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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Programme: accepted abstracts

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Abstract ID: 793

Part of General Paper Session (Other abstracts in this session)


Authors: Johnson, Ian James; Johnson, Janet
Submitted by: Johnson, Ian James (None, United Kingdom)

The explosive growth in social media towards the end of the past decade has led to numerous studies in computer mediated communication (cmc). However, few studies have so far tracked cmc users over a period of time to provide us with rich data of changes in how social media are being used, including changes to the social media themselves.

This longitudinal study builds upon an initial pilot with a convenience cohort of 25 bi-literate Welsh and English users of Twitter, using samples taken over three years to examine changes in use of language and technology.

The pilot study identified that the cohort acted as a bilingual community which used both languages when sending messages on Twitter. They predominantly wrote in Welsh to a fellow bilingual when sending a ‘mention’ message with limited distribution, but wrote exclusively in English to fellow users who displayed no evidence of Welsh language ability. The cohort wrote more often in English than Welsh when sending a universal tweet which could be read by all of their followers. There were, of course, significant individual variations within these patterns.

Initial hypotheses predicted that, because of the ‘real world’ high ratio of monoglot English literates to bilingual Welsh-English literates, continued growth in the number of users of Twitter would lead to the cohort accommodating this ‘real world’ language use. A longitudinal study was entered into in order to verify these assumptions and track the cohort’s language choice over time.

Examining a corpus of tweets from the same point in each of three calendar years, no evidence was found for a significant online language shift amongst the total number of tweets by the cohort. The proportion of tweets in Welsh and English remained approximately static.

The introduction of a ‘re-tweet’ button on Twitter has made it easier for users to support existing content’s onward transmission. This has seen the use of re-tweeting pre-existing content rise from below 5% of tweets in 2009 to more than a quarter in 2011. With significantly greater levels of content available in English compared to Welsh, unsurprisingly around 80% of all re-tweets are in English, thus depressing the comparative amount of content transmitted in Welsh.

Alternatively, through excluding re-tweets from the analysis, the cohort is now self-producing a greater amount of content in Welsh than at the beginning of the study.

There has also been a significant drop in the number of universal tweets compared with the steady use of mentions, with evidence that users are shifting from an ‘open diary’ approach on Twitter, describing everyday events, to something closer to an open group conversation.

Adaptation to and adoption of technological change is a two-way process between the developer and the user which clearly impacts upon language use in computer mediated communication. This study illustrates the strategies adopted by a Welsh-English bi-literate Twitter community to reflect these changes.

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