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Language lessons told through Twitter
Social media is an agent of the new, bringing rapid changes in language and usage. In the US, a new study demonstrates how Twitter has fueled the spread of new words, pronunciations, emoticons and trending language in a way that can be observed in real time. From "bored af" to the new emoticon for mild annoyance "-__-", the path from regional to worldwide usage can be followed and measured as it is taking place.
Excerpt: "You might, like me, have been entirely innocent of what 'af' denotes in the Twittersphere, in which case the phrase 'I’m bored af' would simply baffle you. It doesn’t, of course, take much thought to realise that it’s simply an abbreviation for a vulgarity – a tamer version of which is 'as hell'. What’s less obvious is why this pithy abbreviation should have jumped from its origin in southern California to a cluster of cities around Atlanta before spreading more widely across the east and west US coasts, as computer scientist Jacob Eisenstein of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and his co-workers Brendan O’Connor, Noah Smith and Eric Xing of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh report in an, as yet unpublished, study.
Other neologisms have different life stories. Spelling bro, slang for brother (male friend or peer) as bruh began in the southeastern US (where it reflects the local pronunciation) before finally jumping to southern California. The emoticon '-__-' (denoting mild annoyance) began in New York and Florida before colonising both coasts and gradually reaching Arizona and Texas.
Who cares? Well, the question of how language changes and evolves has occupied linguistic anthropologists for several decades. What determines whether an innovation will propagate throughout a culture, remain just a local variant, or be stillborn? Such questions decide the grain and texture of all our languages – why we might tweet 'I’m bored af' rather than 'I’m bored, forsooth'.
There are plenty of ideas about how this happens. One suggestion is that innovations spread by simple diffusion from person to person, like a spreading ink blot. Another idea is that bigger population centres exert a stronger attraction on neologisms, so that they go first to large cities by a kind of gravitational pull. Or maybe culture and demography matters more than geographical proximity: words might spread initially within some minority groups while being invisible to the majority."