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article imageHow we use Twitter matches how we talk to friends

By Tim Sandle     Sep 14, 2015 in Internet
Despite the wide use of social media and concerns that, along with it, the English language has been "dumbed-down," most people follow some basic rules of formality depending on the subject and situation.
For those unfamiliar with Twitter it is a form of "micro blogging," a way of discussing something or linking to a website by using 142 characters or less. To communicate to a narrow range of people, an “@” sign is used followed by the name of the Twitter user. For example, if I wanted to Tweet and let Digital Journal know I would add “@DigitalJournal” after my message.
Alternatively, if I want to pick up on a major trend, a hot topic in the news I would add a “#” followed by a key word. At present, Syria is a big issue, so if I Tweeted about Syria I would add “~Syria.”
So far so good. But do people approach the “at sign” or ampersat more often used to communicate with friends, and the hash-tag, for communicating with a wider audience, differently?
The answer is yes, according to a research group based at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Shifting through a gigantic three years of tweets (some including 114 million geo-tagged messages from 2.77 million users), they found that Twitter users are more likely to be formal and drop the use of abbreviations and emoticons when using the “#” tag.
However, when Twitter ours adopt the “@” symbol, aimed at a smaller group of their handpicked Twitter followers, they tend to use non-standard words. Common here are everyday phrases like “nah,” “cuz” and “smh.”
The inference is that it is not so much that English standards have fallen, more that people reserve "standard English" for particular social situations.
The reason for the researchers looking at geo-tagged messages (process of adding geographical identification) is because they were interested in the language people use when communicating locally and globally. The research found that people who communicate with someone from the same city are even more likely to use non-standard language than if they are tweeting outside of their local area.
Other interesting geographical variations were:
The emoticon :) is used everywhere
The alternative emoticon ;o is more popular in Los Angeles.
The word “mayne,” a drawn out way of pronouncing “man,” is more commonly used by tweeters from Houston.
The research is published in the journal American Speech. The paper is called “Audience-Modulated Variation in Online Social Media.”
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