Do you LOL out loud? Screen time influence on internet slang irl

Julia Baylon, Rachel Rim, Carolina Guerrero, Hebbah Elokour, and Caelynn Hwang

If you’re a college student reading this, you are a key individual in the composition of the Gen Z identity. Gen Z, today’s 18-23-year-olds, is defined by its fervent slang usage as well as its notorious association with and attachment to technology. Commonly used components of technology in Gen Z include social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and Discord. This study investigates the relationship between the two variables of time exposed to social media and slang-impacted conversational speech style. As slang rapidly evolves to shape communication and accommodate the construction and expression of individual identity, we begin to ponder, where does this language style come from, and to what extent does it influence our diction? Through conversational analysis and survey/questionnaire conduction, we hope to understand the explicit impact of social media on conversational slang and whether or not the results support our hypothesis, which argues that greater usage of slang on the internet and/or overall internet presence will result in a higher frequency of slang used in real life.

Our burning question

In a direct relationship with the evolution of social speech, internet slang has transformed from being a marked informal language style to an everyday form of communication. Internet slang influences both the communicative behavior that individuals in society practice along with their daily usage of language. Previous research on first language acquisition reveals that exposure to the respective language is a crucial component to the extent of production ability. Implementing the same argument, we hypothesize that exposure to the internet, where there is an abundance of slang, will affect the frequency that internet-users produce slang in conversation. This study ultimately seeks to understand our proposed research question that asks:  Does the time exposed to social media affect an individual’s conversational speech style and does this influence bleed into their different social media platforms varying informality? 

How did we approach this?

In this study, undergraduate university students will be the target population; the age range is between 18 to 22 years old. Data collection will occur in two parts, first, case studies of three to four recorded conversations, each at least 15 minutes long, will be observed to determine the frequency of slang words used by each participant. The latter half of the data collection will comprise a self-report survey, in which the participant will disclose their social media, respective user handle, and average screen time for each platform. The survey will then prompt participants to reflect and report individual uses of abbreviations, acronyms, and other slang. It concludes with a free response question of whether they think that internet slang influence has a positive or negative impact on speech.

Ultimately, we aimed to examine any correlations between screen time, app usage, self-reported analyses of slang used in real life, and actual usage of slang in real life. The participants involved in this study were unaware of the purpose of the study beforehand, as well, to elicit as natural-sounding conversation as possible. Furthermore, the participants were all friends of the co-authors, to hopefully eliminate any biases potentially introduced by the onset of an “interview-like” setting. The participants were all also friends of the co-authors since during quarantine we were admittedly unsure how to go about encountering people we didn’t already know and recording natural conversations between them.

Our Findings

We asked individuals if they used Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If they answered “yes”, they reported their average weekly screen time based off their devices’ reports or guestimate. 

Figure 1: Self-reported screen time.                                                                                               * Reported additional socials. Only Subject F reported screen time for Facebook (2 hrs)

We asked the participants if they used any other socials not mentioned in the survey and, if the did, to list them and report their screen time.

Figure 2: Additional socials. Only the subjects who reported any screen time are displayed.

 

Each of the 10 subjects was asked to assess whether they used Internet slang in their spoken language. The results are displayed here in this pie chart, with the overwhelming majoring responding “yes.”

Figure 3: Self-reported usage of slang in everyday speech

 

Each of the 10 subjects was asked to assess whether they substituted words in their spoken language. Results appear to be mixed, but again with the majority indicating that they do so at least “Sometimes.”

Figure 4: Self-reported usage of abbreviations in everyday speech

 

Although Subject A(she/her) had a pretty high average screen time (see Figure 1), the frequency of internet slang used in speech and posts is very little. Looking through her different social media platforms we found that in 2020, 0% of her Instagram posts, 0% of her LinkedIn posts, and 2.5% of her Twitter posts contained slang. About 45-55 minutes of recorded speech were collected for Subject A; this data was collected in the form of a phone call with a friend and the conversation topics were school, quitting a part-time retail job, a trip   to a museum, and apartment life. The results showed very little slang used (3 instances) in the form of emphasized agreement. When the friend expressed being happy living away from home and great dislike at going home for long periods of time, Subject A said “Facts! Period.” There was just one other instance of internet speech used but it was within the same conversation. While analyzing the recorded speech, we were surprised that, in the conversation about the job she hated and quit or the conversation about her trip to a museum, she did not use any slang. The tone of the first was annoyed/frustrated, while the second was very emotional and exciting. However, the Subject used the slang when the tone of the conversation was more neutral; perhaps it was the realization of the neutrality and therefore it was an effort to make the conversation more lively, or it just so happens that she thinks moving out and getting an apartment was the best decision of her life and gets excited when others feel the same. The interesting part was that after the recording was taken and the nature of the experiment revealed, Subject A laughed and expressed that she gave us a lot of material but was surprised when informed that she had only used slang 3 times. This overestimation of slang was seen among the other participants as well (see Figures 3 and 4). In the post-conversation survey, when asked if the influence of internet slang had a positive or negative effect, she answered,

“I think a little bit of both. It’s fun to use and say when with friends or in public. It also helps to reduce tension in conversations or with strangers. However, it is embarrassing and worrisome when people only speak like that or use the slang in essays, emails, etcetera.”

Additionally, Subjects E(he/him) and H(he/him) were also of note due to their significant presence on gaming platforms such as Discord (see Figure 2). During roughly 17 minutes of recorded speech, we were surprised to learn that there was little slang used (sick made an appearance a few times, as well as the occasional expletive), given that the gaming culture has evolved to contain speech community-specific language, which was confirmed in the post-conversation study and their Discord posts. Although their slang was not as active in their other social media platforms, Subject E had 68.7% of posts show slang and Subject H had 31.8% of posts show slang on their Discord (ACM Studio). This large difference between them can be attributed to Subject H’s position of co-presidents of ACM Studio, so his posts tended to be announcements, therefore, a bit more formal. The context of the conversation was generally relaxed and took place while cooking dinner. The topics of conversation strayed away from gaming topics, as there was a third individual present (not included in the study, as she is a co-author of this blog) who isn’t as big in the gaming community. Instead, the conversion-focused on classes, general Instagram-related topics, career focuses, and the like. However, in the post-conversation “debriefing” survey, the participants indicated a higher usage of gamer slang when talking to other gamers/about gaming-related topics. This included words such as pog, gg, F (..to pay respects), and broken (as in someone or something who is unfairly overpowered). As was discovered with Subject A, Subjects E and H also overestimated the extent to which they used slang in their everyday speech, indicating on the post-conversation survey that they believed their speech to “often” or at least “occasionally” use slang words.

The larger sociolinguistic picture

When trying to rationalize how little slang was used by the subjects, the words of sociolinguist Vera Regan came to mind. During her TEDxDublin, “What your speaking style, like, says about you” talk, she discusses how people’s language reflects their values, their goals, and their perception of themselves (2014). So, although Subject A is constantly exposed to internet slang, she will only choose the words that best represent her, as she is right now and who she wants to be in the future. As researchers, it highlighted for us how language is not only a tool for communication but also a form of creative expression that can hint at identity markers (like where we work, where we are from, our interests, etc.) like our style and choice in clothes.

In conclusion, throughout our study, we came to three main observations. The first observation states that some participants may have overestimated the extent to which they use slang in their speech. According to Kim and Ra, a higher frequency of the use of slang in one’s speech might be highly correlated to the limited means of communication that is available to reflect or express emotions, whether it is in written text or on social media (Kim and Ra, 2003). On the other hand, in real life, conveying emotions can come in the forms of facial expressions, voice tones, etc. Future studies investigating the effect of the use of emojis and uppercase letters would be interesting and may be useful to expand on the topic. Based on the data that we collected, our second observation stated that gender has little to no observable variance in our results. Our last observation indicates the conclusion that the topic of the conversation only seems to apply to the usage of speech in specific contexts. For instance, the speech observed of participants during playing a certain online game has sparked specific slang used in that specific game or common around social media platforms.

For future direction, it would be interesting to perform a study relating to specific speech communities. Our study unintentionally tapped on the gamer community, and an in-depth study on the usage of gamer lingo exclusively, correlated to the context in which it’s used (both online and in real life) could provide more detailed insight.

 

Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge everyone who participated in our study, especially the conversation participants who, after agreeing to participate, were told: “We’re gonna record our conversation for a bit. Don’t worry about it, okay? And no, sorry, we can’t tell you why until after. Just talk normally.” and then had to deal with the resulting confusion for a few minutes after.

 

References

An H. Kuppens (2010) Incidental foreign language acquisition from media exposure, Learning, Media and Technology, 35:1, 65-85, DOI: 10.1080/17439880903561876

Kim Y.S., Ra DY. (2003). Constructing an Internet Chatting Dictionary for Mapping Chatting Language to Standard Language. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2713. DOI: 10.1007/3-540-45036-X_72

TEDx Talks. (2014, November 21). What your speaking style, like, says about you | Vera Regan | TEDxDublin [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/jAGgKE82034

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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

A.O., Abusa’Aleek. (2015). Internet Linguistics: A Linguistic Analysis of Electronic Discourse as a New Variety of Language. International Journal of English Linguistics. 5.10.5539/ijel.v5n1p135.

Cheshire, J. (2007, April 17). Discourse variation, grammaticalisation and stuff like that. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00317.x.

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.

Sue. (1970, January 1). Young people’s language and stuff like that. Retrieved from http://linguistics-research-digest.blogspot.com/2011/10/young-peoples-language-and-stuff-like.html.

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