What is the Situation with Celebrities’ InToNaTiOn?

Juan Alvaro, Darshini Gupta, Lauren Tropio

In today’s day and age, a social media presence has become not only essential but  also a platform that defines us as individuals. In February of 2019, a statistic  showed that 90% of adults ages 18-29 use social networks because it is the new
“norm”. Up until the creation of more popular apps and interactive websites, social media was arguably far from a necessity and was seen as a way of  communicating or staying up to date with current news.

Now due to this shift, social media is seen as a defining characteristic of a  business or person. Also, interactive media and networks have given  bloggers, celebrities, etc credibility and a larger audience to influence  and illustrate their linguistic style that varies across written and  recorded platforms. Studying the individuals that society defines as “influencers” reveals the transformation of identities, and patterns of  intonation that take place on various social media, with these “celebrities” altering these tendencies between each media platform.

To get a better idea on how different intonation patterns can convey personality,  and based on the responses we got from a survey distributed to college aged  students, we decided to look more in depth on three people: Kylie Jenner, Jojo Siwa,  and David Dobrik. These three different personalities offered a different aspect of  intonation patterns, Kylie Jenner representing little variation, Jojo Siwa  representing a different approach with many variation patterns, and David Dobrik  being somewhere in the middle. We studied these individuals by going through their  content on various platforms (Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, etc). By studying these  influencers across the intonation spectrum, we can get a sense of what aspects of  intonation patterns can be used to display a specific persona.

Kylie Jenner

The first person we decided to look at was Kylie Jenner. She  started out by being a part of the Kardashian/Jenner family  and a reality show from the young age of 9, now is known  around the world as one of the youngest billionaires and has  many business ventures as well! She has been in the limelight and been immersed in the influencer culture for a large part of her life. She is one of  the highest paid influencers and her millions of followers across platforms makes  her a perfect candidate to study. 

Looking through her Youtube videos, the first thought that stood out was her use of  uptalk and vocal fry. ​In this video, one can see that her speech is characterized with a rising  pattern at the end of her sentences, which is uptalk, and how she also uses a very  low register in her speech giving a creaky sound which is vocal fry. Even the  comments on her post took notice of her use of uptalk and not surprisingly were  divided on it, some thinking it sounded more professional while others were  bothered. Another viewer also pointed out how all of the Kardashian/Jenners speak  this way and though this could just be a part of Kylie’s linguistic style it could also  be a way for her to solidify part of her identity, which has been associated with this  family her entire life. Another thing that stood out studying her videos was Kylie’s limited variation in  her intonation. ​In this video, even when Kylie is making exclamations like “7!” or “ooooh what’s a 7 pump” her intonation does not change much and it. It almost feels  like there is more excitement or variation in my transcript of those comments! In a  more recent video, she goes on to explain how she restrains her personality or  almost plays a character in videos and on social media deliberately, in which she  could possibly be using intonation as a tool to show less of her personality while still  giving new content.  Looking through her Instagram posts, we noticed that she portrays a very similar  intonation pattern through her captions. 

By using no capitalization and very few exclamation points and punctuation in her  posts, she is able to convey a certain tone with an unwavering pitch, which is  similar to her speaking style.  

David Dobrik

Many may know him for his infamous 4 minute and 20  second vlogs or his debut on an application called Vine in  2013, but today he is recognized for his presence on various written and video platforms. He is probably more successful than I will ever be in my  lifetime, having millions of followers across, YouTube,  Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok. David also has a  networth of over 15 million at the age of 24.

When it comes to his identity and how he portrays himself across tweets versus his  vlog content, one would potentially think he was two different people. In his written  work David used capitals throughout. “CHIPOTLE NAMED A BURRITO AFTER ME” is  an example of how explosive he can be. Or “NOT WITH THAT ATTITUDE”  demonstrates that aggressive identity one would think he would have. When  reading either of these, one may even interpret these tweets as YELLING at you!

On the other hand, after observing hours of videos produced by David, there were very few instances where he continued this kind of eruptive intonation. The only  times he changed his tone or portrayed himself as “loud” was when he was  laughing. To better understand where his inflection lies in his videos, we used Audacity to visualize where this burst of intonation exists. Below you can see a clip of David speaking where the loudest and tallest waves represent him laughing. The in  between represents his normal speaking voice.  

We found David to be the most inconsistent when it came to his intonation, which is  why we also saw him as a good middle ground between Kylie and JoJo. Having  someone like David Dobrik, he is a good individual to have as the intermediary  control. He shows viewers how much intonation JoJo Siwa has and how little  intonation Kylie Jenner has. He originally identified as a YouTuber, but I believe as he tried to transition to other  platforms his identity became inconsistent. It seems he uses capitals in his written media to grab attention more than showcase who he is as a person. His random capitalizations and phrases where he seems to be yelling at his audience, could be a publicity stunt more than an identity trait. He does have moments of strong intonation variation but it does lack that sense of constant variation like his  written platforms would infer. Maybe it is time someone takes his computer and  turns his CAPS lock OFF!  

Jojo Siwa

Jojo Siwa or more formally known as Joelle Joanie Siwa is a  well known American dancer, singer, actress on  Nickelodeon, and also an infamous influence on YouTube.  She has 12 million subscribers on Youtube and about 10  million followers on instagram. Jojo Siwa began to attract  the public’s eye in 2014 at the age of 11 years. Since then she  has had hundreds of millions of views on her videos and is known for being very outgoing and extroverted with sporadic behavior and  varying intonation in her voice. Her pitch varies in order to allure the audience and  attract their interest so that she can get them to invest their time on her. 

She shares very similar styles of intonation across both video and written platforms as she uses lots of exclamations in her statements. In one of her most recent videos, Jojo Siwa mentions the word “Tie-dye” twice in consecutive order, however uses two different variations of intonation. The first time she uses the word, she includes rising intonation and the second time the tone is falling intonation. She proceeds to say the word a few more times throughout the video with varying types of intonation. What’s also worth mentioning is that Jojo Siwa tends to lengthen the duration of her vowels and adds nasality in her voice, however that may be due to the nature of her vocal chords. She employs all these  different linguistic aspects in order to promote her character as an influencer and  attract her audience to purchase her merchandise. This compulsive behavior really  targets and pulls the interest of many as comments mention the love for the way  she behaves.

Similar to her voice on video platforms, she tends to add all capital lettering in her  posts and repeats letters to add emotional appeals. Her social media accounts all  carry the same text aesthetic involving this very family friendly speech. Her voice is very reminiscent in her tweets and IG messages and wants to persuade people to get  involved in her life. As you notice there are also lots of exclamation marks and use of emoji’s and by her facial expressions, she always appears to give off an ecstatic/ overly-cheery identity/personality. She is meant to appeal to children, which is why  she constantly gives off this radiant energy. 

Overall findings

After interpreting what we observed and our results, the conclusion drawn was  that social media platforms give influencers the chance to expose their pitch range, identity, and intonation variation. This differed between all the celebrities studied. These influencers construct an identity through social media platforms and their  style may shift but it does not always, as it is really dependent on the person.  Intonation is just one of the tools influencers may or may not choose to employ in  their linguistic style and we can see that based on these three personalities. Although intonation is an effective tool to display a persona, it is not always used or  consistent. These influencers choose to embrace their own identity which is best  catered towards the content they are trying to put out. 



“Kylie Jenner Net Worth”. Forbes. November 1, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/profile/kylie-jenner/?sh=43cb99fc55b5.

“Jo Jo Siwa Biography”. Biography. Biography. Retrieved 24 Dec 2019.

de Aquino Carlsson, A. (2018). Persuasion in social media : A study of Instagram  influencers’ usage of persuasive speech acts (Dissertation).

Ge, Jing, and Ulrike Gretzel. “Emoji Rhetoric: a Social Media Influencer Perspective.” Journal of Marketing Management​, vol. 34, no. 15-16, 2018, pp. 1272–1295., doi:10.1080/0267257x.2018.1483960.

Leskin, P. (2020, February 02). The rise of David Dobrik, a 23-year-old YouTuber worth over $7 million who got his start making 6-second videos. Retrieved  December 12, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/david-dobrik-net-worth-youtube-career-v ine-liza-koshy-2019-9

Pew Research Center. (2020, June 05). Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from

Social Media Fact Sheet

Siwa, JoJo. “Its JoJo Siwa”. YouTube. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
WIRED (December 16, 2018). “David Dobrik Answers the Web’s Most Searched Questions”. Retrieved January 31, 2020 – via YouTube.

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Yeah, Um… So Like, Are Filler Words Considered Feminine?

Jennifer Beck, Jaymie Bernardo, Theo Chen, Karl Danielsen, and Calista Eaton-Steinberg

At some point in your life, you have probably experienced the intense awkward silence that comes about when it’s your turn to speak and you have no idea how to respond. Whether you’re not sure how to answer a question or you simply got lost in your train of thought, perhaps you’ve found yourself choosing one of these coping mechanisms to deal with that moment of dreaded stillness in the conversation: (1) you accept the silence and ponder your next move; (2) you fill the silence with filler words to buy time. Filler words such as “like,” “well,” and “um” are a common occurrence for people in conversation who are thinking of what to say. If you pay attention, you might notice that you use these words unconsciously in daily conversation, not even noticing when they slip out.

By observing, collecting, and analyzing video interviews, our study focuses on the correlation between gender and filler words in Californian college students. Studying the use of filler words in different genders of the cis-binary will allow researchers to better understand the way that gender and filler word usage interact. The purpose of this study is to clarify the assumption that women use more filler words than men due to persisting social pressures and the social implications of filler words.

Introduction and Background

Professor Eckert discusses in her linguistic studies that women typically have a different linguistic role in society compared to men (Eckert, 2012, pp. 90). When men speak, they try to keep up a persona that exudes confidence. As filler words explicitly foreground someone’s lack of confidence in speaking – they indicate that the speaker does not feel entirely certain about the things they are saying – men are presumed to more commonly avoid using filler words. In comparison, women generally assume a more mediating role in conversation (Van Herk, 2017, pp.110), so they might be expected to use more filler words.

Finding a connection between gender and filler word usage could indicate that one gender is less affected by the negative traits associated with filler words. In other words, one gender group may feel less social pressure to avoid filler words despite their pre-existing negative implications. Alternatively, one gender might actually prefer using filler words as modes of marking discourse to connect and organize the things they say in specific ways (Divett, 2014, pp. 37-42). A paper in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology found that men and women both use filler words equally when filling pauses, but that women use them more as discourse markers (Laserna et al., 2014, pp. 332-334). In this way, women use filler words to assert their authority in a conversation by directing its path and indicating it is their turn to speak. Due to the unprofessional associations with filler words, we hypothesize that women will use filler words more than men, as women face lower levels of societal pressure to sound professional. They may also utilize these words more often to direct conversation. We conducted a small-scale study of casual interactions between college-age men and women to assess the patterns of filler word use.


We analyzed 15 interviews of Californian college students posted on college-related YouTube channels. These casual one-on-one interviews asked random students basic questions about their college experiences. We looked at results from women interviewing men and men interviewing women and calculated the number of filler words (including “um/uh,” “like,” “yeah,” “so,” “I mean,” and “you know”) relative to the number of total words spoken.                                                                                                                                        

Previous research into this topic suggests that women do, in fact, use more filler words than men (Laserna et al., 2014, pp. 332-334). However, as gender roles become less important to our modern society, the previously discovered results may have become outdated. We set out to see if we could reproduce other studies’ outcomes in a modern, progressive college setting, while simultaneously seeking out answers as to what factors could cause the gendered differences in filler word usage.

While our final results matched those of previous studies in confirming a gender difference, the difference we found was not what we expected. Below are a couple of statistics from our data collection:

Figure 1: The most significant data from our research; note the difference between mean and median results.

Looking at the overall ratio result, our results did not support the previous findings on this topic. Women surveyed actually used significantly fewer filler words than men. Looking at the overall total words to filler words ratio, males displayed a 9.651 ratio, while females displayed a 11.885 ratio, showcasing a 2.233 difference in filler word usage between the two genders. Oddly enough, the median of the data contrasted this. The median female used more fillers than the median male. This could potentially mean that men tend more towards extremes, while women speak more similarly across the board. Indeed, one interview with a male revealed the most filler word usage of all interviews, as the male spoke with almost one filler word per five words.

In spite of the inconclusive results of our mean/median analysis, two segments of the data did show a clear trend. Across all interviews, women and men showed preferences as groups for different filler words. Women favored the word “like,” which is increasingly androgynous but still closely associated with the “valley girl” archetype. Men, in place of using the effeminate “like,” preferred words such as “yeah.” It appears that both genders selected their filler words carefully to index different personas, even if they used filler words at similar rates. This means that social pressure is still strongly at play in word choice, even if neither gender has a stronger need for the confidence lent by decreased filler usage.

Both genders together indicated another interesting trend: the presence of two, not one, spikes on the graph of filler ratios. Figure 1 below shows that there is a peak of people using ~6 words/filler word and one of people using ~13 words/filler word. This two-peak system indicates that there are likely two separate modes of speech people use, one casual with a higher ratio of fillers, and one formal with a lower ratio. Filler word use overall is likely distributed across two standard deviations centered at these spikes.

Figure 2: A histogram showing the number of interviews with a certain filler ratio. Make note of the two separate peaks – one at 6, and one at 13.



Our research shows that the differences in filler word usage across genders are more complex than previous findings suggest. Figure 2 below shows the transcript between two different interviews we observed, both being asked similar questions. You can see the female interviewee produces five filler words out of 43 words total. On the other hand, the male interviewee produces six filler words out of a total 40 words. The margin of filler word usage is slim here. As we mentioned before, females have been found to favor the filler word, “like” while men favored “yeah”. You will note that in this case, the male favored the word, “Uhm.”  While not every male favors the same word, overall data suggests that there is still a generally consistent difference between male and female filler word choice, especially in the use of “like.”

This could be a result of gender stereotypes for speech – “like” and “so” are associated more with femininity, while “um” and “yeah” seem more masculine. There aren’t rules for who can say what, but speech can be very gendered. Part of it might be conscious – for example, males might avoid “like” for fear of sounding feminine – but it might also be a result of who these people are spending time around and what kind of speech they naturally pick up from friends and family.

Figure 3: Transcripts of two interview segments, both involving the opposing gender. Extracted from ProWrite Admissions YouTube channel.


It is important to keep in mind that the data used for our results was extracted from online videos of causal speech. Casual speech with a fellow young person allows for a more comfortable setting, therefore allowing for more filler words to be used. Because these videos were spontaneous and filmed, it is also possible that certain participants were more nervous than others, causing them to use more filler words as they collected their thoughts. Some people are more anxious speaking spontaneously in front of a camera, which would definitely affect their mannerisms, while other people might love being filmed and thrive in the same situation, speaking with confidence and ease.

Our current research sought to analyze the long-lived stereotype of women using more filler words than men, which may exist due to the even older stereotype of women having less intelligence. With these results, we come to the conclusion that college-aged males within California use filler words more frequently in casual speech than college-aged women in California. This could result from a number of factors. For one, more male college students are in STEM fields (Blackwood, 2020) where interpersonal skills are de-emphasized, and students might use more fillers. Men could also be more willing to index a casual persona in interviews because there are fewer expectations against their intelligence that they want to combat. With the persisting sociological stereotypes that deem women less intelligent, women have to work twice as hard in order to gain the respect that men have, especially within the work field (Eckert, 2012, pp. 90). Women are held to different expectations than men, which could impede on filler word usage.

Furthermore, a strong negative social stigma exists around young women who use filler words, especially “like.” Frequent use of the word “like” is a characteristic of the valley girl accent, a Californian accent associated with wealthy, unintelligent, and annoying young women. (This NPR article talks about some other ways that women’s language is stigmatized and disrespected). Since women have to overcome these pre-existing stereotypes, it is possible that they consciously work harder at not using filler words.

Should this research be conducted in another state with another age range, or in a more formal setting, the results may differ. However, our data challenges a conventional understanding of filler word use, suggesting that this topic is very complex and requires further investigation. Potential future research could look into formal interviews between an employer and potential employee, and whether this context decreases filler word use, regardless of gender. Research could also look into stereotypes surrounding different filler words, and whether these stereotypes consciously affect filler word use.



Crimson Education. (2013). Home [YouTube Channel], from https://www.youtube.com/c/CrimsonEducation/about

Divett, S., Duvall, E., Graham, T. Robbins, A. (2014) How and why people use filler words (pp. 35-46). https://schwa.byu.edu /files/2014/12/F2014-Robbins.pdf

Eckert, P. (2012). Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of sociolinguistic variation. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 87-100.

Laserna, C., Pennebaker, J., Seih, Y. (2014). Um . . . Who Like Says You Know: Filler Word Use as a Function of Age, Gender, and Personality. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 33(3), 328-335. DOI: 10.1177/0261927X1452699 OR https://www.researchgate .net/publication /27 5005568_Um_Who_Like_Says_You_Know_Filler_Word_Use_as_a_Function_of_Age_Gender_and_Personality

ProWrite Admissions. (2017). Home [YouTube Channel]. YouTube. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpjORe_vOMevyxImw90igLw

Van Herk, G. (2017) Gender. What is Sociolinguistics? Wiley Blackwell. (pp. 97-115)

W.K.C., Kate Blackwood. (2020, July 1.). Gender gaps in STEM college majors emerge in high school. Cornell Chronicle. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2020/07/gender-gaps-stem-college-majors-emerge-high-school

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Turn on Your Camera, Foo : Slang and Visual Cues in the Classroom

Jiajun Weng, Chris Lam, Christine Chang, Terri See Lok Ho, Wei Lin

Have you ever wondered whether understanding what your classmates are saying and the seeing their cameras is essential to succeed in the course?

You’re not alone.

During this special period, education has primarily moved on to online. Many international students from UCLA taking online courses claim that they feel alienated in the class because they cannot see their classmates when their classmates are talking, and they sometimes cannot understand the online slang used by their classmates. Does the usage of online slang and lack of visual cues truly impact their learning experience?

For finding out the answer to this question, we conducted a study to investigate how the use of slang and the lack of visual cues contribute to international students’ comprehension difficulties and their feelings of alienation. The survey sample comprised entirely of UCLA students. By analyzing the data, we found that interestingly, their feeling of alienation was not affected by usage of online slang nor lack of visual cues. Furthermore, we found that their comprehension was not associated with inclusiveness. That is, it shows that one can still succeed in the class even if one feels alienated.


International students in an English-speaking country such as the United States face various challenges related to language. For instance, they struggle with the use of slang and cultural references in a classroom setting. In Bradford’s research, he found that “Teaching colloquial speech in any language can be important for acquisition and assimilation into the language’s cultural group” (Bradford, 2010). In a separate study, Albalawi found that some L2 learners indicate learning slang is helpful for students to fit in socially in college and gain confidence (Albalawi, 2014). Both articles demonstrate that learning the slang of other cultural groups is a crucial tool for L2 learners to master if they want to become more assimilated. However, some of these difficulties in comprehension can be overcome by implicit cues such as facial expressions and gestures (Sueyoshi & Hardison, 2005).

A comment about Figure 1 below showing the breakdown of UCLA students and their experience with English. Moving onto online learning platforms during the global COVID-19 pandemic, international students face new challenges like adapting to the lack of visual cues — such as facial expression and gestures — as well as the colloquial way people speak during Zoom lectures. As a consequence, international students’ ability to comprehend course materials may be compromised by the lack of social cues. With limited understanding of course material, these students could subsequently feel disconnected, or even isolated from the class, and hence disengaged with the course.

International students who engage primarily on non-English social media platforms, such as Wechat, Weibo or KakaoTalk, may have found it more difficult to navigate higher education in this virtual environment. Within this experimental study, we investigated how the use of slang and the lack of visual cues contribute to international students’ comprehension difficulties and their feelings of alienation. Specifically, we expected to find increased feelings of alienation and reduced engagement among international students in the face of online English jargon and little visual cues. However, we hypothesized that the use of slang should not significantly impact students when visual cues are present in the recorded lecture because non-verbal communication can be an important source of motivation and concentration for students’ learning as well as a tool for taking and maintaining attention (Zeki ,2009).

Figure 1: UCLA students’ distribution


Collecting Data: Setting up a Classroom

An experimental study was conducted to test our hypotheses about how the manner of people’s speech during the lecture and visual cues (i.e., facial cues and gestures) interacted with each other to influence international students’ understanding of the course materials and their feeling as a member of the class. In the current experiment, we showed our 16 international student participants one of the four Zoom lecture recordings in which we systematically varied the manner of speech of people in that class, as well as the presence of visual cues. To manipulate people’s manner of speech during class, the student confederates discussed the class material in standard English or in a colloquial manner that involved the use of English slangs, like “btw” or “hella”. To manipulate the presence (or absence) of visual cues such as facial cues and gestures, confederates in the current class video will either turn on or off their camera and showed their face and hand movement during the lecture recordings. Please see Table 1 for a demonstration.

Table 1: Matrix of variables and samples of corresponding experimental script


After the participant watched one of the four mock zoom lecture recordings, they were instructed to complete a questionnaire that assessed their understanding of the lecture content, which is about this basic psychological phenomenon called the cognitive dissonance theory. Besides the objective measure of participants’ understanding of the class material, their subjective perception of how well they understood the lecture was also assessed. Finally, we measure how much these participants feel like a member of the class and the likelihood of engaging with the lecture if they were present in the Zoom meeting room.

Results and What They Mean

Figure 2: Video On and using Slang trail; participants’ feeling of alienation


Our findings supported the initial hypothesis that having video on in these online lectures affected students’ level of comprehension. However, there wasn’t a statistically meaningful difference in feelings of exclusion. In particular, the analysis showed that there was a meaningful difference between the results of the survey question regarding subjective comprehension conducted with the students who watched the lecture with video and without video, regardless of whether there was slang or standard English used. However, even by looking at Figure 2 and Figure 3, it is clear that students felt excluded either way.

Figure 3: ’Video Off and using Slang trial; participants’ feeling of alienation


The same was true regarding our initial hypotheses about slang usage. The study showed a statistically meaningful difference in level of self-reported comprehension, but not on the feelings of exclusion. Visually comparing Figures 2 and 4 shows that the responses to the question about alienation were not meaningfully different when video was on vs. off in Figures 3 and 5. Even a cursory review of the results of all the survey questions that attempted to measure feelings of exclusion and alienation showed high levels across the board, boding negatively for online classes as a whole.

Figure 4: Video On and using Standard English trial; participants’ feeling of alienation


Figure 5: Video Off and using Standard English trial; participants’ feeling of alienation


And perhaps the most important result came from comparing the interaction factors of video and slang in the comprehension question. What our study found was that while there is a statistically meaningful difference in individual comprehension in response to both factors, i.e., video and slang, there was not significant interaction between them when it came to self-reported levels of comprehension. That is to say, contrary to our initial hypothesis, a factor like having video on doesn’t necessarily interact meaningfully with the differences caused by slang usage in comprehension.

Figure 6: The rate of participants correctly answering the quiz questions


However, when it comes to the actual analysis of the answers to the quiz questions, not just self-reported comprehension, there is a noticeable interaction factor. Figure 6 shows that when slang is used, the presence of video had a significant impact on actual comprehension as measured through the quizzes, whereas video had less impact when standard English was used. 

There are, of course, various factors that could be complicating this kind of analysis. The subjects chosen for the mock lesson, were it more or less visual, may have more of an effect on how these two variables interact. The length of the lesson may have an impact on all these variables depending on how often it becomes relevant that video is used or not. This study is not necessarily definitive but poses some important questions on how all of these variables can be utilized by educators in aiding comprehension and limiting alienation in classrooms.

Conclusion: The Classroom and Beyond

All in all, more research should be done with regards to the virtual learning environments that most of the world was thrown into due to the pandemic. There may be many key improvements to education in general, whether online classes are here to stay for a while or not. From our initial hypothesis that English slang negatively impacts international students’ engagement with and understanding of classroom material, we find that comprehension may be hindered by slang usage and a lack of visual cues, independently; however, international students seem to feel like they do not “fit in” with the class regardless of these variables, and their aptitude does not seem to suffer because of that in general.

We live in an ever growing technologically dependent society, yet online meetings can often feel like an obstacle and/or a divider when compared to in-person classes. In the article “Depression and Everyday Social Activity, Belonging, and Well-Being,” Michael and Todd stated that “When people experience positive social interactions, they should be more likely to feel a sense of belonging.” Alongside virtual meetings in the workplace, there is a lot that can be done by the hosts to improve distracting and frustrating video calls. Based on this small study, we recommend professors and teachers to encourage students to turn on their videos, with the caveat that there may be personal and privacy challenges. We can say that there may be evidence that doing so will help students’ comprehension of the material. We also suggest addressing slang and jargon when it arises in the classroom, making sure to at least clarify rather than exacerbate what may negatively impact some students’ learning outcome.

There are an endless number of questions to be asked in the realm of education research, with regards to both online and in-person mediums. Perhaps this experiment may be repeated with a live virtual classroom setting to really capture engagement and chat-box interaction data. Furthermore, there is something to be examined in asynchronous learning, i.e., these pre-recorded lectures in the study that subjects independently and asynchronously watched. In a pandemic that generates so many struggles, personally and in education, there is the possibility that Zoom lectures are a breakthrough to education access the world needs; we just need to optimize and adapt to it, rather than conceding at its shortcomings.


Further info

The PowerPoint form of this blog entry

A TedTalk which talks about the relationship between inclusiveness and your manner of speech




Albalawi, A.S. (2014). Saudi L2 learners’ knowledge and perceptions of academic English slang. [Order No. 1566835]. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Bradford P.B. (2010). The acquisition of colloquial speech and slang in second language learners of English in El Paso, Texas . [Order No. 1484150]. The University of Texas at El Paso.

Steger, M. F., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Depression and Everyday Social Activity, Belonging, and Well-Being. Journal of counseling psychology, 56(2), 289–300. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015416

Sueyoshi, A. & Hardison, D.M. (2005). The Role of Gestures and Facial Cues in Second Language Listening Comprehension. Language Learning, 55: 661-699. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0023-8333.2005.00320.x

Zeki, C. P. (2009). The importance of non-verbal communication in classroom management. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 1443-1449.

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Driving from 101 to The 101: An Analysis of Determiner Usage in Californian Speech

Pranav Singh, Melissa Yang, Yoosoo Jang, Ross Perry, and Nathan Midkiff

Do you refer to Highway 101 as “101” or “the 101”? Perhaps many people have seen the case of putting ‘the’ in front of the highway. A determiner, like “the”, is an important element of grammar, and is usually used in front of a noun that has a specific meaning. But the rule of determiner “the” can be ignored in particular cases. We can also observe from the mass media that it is sometimes a little different when referring to highways. We found two videos from YouTube that show different ways to call Highway 101 according to region.

In the news on Los Angeles, Highway 101 is referred to as ‘the 101’.

In the news on San Francisco, Highway 101 is referred to as ‘101’.

Most people know that language can be influenced by culture and geography, but the majority of people do not know how they’ve influenced the language. Little research has been done to explore what reasons affect the difference between regions especially in referring to highways, so in this study we aim to analyze the connection between specific sociological/geographic factors and the usage of “the 101” or “101” by collecting data.


On the outside, California may be seen as a monolithic region that has developed its culture around the year-round sunny skies and proximity to beaches. However, locals of the state have a much more varied view of the state and often see it as made up of distinct regions (Bucholtz et al., 2007). The most apparent divide would be between Northern California and Southern California, and good representations of these two regions would be the San Francisco Bay Area for Northern California and Los Angeles (LA) for Southern California, as both are extremely popular areas for their respective regions.

The divide between these two regions has created a difference in speech and cultures. One such difference is the way Bay Area locals omit the determiner “the” before referring to highways, while LA locals include the determiner “the” before referring to highways. For example, Bay Area locals would refer to highway 101 as just “101” while LA locals would refer to highway 101 as “the 101.” This is a widely acknowledged phenomenon, but there hasn’t been much empirical evidence to back up the claim that LA locals use “the” before referring to highways more than Bay Area locals do. So we’ve decided to examine whether or not this claim can be sustained with concrete evidence.

In addition, we believe that if there happens to be an increased usage of the determiner for LA locals, then this may be a result of a more prominent driving culture for the LA region than the Bay Area region. The LA region may have a culture that revolves around driving due to driving’s necessity and time-consumption. Driving takes up a large chunk of time in LA locals’ lives, both physically and mentally, so its importance is reflected in the usage of “the”, as the determiner is often used to signify importance or familiarity for the following noun (Birner, 1994).


In order to analyze this, we turned to the social media platform Reddit. Using the community pages (“subreddits”) for the Bay Area and Los Angeles (https://www.reddit.com/r/bayarea/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/LosAngeles/), we collected a sample of posts on each subreddit which referenced U.S. Highway 101. We chose to examine discussions of US-101 because this highway runs plays a major role in transit in both of these communities. It runs through both San Francisco and San Jose, two of the major cities which make up what is considered the Bay Area, and it runs through a large part of Los Angeles. We wanted to choose a highway that is common to both of the regions in order to rule out the possibility of the determiner use being a purely lexical distinction that is used only in combination with the names of specific roads.

We turned to Reddit for our data collection because it provided us good access to the members of the community in a natural setting. And, we decided that because this distinction was of a lexical nature, that it was likely to carry over into the written speech of both communities. Most importantly, by examining these Reddit communities, we are studying the speech patterns of people according to their identity. By participating in an online forum specific to a community, an individual establishes that they identify as being a member of that community, therefore showing that our observations are measuring people who identify as Los Angeles or Bay Area residents.

We collected a sample of posts discussing U.S. 101 from each subreddit, then observed the proportion of those in which the determiner “the” was used before the highways number. In order to examine the importance of the highway in each community, we then examined the proportion of posts in each subreddit that made reference to U.S. 101 within the past 3 months.


What we observed was that members of the Los Angeles subreddit did, in fact, use the determiner “the” more often when referring to U.S. 101. In r/LosAngeles, 16 out of the 23 posts collected referred to U.S. 101 as “the 101”, whereas in r/BayArea, only 3 posts did so in the same sample size. In both communities, posts without determiner use included simply referring to “101”, or including other technical terms related to highways, such as “N”, “North”, “S”, “South” etc.

Figure 1: Comparing the proportion of posts that mention U.S. 101 that use the determiner between r/BayArea and r/LosAngeles

Our analysis of the rate of discussion about U.S 101 revealed that in the Los Angeles community, 14 of the 6364 posts from the past 3 months referred to the highway, and in the Bay Area Community, 11 out of the 5637 posts from the same time period did so. While Los Angeles referred to the highway only slightly more, leading to us being uncertain of its significance, the similarity between the rates at least shows that our belief that the highway was of similar importance to both communities is substantiated.

Figure 2: Comparing the proportion of total posts in the past three months that mention U.S. 101 between r/BayArea and r/LosAngeles


If we perform some simple statistical tests on this data, we can see that what we guessed is true. Our first test, looking at use of the word “the” before the highway number, was statistically significant, with a p-value of p=0.00005. This means that if our hypothesis was incorrect, and the Los Angeles subreddit didn’t use the determiner more often, then there would be a probability of 0.005% of getting the data we collected. This means it is very likely from our sample that our hypothesis is correct. However, when we do the same calculation on our test, looking at all posts in a three-month period, we get a p-value of 0.38209. This means that we are not able to conclude anything about how often the subreddits mention U.S. 101. Therefore our tests support the common belief that people from Los Angeles say “the 101”, but we can’t be sure if they talk about the 101 more than the Bay Area, so our experiments aren’t able to give a conclusive reason as to why people from Los Angeles say “the 101”.

There have been some limitations in our study that prevent certain conclusions. For one, our research is purely correlational, so we can’t say that the increased importance of driving resulted in the usage of “the” before freeways. Instead, we can only say that as the importance of driving increased, so did the usage of “the”. In addition, we only look at the 101 as a representation of all Californian freeways and the Reddit forum as representation of each community. But there may be many highways that have different circumstances than the 101, and there may be many different kinds of people that don’t use Reddit. And those who do use Reddit and choose to post may have unique motivations to do so, which skews our representation of the communities even more. This means that our results don’t necessarily apply to other freeways or the complete LA/Bay Area community, so we can’t be too general with our conclusions.


The usage of “the” with the highway 101 is much more common in the Los Angeles area than in the Bay Area. This is a well-known phenomenon: the California residents in our group unilaterally recognized that there was a divide between Northern and Southern California residents and that Los Angeles residents favored usage of “the.” In the article “‘The’ culture war” from the University of Pennsylvania’s Language Log, the author Mark Liberman cites a San Francisco advertisement reading:

“Bank while you wait for the BART or the Muni”

The Language Log viewer who sent in the advertisement claims that the company has “clearly … lost their SF roots” (Liberman, “‘The’ culture war”). This notion of “losing” a geographical identity by using a particular linguistic feature associated with another geographic location shows evidence of the determiner “the” possibly indexing a Southern California identity. However, it’s important to note that this phenomenon might be unique to highway names. Later in the article, Liberman brings up Northern California “the”-isms, such as “the Embarcadero” and “the Bay Bridge”, while also referring to a surprising group of Southern California non-“the”-isms, such as “Wilshire Boulevard” and “Rodeo Drive.”

Are highways special for this purpose? Is there something inherently important about public transportation infrastructure that makes a Los Angeles resident that much more of a Los Angeles resident? We cannot say for sure, but we aren’t the only people who notice it.

In the Saturday Night Live   skit “The Californians: Stuart Has Cancer,” the linguistic cues that appear to index a Los Angeles-area identity are the exaggerated, annoying, and comedically out-of-place references to driving and highways. For example, when the character Stuart comes home to find his lover eating another man’s face (figuratively of course, this isn’t “The Transylvanians”), he tells him to leave in the following way:

“I said go home! Get back on San Vicente, take it to the 10, switch over to the 405 North, and let it dump you out onto Mulholland where you belong!” (Saturday Night Live, 2013, 1:03)

No rational spouse is thinking of giving the object of their wife’s extramarital desire directions home. Usually, pop culture tends to handle this situation with a crisp “I think you should get the f*** out right now.” But this is the key point: the writers are calling attention to Californians’ fascination with car culture by making it the central focus of every sentence, markedly indicating that Californians are obsessed with cars, getting stuck in traffic on highways, and memorizing every street name they encounter. And to further confirm findings from the Language Log article, when referring to the I-10 and the I-405, Stuart uses the determiner “the” while choosing not to use it for the street names of Mulholland and San Vicente.

From our empirical results in this study, we see that Los Angeles residents have a predilection for using the determiner “the” and talking about highways like US-101. And from our external links in this section, we can see that this phenomenon is well-known. We see that highway talk and the determiner “the” might be ways that Los Angeles residents are viewed to exert their local identity, and we would recommend that budding sociolinguistics researchers devote attention to how “car culture” affects Californians in other ways that we might not have captured.



Birner, B. et al. (1994). “Uniqueness, Familiarity, and the Definite Article in English.” Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: General Session Dedicated to the Contributions of Charles J. Fillmore.

Bucholtz, M. et al. (2007). Hella Nor Cal or Totally So Cal? The Perceptual Dialectology of California. University of California, Santa Barbara.

CBS Los Angeles. (2018, November 9). The Woolsey Fire Jumps The 101 Freeway. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4AU_U9YwlM

KPIX CBS SF Bay Area. (2020, August 18). San Jose Police Standoff That Shut Down Hwy 101 Comes To Dramatic End. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OSYGcRN5P4

Liberman, M. (2010, December 16). ‘The’ culture war [Web log post]. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2844

Saturday Night Live. (2013, August 12). The Californians: Stuart Has Cancer – SNL. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt-tG6ufH90

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Periodt, Sis!   Gender Identity and TikTok Term Usage

Camille Lanese, Chang Liu, Heather Pritchard, Merton Ung, Tracy Zeng

If you were to go on TikTok right now, one word might stand out to you: “periodt.” With a hashtag including more than 632 million views and endless videos with teenagers exclaiming “and that’s on periodt!”, you might wonder what is up with this word. In our study we examined exactly who is using the term “periodt” and when they are using it. Through surveying college-aged students, we examined if factors such as gender identity and sexual orientation affected whether or not TikTok users used the term “periodt” online or in their daily lives. After looking through the results, we concluded that gender identity and sexual orientation seemed to affect whether TikTok user knew of the word “periodt,” but had no impact on when they used the term. Overall, most participants were most comfortable using the term online, and were extremely uncomfortable with the idea of using “periodt” in a professional setting. In the future we aim to further examine the origins of “periodt” and how people acquire it as a word.


TikToks are vertically filmed videos 6-60 seconds long. TikTokers play off various viral trends with repeated phrases and terms, and introduce new lexical items into users’ everyday speech. Importantly, users comment on others’ TikToks and share TikToks on other social media platforms. Also of note, TikTok users will write specific hashtags in their captions to make their videos appear on the “For You page”, the place where TikTok users discover new videos. Due to a combination of the users comments, hashtags, and sharing it is common for new words to become extremely viral through widespread use. TikTok’s powerful influence is reflected by the fact that the social media platform has over 800 million users worldwide. Thus, TikTok forms a kind of speech community with jargon through interaction between speakers. We analyzed college-aged students’ usage of the TikTok lexical item “periodt”, used to emphasize a point or signal the end of a discussion. We hope to answer, does a speaker’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation affect whether they adopt TikTok terms into real-life social interactions?

Figure 1: a YouTube compilation of female AAVE speakers saying Periodt


The field of sociolinguistics understands linguistic variation as an “essential feature of language” through which speakers “index” aspects of their identity (Eckert 2012: 94). Specifically, gender is performance, in which speakers use linguistic features to construct and reinscribe their gender for their audience (Butler 1990: 179). For the older 18+ TikTok population, which includes our target population, using TikTok language requires more speaker agency because TikTok is not the norm, and thus TikTok language indexes aspects of identity for these speakers. Holloway and Valentine (2014) show that a teenager’s identity can become a mixture of their online and offline influences, since teenagers perceive both their online and offline identities as real spaces. Based on the studies by Eckert and Butler we see that a person’s identity is reflected in their lexicon. Our study seeks to examine whether the influence of the online spaces of TikTok will be reflected in our participant’s lexicons. Podesva (2011) analyzed the Californian vowel-shift for one LGBTQIA+ speaker and demonstrates that speakers use phonological features to index their identity. Podseva focuses on speech acoustics in various social settings. Our study is different from this in the way that we are examining our participant’s lexicons, and in the way that we are analyzing a large number of people rather than one person. The study that was most similar to ours was Banman’s (2014) which analyzed Tweets by men and women and compared gender markers such as pronouns. Banman et. al found that there are lexical items strongly associated with each gender. Our study is similar because we also seek to examine the lexical differences between gender, but also different because we are also examining their sexual orientation. To learn more about gender and other demographics in social media, check out this TED Talk by Johanna Blakley.

Figure 2: Rickey Thompson, openly gay American actor, using “periodt” on Twitter


We collected data from 100-200 American college students (aged 18-22) through an online survey with questions about usage of TikTok lexical items as well as gender and sexual orientation. Our preliminary hypothesis was that members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to know and actively use TikTok language, since many TikTok terms are associated with said community. We also hypothesized that self-identified females are more likely to use TikTok terms, because of TikTok’s origins in Musical.ly and because self-identified females are usually the pioneers of new lexical items. The word that we chose to analyze was “periodt”, since it is a word that not only has roots in the LGBTQIA+ community, but was also popularized through TikTok by the use of hashtags and viral audios used in various videos. If you’re interested, check out this TED Talk by Dao Nguyen that discusses what kinds of videos and topics go viral.


We received 109 total responses. Of those, we received 80 female responses, 26 male responses, and 3 nonbinary responses. Although our percentage of female responses was disproportionate, we still found that a far greater majority of female respondents were familiar with the term.

Table 1: Percentage of respondents familiar with the term “periodt”, by gender

Similarly, according to our hypothesis, when sorted by self-reported sexual identity, all of our LGBTQIA+ respondents were familiar with the term, while a smaller percentage of our heterosexual respondents were familiar with the term. At the same time, we are aware that there is further diversity within the queer community, so analyzing the entire LGBTQIA+ community as one homogenous section does weaken our analysis.

Table 2: Percentage of respondents familiar with the term “periodt”, by sexual orientation


Figure 3: How comfortable participants are using TikTok terms in different scenarios from a scale of 1 to 5, including all participants that know the term “periodt”


Figure 4: How comfortable participants are using TikTok terms in different scenarios from a scale of 1 to 5, divided by both gender identity and sexual orientation


Regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, overall, the participants feel the most comfortable using the term “periodt” online with their peers, a little less comfortable when using it face-to-face with peers, and almost equally uncomfortable when using it online and face-to-face with a professor/boss. When using the term with peers, female and non-binary participants feel slightly more comfortable when using it online than using it face-to-face. From our data, male LGBTQIA+ participants clearly feel more comfortable than other groups when using the term “periodt” with their peers online and face-to-face, and slightly more comfortable when using it with a professor/boss online. But since only 2 LGBTQIA+ male participants responded, we cannot confirm that this pattern applies to most people with this gender identity and sexual orientation. Also based on the results we received, non-binary participants feel less comfortable than other groups when using the term with their peers online and face-to-face. But since only 3 non-binary participants responded, we cannot confirm that this pattern applies to most people with this gender identity and sexual orientation.

Discussion and conclusions

Based on our results, we conclude that gender identity and sexual orientation seems to affect the familiarity with newly-emerged TikTok terms, but have little effect on the usage of those terms in both online and in-person settings. We collected data on many factors that we didn’t have the time or space to explore, such as participants’ native languages and hometowns. We also asked participants which other TikTok terms they were familiar with, which in the future could be helpful to contextualize “periodt” among other TikTok lexical items. An additional factor that we didn’t have the space to explore was race. Although the word “periodt” originates from the African American community, we did not analyze whether our participant’s knowledge of the word could originate from their racial backgrounds. The final shortcoming of our study was our lack of LGBTQIA+ participants. In an ideal study, our study would have equal amounts of participants for every subdivision we analyzed, especially for the male LGBTQIA+ participants.

In further studies, we would be interested in correlating time spent on TikTok with comfort using the word. Then, we would analyze whether time spent on the app factors more into TikTok term usage than gender or sexual identity (Holloway and Valentine, 2014). A similar study could also be performed on other words that have become popular with AAVE and LGBTQIA+ roots, like “shady, tea, sis”, but on platforms like YouTube or Twitter. Also of interest, how do people, especially non-binary and LGBTQIA+ groups, acquire TikTok terms? Our study asked whether the participants knew the word, but not whether the participants learned the word from TikTok. A few more specific questions to investigate include: Is there a difference in the usage between talking with close friends and classmates? Is there a difference when talking with the same group of people, but about different topics?

Our study regarding the term “periodt” is also important for broader research and issues. The large number of participants using “periodt” despite not knowing the origins of the word is emblematic of the larger issue of erasure in western society. Despite the fact that “periodt” has its origin from AAVE, the word was co-opted by the LGBTQIA+ community during the late 1960s. “Periodt” was then popularized in mainstream culture as a word that indexes LGBTQIA+ membership, since it was popularized by shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race, Queer eye, and various YouTube content creators. Prior to TikTok, “periodt” was only popular within the LGBTQIA+ and African American communities. After “periodt” was popularized on TikTok through famous audios, and hashtags, the word had become viral and it was no longer used exclusively by the queer and African American communities. Our study shows an abundance of users who use “periodt” without actually knowing the origin of the word. Other viral phrases that were created by the black community and was co-opted by the LGBTQIA+ along with “periodt” that do not have their origins widely acknowledged would be “spill the tea, sis, yas, queen, shady”. Acknowledgement of the origins of “periodt” is important because of the U.S. erasure of black and queer history.



Bamman, David, et al. “Gender Identity and Lexical Variation in Social Media.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 18, no. 2, 2014, pp. 135–160., doi:10.1111/josl.12080.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge

Eckert, P. (2012). Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of sociolinguistic variation. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 87-100.

Holloway, Sarah, and Gill Valentine. “Cyberkids? Exploring Children’s Identities and Social Networks in On-Line and Off-Line Worlds.” 2014, doi:10.4324/9781315011257.

Kulkarni, Vivek, and William Yang Wang. “TFW, DamnGina, Juvie, and Hotsie-Totsie: On the Linguistic and Social Aspects of Internet Slang.” 22 Dec. 2017.

Podesva, R. (2011). The California vowel shift and gay identity. American Speech, 86(1), 32-51

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Code-Switching Between Mandarin Chinese and English: Do You Use “lol” or “xswl”?

Wenqian Guo, Sum Yi Li, Yichen Lyu, Sok Kwan Wong, Yingge Zhou

Code-switching has become increasingly common as globalization allows international exchanges across cultures to take place more frequently. And as studying abroad becomes more accessible to students around the world, more speech communities with distinctive code-switching patterns are being formed. As we pondered the topic for our research project, we looked around and realized that not only are the majority of our group members native Mandarin speakers studying in the US, but collectively we also belong to this wider speech community that tends to code-switch between Mandarin and English. We could not help but wonder — do local students in China talk like us at all? And is there a reasoning behind the way we talk? It is these questions that formed the basis of our research.

For the project, we narrowed down our research to focus on just Internet slang used on WeChat, China’s answer to WhatsApp. Through our proprietary survey and by combing through chat history we collected from our participants, we discovered some very interesting findings. Continue reading to find out how and why Mandarin-speaking international students in the US code switch on WeChat.

Introduction and background

Chinese students who study in the U.S. often code switch between Mandarin and English and our project was aimed at examining the motivations behind the phenomenon.

We specifically looked into our subjects’ texting patterns on messaging app WeChat and compared them to Chinese students either residing in China or other non-English speaking countries in an attempt to confirm our assumption that code-switching is prevalent among Chinese students in the US. We also surveyed the students and asked for reasons behind their choice of words. We hypothesized that convenience as well as a desire to appear foreign-educated are what motivated the code-switching.

We based our project on Luke’s (1984) study on language mixing in Hong Kong, where English words are often inserted into Cantonese conversations. Luke (1984) concluded that code-switching in Hong Kong is partly pragmatically motivated (when the objects being discussed do not have Chinese translation) and partly socially motivated (when the individuals want to identify as better educated and westernized).

We extended Luke’s (1984) study to cover Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken in Mainland China. Presumably English mixing is more prevalent in Hong Kong because it is a former British colony. Code switching is not common among locals in China, but it is observed among individuals who have exposure in English-speaking countries.


The target population for our project consists of two major groups: college students who study in the US and college students who study in their home country China. Both groups of students are native Mandarin speakers. Our data collection was divided into two parts. First, we created a survey to ask both groups of students to select from provided word choices under different text conversation scenarios and provide us with a reason behind each choice. The participants were also asked to specify how frequently they would code-switch in their daily conversations with friends and family on WeChat. Second, we collected a series of chat history based on three main topics, namely schoolwork, casual conversations and sensitive topics. For the survey, we interviewed a total of 17 students from UCLA as our sampling for the groups of students who are foreign educated. We also interviewed a total of 6 college students who are based in China.


For the purpose of discussion, our project referred to college students who study overseas as “US students” and those who study in China as “local students”.

School Work Survey Question 1: Which word would you use when you want to talk about a homework assignment that will be due soon. For example, “我明天有个作业___”. (Tomorrow I have some homework__)

For the first survey question regarding homework assignment, all of the US students chose the English word “due”, while the majority of the local students chose the equivalent Chinese words “要交”. Even though most students from both groups attributed their choice to a similar reason, which is language habit, from the perspective of the US students, “language habit” refers to a way to try to assimilate into the American culture, while in the context of the local students, it is more of an innate and natural habit.

School Work Survey Question 2: Which word would you use when you want to unenroll a class you have registered before? For example, “这节课不符合我的时间表, 我想__这节课”. (This class doesn’t match my schedule, I want to __ this class.)

For the second survey question relating to unenrolling classes, all of the US students chose the English word “drop”, while the majority of the local students picked the Chinese equivalent “退选”. However, both groups have different reasons behind their word choice. The majority of the US students said they chose the word “drop” because there is no equivalent translation in Chinese. On the other hand, the local students preferred using Chinese due to language habits influenced by their friends and family.

Based on the reasons the participants provided, it appears that being in different environments and different speech communities are the main reason students develop different language habits. Besides, the source of learning also influences their word choices. The US students tend to find it hard to find Chinese translation for words related to schoolwork since they learned these words in an English-speaking environment.

Casual Conversation Survey Question 1:  Which word would you use if you want to express laughter or something that is funny when you are chatting with your friends.

When asked how they would express laughter when texting, the majority of the US students chose the Chinese words “哈哈哈哈” (“Hahahaha”), while the majority of the local students picked another Chinese phrase “笑死我了” (“I laugh to death”). Even though both groups of students used Chinese to express laughter, each side has their own reason for the specific choice. The US students said they preferred “哈哈哈哈” (“Hahahaha”) as a language habit, while the local students preferred “笑死我了” (“I laugh to death”) because they believed the expression could better demonstrate their emotions and the situation. The results showed that Mandarin-speaking college students preferred to use Chinese when expressing laughter regardless of where they are studying.

Casual Conversation Survey Question 2: How often do you often replace words in a sentence from Chinese to English when you are chatting with your friends? For example, “我一会儿有个meeting or presentation”, “让我来表演一段rap”.

When asked how frequently they code-switch between Chinese and English when texting their friends and family, the majority of the US students said at least once every one to two days. Meanwhile, half of the local students said they seldom code-switch — only at least once every few weeks or months during their daily conversations.

Sensitive Topic Survey Question 1: What kind of curse words would you use most frequently when you are chatting with your Mandarin speaking friends?

When asked which curse words they most frequently use, both groups of students chose “卧槽/我操/我靠” (roughly translated as “Damn it/Fuck”) but for different reasons. The US students said this option best describes their feelings, while the local students said it sounds less harsh than the other choices.

Sensitive Topic Survey Question 2: Which word would you use when you need to discuss something that is related to the issue of sexual assault. For example “你上个月有听说那条新闻吗?有个女生被__了”. (Did you hear the news? A girl was __)

When asked what words they would use to say “rape”, the majority of both the US and local students chose the Chinese words “强奸”, instead of “rape” in English or the abbreviation “QJ”. Most local students said they did not worry whether the word sounds too direct or inappropriate but would rather want to just say what really happened. Similarly, the US students said they felt more comfortable with the Chinese words.

Our survey: English version and Chinese version

Chat History Analysis

The chat history was obtained from Chinese students studying in the US. The words marked red were originally in English, while those in black are translations from Mandarin.

This is a conversation between two participants about the recent US election. P1 said they expected people to stop protesting in two days. Instead of using the Chinese words (“游行”) for protest, P1 code-switched from Mandarin to English. Since protests are rare in China, and the Chinese words for protests are rarely used, presumably it is easier for the participant to just use the English word when texting.

Marked code-switching is observed when P1 expresses a slight disagreement with P2. As P2 feels empathetic to Trump, P1 emphasizes with English to express that they don’t feel sad for Trump’s loss.

Another interesting point is that P2 referred to Trump as “Grandpa Trutru”, his Chinese nickname. Chinese people sometimes use nicknames to refer to important politicians, which is likely stemmed from China’s censorship on sensitive topics. Discussions about certain politicians are considered highly sensitive, so to avoid censorship, they come up with nicknames for the politicians. For example, Trump is also known as “懂王” (“the king who knows it all”), while Biden is “睡王” (“the sleepy king”). The use of nicknames exudes a sense of humor as well as dials down the seriousness of the discussion of political issues.

In casual conversations, code-switching again lends convenience and gives emphasis. It also constructs a common identity among people in the conversation. In the above conversation, the participant is telling a story about their roommate being forcefully taken away to the hospital after answering routine behavioral questions wrong, which is a well-known cultural shock among Chinese students studying in the US. As this routine is not performed in China, the participant constantly code-switched on noun and verb phrases for convenience. Also, all participants of this conversation are Chinese international students. The code-switching builds a common identity among them because the participant expects everyone to know the consequences of answering yes to routine behavioral questions. The last two sentences are examples of marked code-switching that emphasize on the participant’s disbelief: The participant is surprised that his roommate answered yes. It is a final revelation of the ending to this anecdote.

Similarly, in the above conversation, code-switching again serves as building a common identity among Chinese students in the US. The participants constantly chose to use short English vernaculars, such as “yes,” “go,” and “yea.” This indicates that they have been immersed in an English-speaking environment, so when expressing agreement and excitement, they tend to code-switch to English. Also, P1 ignored all English spacing in the conversation. This is because when typing English with the Chinese keyboard, adding spacing can be time-consuming. For convenience, P1 simply ignored the spacing during texting. Even so, P1 chose to respond in English, demonstrating that it is more natural for them to use these English vernacular phrases.

In academic scenarios, code-switching almost entirely occurs in jargon. By using English jargons such as “peer interaction” and “mutual engagement”, the participants demonstrated their educational background as foreign.

Discussion and Conclusion

From the aforementioned data findings, it can be concluded that Chinese students who study abroad and those who only study in China show different patterns in their language usage. When it comes to schoolwork and casual conversations, insertions of English words into Chinese sentences and code-switching between English and Chinese are mainly observed among students who study abroad, while less so is seen among the domestic students. This difference can likely be attributed to a lack of translation equivalence, as many school work-related words are only applicable in the US. The same goes for casual conversations. It is therefore not difficult to understand why the US students would tend to code-switch to English when there seems to be a lack of translation equivalence in Chinese.

Besides, the needs for social and emotional expressions evoked by surrounding cultural environments and contexts also contribute to the different language patterns and code-switching. In China, a conservative country both culturally and politically, pro-government language is encouraged, while the freedom of speech is repressed. This repression has in turn cultivated stronger needs for expressing emotions among the local students, leading to their choice of more confrontational and direct wordings when discussing sensitive topics. On the other hand, a higher frequency of code-switching among the US students revealed their needs to be identified as foreign-educated and share common identities with other speech participants of similar backgrounds.

Our findings point to the important roles that social surroundings and the kind of language encouraged within these environments could play in one’s speech patterns and code-switching. That being said, the language choices that the participants made are not entirely dependent on their own characteristics but are rather choices commonly negotiated by one’s surrounding social context as a whole. This contextual-based understanding therefore sets a reminder for future conversation analysis and sociolinguistic study, that one’s speech patterns could not be analyzed and identified without incorporating the nature of the surrounding speech contexts and cultural environments.


More on the topic:

Video about attitudes toward code switching in China

Paper on Chinese-English code-switching in conversations


K.K. Luke (1984), Expedient and Orientational Language Mixing in Hong Kong, York Papers in Linguistics 11, 191-201

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Hedging and Gender in the STEM Community

Eric Chen, Abbey Mae Gozon, Khoi Nguyen, Paul Vu, Julia Wang

Hedging is an aspect of language that is easy for non-linguists to overlook. These terms are used to apply uncertainty to a statement, to make it seem less assertive. The question we seek to answer is, do women make more use of hedging than men do? Specifically, we seek this in the context of an environment where more is expected of women than of men. In this experiment, we take a look at the presence of hedging in the speech of female STEM students. These participants participate in interviews about the subjects they study, and then afterwards take a short survey in order to determine what it is that the participants believe is the root cause of their own hesitations. The recordings of the interview portions are scanned for hedges that are measured as uncertainty in the participant’s explanations. A numerous presence of which would imply that the speaker is not completely sure that they are correct and are choosing to leave room for themselves to err. This study intends to find out whether or not women hedging more than men contains more substance than is implied by the stereotype.

Introduction + Background

Entering new environments with high expectations can be difficult for anyone. This is especially relevant in academic environments, where imposter syndrome and the resulting stress are abundant. As a general stereotype and resulting from years upon years of patriarchal oppression, it is believed that women hedge more than men. This also carries the implication that women are less intelligent. Now we know from a lot of other research (and a thing I like to call common sense) that simply being a woman does not make a person less smart than anyone else. Though why are we looking at female STEM majors in particular? The number of women in stem has been far less than the number of men in the field for many years in our past. In recent years, many more women have been joining the STEM field, choosing to become STEM majors. Their numbers have been steadily increasing every few years from what it was in the past, but also has not been increasing fast enough to be considered a “boom” of any sort. Does the high expectation for the small percentage of women entering these male-dominated fields make them feel less confident in their abilities to acquire/distribute STEM-related information? Could the use of more hedging be intentional, and used as a sort of cushion for being able to make mistakes? It is also possible that the content within STEM fields, which is generally considered difficult to grasp, may make it harder for people to assert their knowledge of the subject. This semi-spontaneous interview test attempts to collect data that can be used as evidence to answer these questions.


To collect our data, we used a sample of twelve STEM majors at UCLA: six male, six female. We conducted a short interview, asking questions that would illicit hedging. The questions were:

    1. What is one STEM class that you’re currently taking?
    2. Can you explain something that you’re learning in that class?
    3. What is the most difficult thing you have learned in that class?

These questions were designed to provoke deeper thought and test mastery of the participant’s field of study. After the interview, we then explain to the interviewees our study and hedging, specifically what it is and how someone might use it in certain scenarios. We give this explanation to allow them to reflect on the subject and determine how much they think they use it and why they use it as a linguistic tool. We also do this after conducting the interview so the participants are unaware of the topic, giving us the most genuine, unaltered responses. Finally, we give them a post-interview survey to answer based on their recent reflections on a scale from 1- 10. The questions include:

    1. How often do you think you use linguistics hedging?
    2. How confident or capable do you feel in your field of study?
    3. How often do you feel condescension or face condescending remarks said to you in your field?
    4. How much do you believe the environment you face (and the amount of discrimination / condescension) in your field has contributed to this your confidence in said field?
    5. How much do you believe the level of confidence you have affects the number of hedges you use?

With this whole study, we are able to collect genuine responses of hedging from the interview and perspectives on hedging from the participants with the survey.


Each interview from the twelve STEM majors lasted around two to three minutes. We noticed that the STEM majors commonly used hedges: “like”, “possibly”, and “may”. From the twelve interviews, we noticed that the most common hedge used by both genders was the word “like”. The STEM majors used the word “like”, not to show comparison, but to express vague statements. For example, one of the interviewees said:

“… Learning how you compose and create a CT scan from like Fourier transforms …”

Here, the interviewee used hedging to evasively state that she was learning how CT scans are created through Fourier transforms.

To analyze the interviews, we counted the occurrences of hedges in each interview and calculated the average frequency of hedges per gender.

Figure 1: Hedges Counted per Interview

The data revealed that females had an average of 6.83 hedges per interview while males had an average of 8.83 hedges per interview. Although females had a lower average of hedges than males, we noticed that the amount of hedges for both males and females were fairly similar with the exception of a few outliers. The maximum amount of hedges used was 18 hedges by a male, which is much higher than the amount of hedges counted for the other males. The minimum amount of hedges used was two hedges by two females. Because of the outliers and the fairly similar amount of hedges, it is hard to conclude that gender causes a change in frequency of hedges. Our data suggests that it is possible that the frequency of hedges is related to the individual’s competency in the subject rather than gender. To have more conclusive results, we should have interviewed a large amount of people, but because our sample size was too small and hedging counts were fairly similar, it is hard to definitely conclude that gender affects hedging usage.

When we analyzed the questionnaire data from our post-interview surveys, we discovered several notable observations. One of those observations was that women felt significantly more adversity than men. For the question “how often do you feel discriminated against or underrepresented in your field?”, we found that women felt approximately 7 times more discrimination than men. Similarly, for the question “How often do you feel condescension or face condescending remarks said to you in your field?”, we observed women feeling about 3 times more condescension than men.

Figure 2: Perceived adversity by men and women

From those two questions alone, the data suggests that gender disparity continues to exist and has propagated into the UCLA community as well. Specifically, it seems that how much women experience discrimination today has not changed enough especially when it comes to factors such as earnings and promotions in the workplace.

Furthermore, when we analyzed the data from the question asking how confident they felt in their field of study, we observed that women felt more confident than men by a slight margin of 0.5. However, the data from the “How much do you believe the environment you face (and the amount of discrimination / condescension) in your field has contributed to your confidence in said field?” showed that women gave less credit to their environment. Surprisingly, the data suggests women believe they developed their confidence outside of the environment in their respective fields. This begs the question, if this is the case then where exactly are they getting their confidence from and why is this the case?

Discussion and Conclusions

Our hypothesis was inconclusive that women in stem hedge more than men since the data that we received was inconsistent. Even though women in the survey reported a higher frequency of using hedging the frequency of hedges in the interviews conducted was around the same. Therefore, we cannot conclude from our study that women in STEM hedge more because of under representation and lower confidence levels in their field. However, there are many parameters that could influence our findings such as our small sample size, as there were only 12 people interviewed and surveyed in total. Another factor is that the people we used in our experiment were people we were familiar or friends with thus they might have been more comfortable around us, which could influence the frequency of hedges they used.

In the future we could possibly recreate the study but with a larger sample size which would even out the outliers in our data. We could also sample random people which we have not met previously. Furthermore ,we could research the differences in hedging between gender in different majors of the STEM field, such as computer science, mathematics, physics, etc, and observe whether the field you are in can affect the difference in hedging frequencies of men and women. We could also conduct the study among people interested in STEM of different education levels, such as in high school, and different colleges.

Through examination of hedging we can have a better understanding of the effects of gender in the STEM fields and language use. A continuation of this study could be very beneficial to stem majors when considering the role of gender in the stem field and the level of confidence they portray. In particular this research can be important when considering the work force, specifically that women are less likely to ask for raises and promotions. This could be tied into hedging since hedging relates to being uncertain and less confident in one’s ideas. We believe that this is a very important area of research with a lot of potential to explore the effects of gender in STEM and look forward to future contributions regarding this topic.


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Fun, Cool, Hip Title Here: AAVE Usage in Twitter Memes

Nick Ushiyama, Stella Oganesyan, Ava Boehm, Rachel Lee, Alesha Vaughn

Love them or hate them, almost everyone active on social media has come into contact with memes at some point. Chances are, one or more of those memes used a variety of English called AAVE, or African American Vernacular English. This variety originated from working-class African Americans and displays words (lexicon), word order (syntax), word pronunciation/spelling (phonology), and word combination (morphology) different from the Standard American English (SAE) taught in schools (Rickford et al., 2015). In our study, we tried to better understand how and why meme-makers switch between AAVE and SAE in their posts. We expected meme-posting Twitter users to use switching as a way to signal to readers that their posts should be read within the unique guidelines of meme-culture humor. For our research, we collected hundreds of memes and distributed a survey to see how people interpreted the switches. The results confirmed our expectations.

Introduction and background

A meme is a piece of cultural information that holds certain ideologies or behavioral concepts and is transmitted from person to person. The word ‘meme’ stems from the Greek word ‘mimeme.’ The root mim- means to mimic and the English suffix –eme is used to imply a unit of linguistic information, as seen in words such as phoneme and lexeme. The term ‘meme’ was coined from ‘gene’ and similar to a biological gene, the nature of a meme is to mutate or replicate when being transferred from person to person. The world of social media is full of memes as they are seen as a major part of today’s popular culture.

We noticed that a good handful of popular memes contain AAVE regardless of whether or not the original poster was a member of the Black Community. These memes were quite popular, too, which makes the use of AAVE within memes apparently index ‘coolness’ or ‘hipness’. There also wasn’t just one part of AAVE that memes utilized, but instead integrated syntactic, lexical, phonological, and morphological aspects of the dialect.

Figure 1a: An Example of AAVE Switching Involving a Syntactic Feature (“he b getting yelled at”)
Figure 1b: An Example of AAVE Switching Using a Lexical Feature (“the class was wildin”)

AAVE has been studied pretty extensively by linguists in the past. Of the studies that are relevant to our project, most of them show different ways that AAVE contributes to identity. That is, they show that people use it to communicate things about themselves to others. Those things could be anything from membership in social groups (Rickford et al., 2015; Anderson, 1999; Labov 1973; Sweetland, 2002), to particular attitudes (Ilbury, 2020). However, almost none of this research looks at AAVE on social media, let alone in Twitter memes.

For youths, social media is quickly becoming one of the richest sites for creating cultural connections. As such, the linguistic norms that are founded there can quickly become widespread. Our work addresses this understudied, but extremely significant, domain of AAVE usage. We set out anticipating that meme-creators would incorporate AAVE in their posts to tell readers that those posts should be read and interpreted as memes.


Occurrences in Memes

Before we tested our hypothesis, we first had to figure out what kinds of switches were occurring between SAE and AAVE. As such, we collected instances of AAVE usage in memes by visiting meme-posting pages on Instagram. We recorded whether these AAVE features were syntactic, lexical, phonological, or morphological in nature, and we also considered what topics the memes addressed. Figure 2 below explains which topics we observed.

Figure 2: Topic List and Definitions


Upon gaining a lay of the land, a survey was designed. We sent it out in order to receive data that would allow us to address our hypothesis. In the survey, participants first provided consent to publish their (anonymously-attributed) data. They then stated their age and level of experience with memes.

Following this demographic collection portion, the participants were exposed to examples of memes in which one AAVE feature (and therefore one switch) was used. They were then asked…

    • Whether they believed the usage of AAVE was ironic (disingenuous) or not given a poster’s race (African American and non-African American).
    • What they believed the posters were trying to do by switching from SAE to AAVE
    • Whether they believed their answer to (2) would change if the poster’s race was the opposite of that presented in (1).

At the end of the survey, we asked them to respond to the following question if they had identified any switch as ironic: “If you said that some usages were ironic, do you think that irony is meant to indicate something about how the humor in the posts should be interpreted?” This allowed us to directly address our hypothesis.


Occurrences in Memes

The meme data consisted of the type of linguistic feature involved in the switch from SAE to AAVE and the topic that the meme addressed. We calculated the number of occurrences for syntactic, lexical, phonological, and morphological features per topic, and the results are presented below in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Raw Number of AAVE Occurrences per Topic

We then calculated the percentages of each occurrence per topic, and these results can be seen below in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Raw Percentages of AAVE Occurrences per Topic (NOTE: overall here means all topics combined)

In terms of the overall number of AAVE features observed, the data showed a clear preference for AAVE syntactic features, followed by lexical, phonological, and morphological features. This order of preference occurred in 4 out of the 11 identified topics. The most popular topic of memes was daily routines, while the least popular was the occupation topic.

From our survey, we received a total of twenty seven completed responses. Twenty six participants were in the age range of 19 – 29 (approximately the same age as meme-posters), and one older participant (age 38) was also included in the data given their experience level with memes. Out of the four possible meme experience levels, only 3 were observed (options 2, 3, and 4). Figures 5a and 5b summarize their meme experience:

Figure 5a: Breakdown of Participant Meme Experience
Figure 5b: The Meme Experience Levels we Observed

We then averaged irony scores for each example among meme-experience groups, age groups, and overall. The irony score represented how strongly participants believed the poster’s switch would occur as a natural tendency as opposed to a conscious choice. Except for the fourth example (which participants did not view as having a switch at all), irony scores were greater when the poster was assumed to be non-African American. The meme-experience group who chose option three had higher irony scores than those who actually made memes. That said, this difference was not statistically significant according to an F-test and a ttest between the two groups. This data can be seen below in Figures 6a and 6b.

Figure 6a: Irony Score Per Participant Age
Figure 6b: Irony Score Per Meme Experience Group

We then analyzed short answer responses, which consisted of what participants believed switches indicated about the humor of the examples. We boiled down their statements into ‘themes’ of explanation and counted how many responses fell into these themes. We specifically focused on themes relating to humor and noted how strongly these were represented among the three present meme experience levels. A summary of the response data can be seen below in Figures 7a-e.

Figure 7a: Short Answer Data Summarized – How Many Different Themes (Dispersion) and How Many Rejected Responses (n/a portion)
Figure 7b: Short Answer Data Summarized – Ratio of Humorous Themes to Total Entries Under Varying Poster-Race Assumptions for Each Example
Figure 7c: Short Answer Data Summarized – Different Meme Experience Levels’ Ratio of Humorous Themes to Total Valid Entries for Each Example (NOTE: red cells are option 4 group, white cells are option 3 group)
Figure 7d: Short Answer Data Summarized – Mode (Most popular Theme) and Values of Mode For Each Example
Figure 7e: Short Answer Data Summarized – Disagreement in What Switches Meant for Each Example

As seen in Figure 7e, we calculated the degree of disagreement on what switching meant for each example. Generally, there was less disagreement when participants were told that the poster was not African American, and overall disagreement increased in later examples considerably.

Finally, we sorted responses to the final question, regarding what ironic switching was meant to indicate about how humor should be interpreted. Not every participant was instructed to answer this question, only those who indicated that ironic code-switching to AAVE was present in the previous examples. Out of the 21 responses that were eligible, 85.71% of participants believed ironic switching indexed something about how the humor of the meme should be evaluated.

The most popular response was a positive confirmation of the question. The most popular elaborated response stated that switching to AAVE signaled to read the post as a meme. To be read as a “meme” is best explained by one participant’s response:

“Yes, I believe that switching to AAVE shows to users that it is not a formal post but instead casual, humorous, and meant to be related to.”

Discussion and conclusions

Our most significant finding was the general consensus that meme-posters use AAVE to indicate how the humor in their posts should be interpreted. And indeed, our hypothesis was confirmed: participants directly stated the switch to AAVE was done so the humor of memes would be evaluated along comedic standards specific to memes (as opposed to stand-up or sketch comedy). This would suggest that AAVE has become associated with humor. And to be sure, there are negative consequences to this association. The variety could be portrayed as something humorous, lighthearted, and not to be taken seriously. One of our participants in fact commented that AAVE’s appearance in memes is justified because “certain vernacular have a playful connotation that doesn’t imply seriousness.” Obviously, this would pose a problem for those who use the variety in their daily lives, in that their speech would be trivialized and even seen as unfit for participation in larger economic and civil institutions.

Our raw data also suggested that neither age nor meme experience significantly affected the likelihood to see irony in AAVE usage. At least one of our examples however was flawed and may have skewed the data. And in fact, given final question responses, it’s likely that being in the higher meme experience group did make participants slightly less likely to view switching as ironic. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that greater experience with memes in turn translates to lower likelihood to view AAVE usage as cultural appropriation. One participant in the option four group actually recognized that SAE to AAVE switching could constitute appropriation. However, they also noted that it is unlikely that there are ill intentions around the usage itself. They believed that though meme culture may inadvertently stigmatize the variety, the community itself is not systematically “anti-black.” All of this said, we cautiously state here that the negative consequences of AAVE usage in memes do not escape some members of the meme community but also that they don’t view their actions as malicious. As such, it’s unlikely that AAVE usage will cease any time soon.

The greatest number of AAVE features found in memes were syntactic features, the first three survey examples (containing the two syntactic switches) displayed greater numbers of humorous entries, and these first three also included lower levels of disagreement towards the meanings of switches. This suggests that AAVE syntax is not only more heavily associated with memes but is also the most used type of feature in communicating information about humor. And indeed this aligns with what Sweetland (2002) claimed regarding AAVE usage: AAVE syntax was the primary means of linguistically indicating a belonging to the AAVE speech community. Meme posters are arguably not, however, trying to indicate belonging to the AAVE speech community, so there are two likely implications this finding could have. Perhaps the users are trying to imitate and evoke stereotypes regarding African Americans. Conversely, the users could be attempting to signal in-group status of their own. That is, they could be trying to say “I’m a member of the meme community, too!” by switching. We make no conclusions here since we lack evidence to prove either, but leave readers with the understanding that, regardless of humor, there are real world consequences to this type of usage.



Anderson, E. (2000). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. W. W. Norton & Company

Ilbury, C. (2020). “Sassy Queens”: Stylistic orthographic variation in Twitter and the enregisterment of AAVE. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 24(2), 245-264. doi:10.1111/josl.12366

Labov, W. (1973). The linguistic consequences of being a lame. Language in Society, 2(1), 81- 115. doi:10.1017/s0047404500000075

Rickford, J. R., Duncan, G. J., Gennetian, L. A., Gou, R. Y., Greene, R., Katz, L. F., Kessler, R. C., Kling, J. R., Sanbonmatsu, L., Sanchez-Ordoñez, A. E., Sciandra, M., Thomas, E., & Ludwig, J. (2015). Neighborhood effects on use of African-American Vernacular English. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(38), 11817–11822. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1500176112

Sweetland, J. (2002). Unexpected but authentic use of an ethnically-marked dialect. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 6(4), 514–538. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00199


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Speech Patterns as Identity Constructors Across Social Media Platforms

Alissa McNerney, Akina Nishi, Ryley Park, Nicolas Simone, Fontanna Yee

As slang and social media usage has risen in popularity in recent years, we wanted to explore how different patterns of slang would change a speaker’s identity on different social media platforms. Although we initially thought that examining slang alone would give us a good picture of how social media identities were created, we soon realized that slang usage was part of the story, but not entirely dependent on the social media platform. This discovery allowed us to pivot towards analyzing not just slang but also how prosody, speech-related information such as intonation and gestures, also contributed to identity construction. By conducting a case study of TikTok influencer @sirthestar across three social media platforms, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter, and analyzing both written and spoken content, we concluded that greater usage of slang and prosody contributed to creating a more comedic identity on TikTok and YouTube and lesser usage contributed to a more social activist identity on Twitter.

Introduction and Background

Slang has long been an integral part of colloquial speech and plays an important role in social communication especially among younger people, as younger generations seem to be the greatest users and creators of new slang words (Zhou, 2013). Currently, a visible linguistic trend is the frequent usage of slang usage on social media platforms, both because of the younger demographic and because the informal dialogue on social media translates well to the nonstandard forms of slang (Teodorescu, 2015). Oftentimes, different subgroups end up creating their own slang usage (Zhou, 2013), and our research question centered around how slang would define certain subgroups on social media. More specially, we asked how users constructed different identities through their linguistic variation on different social media platforms. Initially, we hypothesized that a user’s identity could be influenced by the particular slang terms they used more frequently on a social media platform, and that slang usage would be different depending on the platform it originates from. However, after initial data analysis, we pivoted to include prosody in our analysis, encompassing non-lexical speech-related information such as pitch, intonation, articulation, and gestures, which contributed equally as much to identity construction as slang (Shih & Kochanski, 2002). Our final revised hypothesis was that a user’s identity could be influenced by the varied prosody and other speech patterns, as well as frequency of particular slang terms, they used on each social media platform.


For this research study we conducted a case study of TikTok influencer @sirthestar by examining his written and verbal communication on his TikTok, Twitter and Youtube accounts. Tiktok is a video sharing social media platform where users create a wide variety of different types of videos, with over two billion downloads across the world (Zukin, 2020). Like other forms of social media, TikTok has been the origin of new slang terms that have expanded in usage beyond the platform, especially because internet slang can develop and spread quickly because of the viral nature of online content (Zhang, 2016). We decided to analyze the speech patterns of only one person to minimize non-linguistic external factors that could affect the user’s identity. Although most well-known for storytimes on TikTok, Sir is also active on both Youtube and Twitter, which made him an ideal candidate.

We searched for both written and spoken samples from these social media platforms, and using our slang references, analyzed linguistic variation in each of these platforms. We collected data by using the closed captioning system in YouTube, written speech on Twitter, and self-captioning and our own transcriptions of TikTok dialogue. Before pivoting, our intention was to categorize the types of slang we found, such as alphabetisms, blends, clippings, and reduplicatives (Kulkarni & Wang, 2018). However, for Youtube, we could not find enough video data to make any conclusions about slang usage, and when we parsed the data of Twitter and TikTok to find significant slang terms, we saw inconclusive results because slang alone was not enough to distinguish between Sir’s identities on TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube.

Figure 1: Bar Graph of Frequency of Slang Usage (TikTok vs Twitter)

Because of this, we switched gears to include more than just slang as part of our research. With a new direction, we looked at each platform’s data and divided the samples into “comedic” and “non-comedic” content to take a look at the tone presented by Sir. We determined this by identifying if a tweet or piece of dialogue from YouTube or TikTok was meant to elicit laughter and be entertaining or not, and then identified changes in slang, prosody, and other speech patterns that contributed to creating “comedic” or “non-comedic” content on each social media platform.



Figure 2: Non-Comedic Tweet. Sir takes a stance on Black Lives Matter.
Figure 3: Comedic Tweet. Sir shares comical experience.

Twitter showed us a pretty even split between comedic and non-comedic tweets. This was mostly due to Sir’s numerous tweets on Black Lives Matter, and his purpose of spreading awareness. For “comedic” content, Sir tweeted with themes of relatability and silly snippets of his life. As for speech patterns, comedic tweets had simple words and were only a few lines long. There was not conclusively a disregard for grammar, because there was still proper capitalization and usage of punctuation like “…” or “*scrolling twitter*”, but it was fashioned casually to be humorous. Meanwhile, non-comedic tweets were usually more than one line long, and had more proper punctuation and capitalization. Some common themes included social activism, self-esteem/positivity, and gratitude towards his fans. An example is his tweet on September 17- “Something I’ve learned…don’t search for or force love, it’ll only hurt you in the long run. Focus on loving yourself, be in your bag. This creates a positive energy which attracts positive relationships ✨” This is not to say, however, that these kinds of rules applied to strictly all of Sir’s tweets, as we saw that both comedic and non-comedic tweets included use of emojis, like in the above examples, and use of all-caps written speech to emphasize emotion.


Figure 4: Screenshot of one of Sir’s comedic videos, as shown by facial expression

On YouTube, we noticed that there was an imbalance between comedic and non-comedic videos uploaded. While Twitter was a platform that @sirthestar utilized to voice his opinions on more serious matters, YouTube was a platform where we regularly saw @sirthestar telling stories for entertainment. His language contains many slang words, and his speech pattern of repetition appeared frequently throughout his videos. One example was a quote from a video on July 24 – “Ain’t nobody gonna cheat on us, cheat on us, treat us like sh*t, none of that, none of that. What we gotta do is we play the game, we play the game, and if they think they win. NO! They didn’t win, tie them up!” This was most likely due to the fact that YouTube videos were much longer than the time duration given on TikTok, and therefore @sirthestar was able to take his time to relay his messages with more humor. However, this longer time duration also appeared as a hindrance in terms of collecting data. While TikTok and Twitter content did not contain too many words, the YouTube videos had twelve to fifteen minutes worth of spoken language, which made collecting data from multiple videos too difficult. Overall, we could see that the repetition of certain phrases that appeared on YouTube was not present on the other two platforms.


Figure 5: Pie chart of ratio between comedic and non-comedic TikTok videos

TikTok was where Sir also had a large majority of comedic versus non-comedic videos. Of the thirty TikToks that we examined, there were only a few that focused on serious topics like politics, racism, and homophobia, but even in these videos, Sir maintained his comedic persona. This persona was evident through his use of slang and prosody in his videos. On TikTok, Sir used the most slang by far, with words like “bitch” and “y’all” being used frequently in his videos. Along with this slang, Sir would commonly clap and stress certain words in his TikTok videos for emphasis on his jokes. An example of this was in a TikTok where he said “ Mind you, I already had a long ass day, and getting cat-called was not gonna end good for him [clapping between each word].” Sir’s use of prosody and articulatory gestures were present in the majority of the TikToks we analyzed, and unlike other platforms, there was plenty of slang usage in the majority of his TikToks. TikTok was also the platform where Sir used the most stream-of-consciousness type of speaking by utilizing run-on-sentences and speaking quickly, which emphasized that every video was a performance, and he maintained a very exaggerated, entertaining persona even when he was speaking on a sensitive topic. These linguistic features contributed to his comedian persona that he developed on the application in a different way than his other social media platforms.


Our findings were able to help us understand how one’s identity differed depending on which social media platform they were utilizing. By researching @sirthestar’s profiles on Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, we saw that he used Twitter for more non-comedic content, and thus there was proper grammatical usage, punctuation, full sentences, and less slang, although there was still usage of emojis in both comedic and non-comedic content. His speech patterns on Twitter proved to be more formal and demonstrated that it was a place where he could be more serious and voice his opinions on social activism. On the other hand, on YouTube and TikTok, @sirthestar uploaded content for entertainment purposes. After seeing the higher use of slang and prosody in YouTube and TikTok, we were able to conclude that he has a comedic persona on these platforms, although the persona was created in different ways on each platform. On YouTube, his comedy came from word repetition, partially because of the longer timeframes, whereas on TikTok, he had the higher frequency of slang words as well as articulatory gestures. Although we had to pivot about our original hypothesis, we learned that it wasn’t completely wrong. Slang usage is not dependent on the social media platform but rather plays a role alongside prosody and other speech patterns in developing a comedic persona on YouTube and TikTok.



Kulkarni, V., & Wang, W. Y. (2018). Simple models for word formation in English slang. arXiv preprint arXiv:1804.02596.

Shih, C,. & Kochanski, G (2002). Section 1: What Is Prosody? Prosody and Prosodic Models, www.cs.columbia.edu/~julia/courses/CS4706/chilin.htm.

Teodorescu, H. N., & Saharia, N. (2015, October). An Internet slang annotated dictionary and its use in assessing message attitude and sentiments. In 2015 International Conference on Speech Technology and Human-Computer Dialogue (SpeD) (pp. 1-8). IEEE.

Zhang, L., Zhao, J., & Xu, K. (2016). Who creates trends in online social media: The crowd or opinion leaders? Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 21(1), 1-16. doi:10.1111/jcc4.12145

Zhou, Y, and Fan, Y. “A sociolinguistic study of American slang.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 3.12 (2013): 2209.

Zukin, M. (2020, Aug 05). TikTok Age of in the Quarantine. Variety, 46-49. https://search.proquest.com/docview/2434859387?accountid=14512

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Does She Listen to ‘Girl in Red’? Linguistic Markers in WLW Flirting

Tiffany Dang, Brianna Lombardo, Carlos Salvador Vasquez, Denisa Tudorache, Yuyin Yang

The present article focused on linguistic markers that are adopted by the Women Loving Women (WLW) population when identifying potential members of the WLW community. More specifically, this study focused on the strategies used by members of the WLW community for identifying fellow WLW with the intentions of pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship. Through analyzing popular YouTube videos featuring strategies on flirting with WLW, our first study captured the common beliefs regarding the need to take an extra step, and the possible methods on identifying WLW before taking any romantic or sexual advances. Followed-up by semi-structured interviews in study two with UCLA students who self-identify as WLW, we were able to examine the accuracy of the tips offered by the YouTube videos. This allowed for further investigation on the existence of specific linguistic markers adopted by WLW when flirting. We found that both popular YouTube videos and participants both discussed the need for WLW to take an extra step before they can comfortably pursue another woman and tend to make a conscious effort to not be too direct.

Introduction and Background

While there have been past studies done on examining the speech of gay men, particularly the California vowel shift among gay men (Podesva, 2011), and one that revealed a concept of gay-dar, the belief that gay men possess an ability to pick out each other in a crowd (Shelp, 2003), little research has been done on uncovering linguistic patterns within the Women Loving Women population (WLW). A member of the WLW community is loosely defined as anyone who identifies as a woman and differs from the mainstream preferences in terms of their sexual practice and identity (Eliason & Morgan, 1998). Due to being seen as deviant from the mainstream practices, they may feel the need to take different approaches when making romantic pursuits in order to establish a mutual understanding of their interest in women when talking to another individual. As WLW may often struggle with compulsory heterosexuality, the fear of being perceived as predatory, as well as the potential dangers that come with revealing their sexuality, we aimed to investigate whether there were any linguistic markers adopted among the members of the community to aid in implicitly seeking each other out. This study explores the ways WLW work around the potential barriers they face when pursuing romantic interests and when revealing their identity in hopes of gaining insight on ways to improve the inclusivity of a general community. We hypothesized that WLW would adopt practices where they refer to certain WLW-group-specific terminologies or features before making romantic or sexual advances towards another woman.


Study 1 collected people’s lay knowledge on identifying WLW by looking at popular YouTube videos that featured strategies on how to initiate romantic/sexual advances with a WLW. We found three relatively popular videos created by members of the WLW community who also covered a large realm of dating advice and made a list of those that were related to indexing sexual identity. In addition, we watched two videos that featured heterosexual dating advice and made note of the advice given to men to romantically or sexually pursue other women. By comparing the two lists of notes, we were able to identify potential strategies that are WLW group-specific.

Study 2 consisted of two semi-structured interviews that took place and were recorded through Zoom. We interviewed a total three members of the WLW community, with two of them being in a committed relationship. They were primarily asked to describe and draw from their past experiences. The interviews were guided by six open-ended questions (see Appendix A) with the interviewer following up with questions when necessary. Our questions focused on the WLW’s description of their experiences in establishing mutual interest in women using non-direct measures. Participants were recruited using snow-ball sampling and all answers were kept anonymous. After the interviews, we listened to the audio recordings and made notes of the different ways WLW chose to index their sexual identity as well as the cues they used to determine the sexual identity of their romantic interest.

Study 1 Results

In Study 1, we were able to uncover several recurring themes. One point made consistently across multiple videos was that the WLW always felt the need to immediately make their sexuality known once they realized they had feelings for the other party.

Reasons for this were that they did not want to confuse the other party into thinking that they just wanted a female friend, and they also did not want the other party to assume that the speaker is straight and think differently of them. WLW worry about giving ambiguous signals if they were to not reveal their sexual identity soon enough, which leads to the subtle incorporations of various cues in conversations, such as mentioning the pride parade, to demonstrate their sexual identity.

They also made mentions of lurking through the other party’s social media for signs pertaining to possible membership of the WLW community to know whether it would be appropriate for them to make romantic advances. WLW also tend to be cautious in making advances as they adopt a “flirting by not flirting” technique. This allows them to slowly determine if the other party has reciprocated romantic feelings without being too overbearing and only continue to proceed if there is a positive response.

Figure 1: A selection of videos on WLW flirting used in Study 1

WLW flirting:  Video 1      Video 2     Video 3

In contrast, when we explored flirting advice geared towards men to pursue women, there was no  mention for men to index their sexual identity to women before flirting or at any stage of the courting process. The videos generally focused on advising men to be indirect to increase excitement in women and how to appear playful and masculine.

Figure 2: A selection of videos on heterosexual flirting used in Study 1

Heterosexual Flirting: Video 1      Video 2

Although there was some overlap in advice given to women to pursue other women and given to men to pursue women, such as being subtle and indirect, the reasoning behind it was different,  and a clear difference was the need for WLW to drop hints about their sexual identity. Because there tends to be less confusion in intentions when a male approaches a female, neither party is advised to hint at their own sexual identity nor advised on how to determine the other party’s sexual identity. In contrast, a common theme across videos geared towards WLW is to use references to hint at their own gayness or try to determine whether the other party is gay before advancing.

Study 2 Results

Interview 1

A summary of common themes that arose in Interview 1 are presented in Table 1 below along with some illustrative examples given by the interviewee.

Table 1: Recurring themes and examples from Interview 1

Interview 2

To illustrate the results derived from Interview 2, Table 2 consists of the most important statements made by both Subject 1 and Subject 2 in the conversation. It is important to note that Subject 1 and Subject 2 have been in a WLW relationship for over a year. When answering the interviewer’s questions, they both reflected on when they first met and how this has changed or remained consistent. The middle column consists of what they answered similarly.

Table 2: Noteworthy excerpts from each subject of Interview 2 and areas of overlap


Study 2 Analysis

From our interviews we gathered that the majority of strategies available for Women-Loving Women to identify and flirt with other WLW are mostly non-linguistic in nature. In both interviews, WLW referred to style of dress as a primary identifier for fellow WLW. These and other aspects of popular WLW culture were also drawn upon during the flirting itself, which leads us to one overtly linguistic flirting strategy we found was used by WLW– compliments. Compliments between WLW referenced nonverbal yet mutually understood markers of WLW identity, so they were used to confirm sexuality and communicate an attempt to flirt, in addition to their function as simple compliments. Importantly, compliments between WLW and platonic ones between heterosexual women were said to differ solely in their content and not their form. We conclude that this arises from a need or desire for WLW to flirt “under the radar” to avoid the very real danger of homophobia and bigoted comments.

We also noted the potential for confusion and ambiguous interpretations of these, arguably necessary, nonverbal flirting methods. Subject 1 even described a trend among WLW to pull back on “standard” physical or verbal affection (at least among other WLW) as a way to avoid creating confusion since more open displays of platonic affection are expected among groups of women. This may contribute to a societal perception of WLW as being “colder” or “more masculine.” Future studies might investigate whether or not this is true among a larger sample size.

Figure 3: A meme employing WLW popular music artist ‘Girl in Red’ to euphemistically index a WLW identity


Discussion and Conclusions

Our ultimate takeaway from these interviews was a strong indication that, motivated by a possible fear of negative attention, members of WLW groups feel the need to be covert in romantic contexts. As a result of this covertness, we noticed a trend of relying on nonverbal cues (like clothing choice) more than an awareness of individuals phonetically or lexically indexing their “gayness.”

Even in situations where an individual might directly state “I like girls,” the implication of “I’m romantically interested in you” often remains covert. This gives the other individual a choice as to whether or not an interaction is romantic in nature, but can end up causing some confusion. Thus arises the stereotype that WLW do not flirt. In many cases, their advances can easily be interpreted as platonic interaction among women in a society where affection among women is more normalized than among men, and where revealing your sexuality to the wrong person can have negative repercussions.

Further Reading Recommendations: Although we did not cover this information in our study, there have been numerous studies done on the language WLW may use that distinguish their patterns from heterosexual women. Robin Lakoff in Language and A Woman’s Place (1975), defines stereotypical “women’s language features (WL)” as those associated with “heterosexual women’s performance of femininity.” She contrasts this with the existence of typical “men’s language features (ML),” thus creating a binary of “women’s speech v men’s speech.” It would be interesting to use this and analyze whether women in the WLW community use either one or both of the language features, and whether this could be a distinguishing feature.



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Lakoff, Robin (1975). Language and A Woman’s Place. Language in Society, Vol. 2, No. 1, 45-80.

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Shelp, S. G. (2003). Gaydar: Gaydar. Journal of Homosexuality, 44(1), 1-14.


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