Gen Z, Slang, and Stuff

Anonymous author, Daniela Vega, Giselle Chan,  Yuxiao Li

This study provides an analysis on the use of general extenders within Generation Z (Gen Z) online discourse. Utilizing qualitative analysis methods on social media dialogue (e.g. Youtube comments, Tweets, Spotify playlists, etc.) allows us to demonstrate how Gen Z members have created a new general extender (i.e. “and idk”). Where previous research studies on general extenders were narrowed to in-person discourse and interactions, this study examines the language pattern in the larger context of the internet across different social media discourse facilitators. It was a new context we were interested in providing research for because Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with the mass media culture, brought to them by the aforementioned social media outlets. Aptly so, Gen Z has created this new form of general extenders to expand their lexical inventory and engage in online discourse, as a pragmatic tool to index their emotions and stances. The interesting sociolinguistics findings on Gen Z and the use of general extenders are reflected on how this particular generation is constantly creating new slang terms (e.g. and idk), which builds intragenerational unity (with mutuals) but also causes intergenerational confusion (with the baby boomer generation referred to as the boomers); nonetheless, nuanced research is complicated with the lack of a corpus focusing on online discourse.

Introduction

Slang fosters in-group relationships and creates a recognizable framework of social discourse structure to identify fellow group members with. Slang is known to change regularly, generation to generation, and trend to trend. Currently, technological advances have played a huge role in the development of new stylistics in language and the creation of new lexical items. It is a language phenomenon that has been studied to showcase sociolinguistics impacts. Here we are also looking for the sociolinguistic impact, but on the focus of general extenders found in the Generation Z (Gen Z) every-day internet discourse stylistics. The speaking style of our target population, Gen Z, employs Internet slang in computer-mediated discourse, especially through videos on social media websites like YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok. We are looking to examine how they utilize it with intergenerational and intragenerational group members. We are hoping to understand if it is used to separate themselves from other groups or if there is a new development in general extenders with the same functions as previous research has defined. 

Background Information

There is previous research on the text messaging stylistics of Gen Z. There is also research on previous generations creating new slang. We will be following up these research focuses with the use of a specific linguistic event, the general extender (GE). GEs are phrases added to the end of a sentence indicating the previous word is part of a set, extending its meaning. For example, when being asked, “What did you find at the tide pools?”, one could respond by saying, “I found starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones, and stuff.” The “and stuff” is the GE, signifying the previous items were part of a larger set, in this case, of sea creatures. Researchers Tagliamonte and Denis analyzed these types of phrases and verified them to have important functions in spoken language. Those functions include referring to a set of the previous word, creating vagueness, sending a signal of unsureness, or creating solidarity between speakers. GEs can also be used to mark the end of a speaker’s turn or indicate that the previous word could become a topic of the conversation.

Common GEs used by previous generations include “and stuff” and “and things.” The oldest uses of general extenders date back to the 14th century with the GE, “and such” (Tagliamonte/Denis). GE use and types further develop with new additions appearing in 1957 with “and shit”. This includes general extender particles like “and that kind of thing” (see Figure 1).  We saw no other data on recent GEs in the late twentieth century or the current twenty first century. We are interested to find any new GEs and if possible, how they are coined and popularized by Gen Z. If there is a continuance in use of GEs from a previous generation, we will be documenting occurrences. When referring to Gen Z, we refer to individuals who are currently between 4 and 24 years old, born between 1995 and 2015. Gen Z constitutes an estimated 70 million of the population of the United States as of 2019. In looking at their screen time behavior, Gen Z watch about 68 videos per day across 5 social media platforms, including Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. This social behavior is new because of the invention of technology but does relate to multiple age groups. Gen Z, millennials (ages 18-34), and Generation Xers (ages 35-54) use social media more than baby boomers (ages 55 or more) (see Figure 2.). However, social media use is the highest in Gen Z than in other generations. This gives them the highest opportunity to host dialogue between themselves on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok.

Figure 1

 

Figure 2

Methodology

Using the qualitative method, Conversational Analysis (CA) for this study, we observe how Gen Z uses slang and GEs in their online conversations. Applied frequently in Sociology and Sociolinguistics to study social interactions, CA allowed us to analyze, compare, and document instances of GEs. The data used in our transcribed CAs were collected mostly from YouTube and Twitter, which have the highest Gen Z activity. Twitter caused difficulties because without category subjects to search for to find GE use, we were forced to scroll and read many tweets, hoping for an occurrence of a GE. We were able to search for the keywords of GEs like “and stuff”, which led to some results. We watched the most viewed YouTube videos from the popular Gen Z YouTube personalities (YouTubers) like James Charles and Kylie Jenner to begin a lexical choice analysis. When identifying the new GE, we returned to both Twitter and YouTube to search the phrase to find more instances and examples that supported our evaluation.

Results

We continuously saw a continued use of GEs including “and shit”, “and stuff, “and things”, and “or whatever”. These are continued in use from even the early 1600s. We did not witness an “and so forth” from the 1500s in a Tweet, YouTube video, YouTube comment, or TikTok made by a Gen Z community member or influential personality. We conclude because online discourse is not formal, the use of a Shakespearean aged GE would not be expected.  These previously identified GEs are not used to separate themselves from a generation but as a normal stylistic feature all generations use. We found no unique change in use for already established and identified GEs.

Through our CA data collection efforts we have successfully identified a new GE, “and idk”. This new GE is a fascinating finding sociolinguistically because it is a hybrid of already established linguistic phenomena and recently developed Internet-related acronyms. In looking at the function of “and idk,” we see it follows the same patterns of previous GEs. It continues to successfully indicate that words in the clause are part of larger set.

However, “and idk” deviates in the sense that it encodes pragmatic meaning. It contributes sentiments of vulnerability, insecurity and disconnect (see Figure 3.) In this example of “and idk”, we see it is identifying the users’ response to her lack of Twitter followers to interact with. Overall, our results serve as an expansion on previous research for GE, and we ultimately want more linguists to join in on this conversation of navigating the sociolinguistic landscape of the Internet to gain a more nuanced understanding of Gen Z-related discourse.

Figure 3. Screenshots of one of our tweets.

Discussion & Conclusion

We found GE uses allows any generation to be identified as the current younger generation because they are more typically found in informal speech. Social media discourse has allowed for changes in communication to facilitate the speed of communication speed online. While the use of the same tone you would have with friends and your in-group is also preferred because of the opportunity of anonymity and profile curation online. The research on general extenders does not include the increase, decrease, or appearance of usage at certain ages. However, we speculate if there should be research done on this, there could be identified a transition period between ages where GE use appears. We expect the GEs we identified to be added to a timeline representing its introduction, like the one we included in our research. We would hope there could be a timeline more specific for each GE within every time period, such as our focus here on Gen Z and social media. We would be interested in seeing the peaks and heights of use within the generation and the time periods where the GEs manifest. Thanks to archiving efforts for internet dialogue such as the Library of Congress Twitter Archive, the availability of data has increased. This type of data collection will allow for even further detailed research and we expect further sociolinguistic analysis.

 

References

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Cox, Toby. (2019, July 2). How Different Generations Use Social Media. from The State of Tech. Retrieved from https://themanifest.com/social-media/how-different-generations-use-social-media

D.W. Maurer. (2013, August 16). Slang. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Retrieved from https://www.britann ica.com/topic/slang

Levey, & Stephen. (2012, March 1). General Extenders and Grammaticalization: Insights from London Preadolescents. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/applij/article/33/3/257/220662.

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