Would you say sneakers or tennis shoes? Hoagie or hero? Dust bunny or house moss? The differences in regional speech are being noted on Twitter.
Brice Russ, a graduate student at Ohio State University, presented a study at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting in January demonstrating how Twitter can be used as a valuable and abundant source for linguistic research. With more than 200 million posts each day, the site has allowed researchers map out regional dialect.
Russ analyzed nearly 400,000 Twitter posts to study three different linguistic variables. He started by mapping the regional distribution of “Coke,” “pop” and “soda” based on 2,952 tweets from 1,118 identifiable locations. As has been documented in the past, “Coke” predominantly came from Southern tweets, “pop” from the Midwest and Pacific Northwest and “soda” from the Northeast and Southwest.
He also analyzed the migration of “hella,” meaning “very” as in “hella cool.” The phrase originated in California, but has since made its way to the Midwest. The Midwest and Pittsburgh-area changes the syntactical construction to “needs X-ed” as in “the sink needs fixed.” This phrase seems to have moved toward the South since the mid-1990s.
“I really think that the availability of data like Twitter is a real game-changer for how people study language,” said Jacob Eisenstein, one of the researchers on the CMU team. “What surprised us was that, in addition to the sorts of words and names that we expected to see, there was a whole other class of words that seemed to have a very strong geographical affinity that we had never known about before.”
Though Twitter may enable large-scale, worldwide studies and cut out fieldwork typically demanded of linguistic scholars, it can also limit studies to a generally younger, more urban base of users and most likely won’t replace face-to-face interview.
“There’s a lot of richness you can get by doing a personal interview in terms of finding out someone’s life story, and exactly how their location effects the way that they speak,” David Crystal, language expert and honorary professor of Linguistics at Bangor University, told the BBC.
Great. Now we can be stereotyped more quickly and easily. I suspect they want that face-to-face interview so that, in the case of Southerners, they can count our teeth, or the lack thereof. I’m serious as a heart attack. Shut the back door!