a person who monitors every message, photo upload and status updates of another. I felt that it was very interesting to note that both the words that relate to concepts in particular to Facebook is metaphoric and related to sexuality. I feel that linguists have the potential to identify many words specific to Facebook alone if they research on this topic of furthermore.

Moreover, the data collected indicates that there in an interesting trend of adding suffixes to certain words within this subject population. For example certain posts included the words ‘soonly’, ‘cuteness’ and ‘awesomeness’. This is a fascinating finding as it contradicts the notion of language used in Digital Discourses attempting to always shorten words for purposes of speed. Henceforth, I argue that language used in Facebook experiments with words not only to save time but also to showcase one’s individual preferences and creativity.

This study has identified seven types of distinct trends with relation to the patterns of spelling. Firstly, collected data indicates that there are many instances in which the word spelled highlights the stress levels in pronunciation. For example the spelling of words such as ‘freeeeezing’ , ‘haapppppppy birthdaaaaaay’, ‘mee tooo’, ‘ missssssssssssss’, ‘aaallllllwaaaaaaaaayz’,  I believe clearly highlight the writer’s intention of showing the emotion or excitement that he/she feels. As pointed out before, this is another instance in which language used in Digital Discourse attempts to bridge the gap between the spoken and written discourse.

Secondly, certain words were not only spelled by the usage of the alphabet but also with the use of numbers. I term words of this nature ‘numlang’ as they incorporate both numbers and alphabets to produce meaning. Examples include ‘2mrw’, ‘gr8’ and ‘l8’. I believe that this is an interesting phenomenon that shows the way in which the users of the Digital Discourse of Facebook are attempting to ‘innovate’ language in a way to save time and effort as well.

Thirdly, the absence of adjectives was another pattern of spelling that was identified through this study. For example the word ‘about’ is spelled as ‘abt’, ‘work’ as ‘wrk’, ‘people’ as ‘ppl’, ‘how’ as ‘hw’ to name a few examples. Therefore, this finding indicates that the spelling that takes place in Facebook is not always random but it does follow a system at times. Fourthly, there were also instances in which the subject population used the conventional form of spelling. For example existence of phrases such as ‘ A lot of jumping going on’ and ‘At home these days’ clearly show that conventional forms of spelling also takes place. Moreover, certain words were indicated through letters alone. For example the letter ‘x’ denoted kisses, ‘o’ denoted hugs, ‘k’ denoted ‘okay’ and ‘r’ denoted ‘are’.

Another interesting phenomenon was the existence of patterns of spelling that indicated the pronunciation of a foreign accent. For example individuals in the subject population spelled the word ‘dog’ as ‘dawg’ and the word ‘boy’ as ‘boi’ indicating the pronunciation of these words in an American accent’. Additionally, the word ‘yeverybody’ is spelled as ‘everybody’ at a particular instance indicating the pronunciation of the word in an Indian accent. I believe that this clearly shows the way in which the individuals are again attempting to bridge the gap between the spoken and written discourse. Moreover, this pattern of spelling also indicates that the Facebook users are entertaining themselves and others by creating amusement through the experimentation of spelling. This is rather significant as it shows the way in which the informal nature of Facebook is creating an opportunity for its users to indulge in merriment through spelling.

It is also fascinating to note that the characteristics of vocabulary and patterns of spelling identified in this study resonate with the findings of language used in other forms of Digital Discourses. Paolillo (2001) mentions that e-chats are typical arenas for the emergence of online communities and informal e-chat interaction which frequently rotates around flirt, small talk, and playful communication. Moreover, he mentions that these situational factors favor the extensive use of vernacular speech in e-chat conversations in German, as well as in other languages. According to Paolillo a typical vernacular feature includes colloquial and slang vocabulary. Moreover Driscoll (year unknown) in his study that focuses on the morphology of a dialect of a specific Internet group of gamers states that the word ‘people’ is spelled as ‘ppl’, the word ‘message’ is spelled out as ‘msg’ and that the letter ‘k’ denotes to the word ‘okay’. He furthermore, mentions that abbreviations are used frequently and also that gamers too use words that are specific to their Digital Discourse of online gaming. Driscoll mentions that they use words such as  ‘uber’ to denote the meaning of being large  and ‘phat’ to indicate something that is trendy.

Additionally, Rafi (year unknown) in his study of ‘SMS Text Analysis: Language, Gender and Current Practices’ mentions that most SMS’s are not in the form of standard written discourse. However, he mentions that the users are very effective in describing written sounds what they want their readers to perceive in their messages. Through the new written conventions of SMS, those who message via a mobile phone have developed a written form of sounds that replaces the ability to hear spoken utterances. He also mentions that language used in text messaging has developed its own unique style as have email and chat-room languages.

The above studies conducted on the use of language on other forms of Digital Discourses clearly indicate that the trend identified within the use of vocabulary and patterns of spelling in Facebook are very similar. The fact that many of the features identified in this study such as use of slang, vocabulary denoting sounds and actions, abbreviations, spelling that indicates the stress levels in pronunciation. However, this study is significant due to four distinct reasons. Firstly, it highlights features that were unique only to Facebook such ‘epic facebook rape’ and ‘facebook whore’. Secondly, it highlighted the concept of ‘numlang’ which includes numbers along with the alphabet to denote meaning. Thirdly, it identified that not all patterns of spelling used in Facebook is unsystematic and unruly. This was achieved by highlighting the pattern of leaving adjectives in the process of spelling. Fourthly, it highlights that words used in Facebook does not necessarily always shorten its spelling but also increases the letters for purposes of creativity and amusement. This was brought out through the example of words such as ‘awesomeness’ and ‘dawg’. Henceforth, I argue that language used in Facebook experiments with words not only to save time but also to showcase one’s individual preferences and creativity

Conclusion

Therefore, it is evident that although Sims highlights that spontaneity is what leads to misspellings and the use of unconventional punctuation, diction, and capitalization in electronic discourse of email, it is not the case with Facebook posts due to the following reasons. Firstly, as ‘status updates’, ‘photo comments’ and ‘wall posts’ are written on a voluntary basis. Secondly, the individual takes his/ her own time when writing these messages. So with regard to the social network of Facebook, I believe that various forms of spelling takes place for purposes of speed, creativity and incorporating characteristics of the spoken discourse. Moreover, the type of vocabulary used on Facebook also facilitates the user to incorporate characteristics of the spoken discourse as highlighted in the section where vocabulary relating to action was brought to light.

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