Friday, July 06, 2007

Linguistics on Facebook

Something I haven't seen remarked on anywhere, except by one of our contributors in passing, is the question of what Facebook might be able to tell us about language on college campuses or elsewhere. In what will probably become an occasional series, I'm pondering what's there and what it means, using the University of Wisconsin network as a data set. (And how ever big Facebook may be or get, this will never rival HeiDeas' brilliant Simpsons series — I'll get over it.)

The comment I heard on this topic was that the very existence of a group called "It Is a Bubbler, Damn it!" tells you something about language awareness on campus. It has 181 members right now, with 34 more members in "Advocates For New Bubblers at UW-Madison". This outstrips the competition: "Maybe its Not a Bubbler...but its Definitely Soda, Not Pop!" (18 members), "Seriously its a Qwa, Not a Bubbler or Water Fountain" (5), "It's Not a Bubbler, it's Not a Water Fountain. it's an Evervescer!!!" (2) , "It's a Damn Water Fountain. Thank You" (4), "It's not a Bubbler™, it's a water fountain...just like it's not Kleenex®, it's tissue paper" (1), "It Is a Drinking Fountain!...not a Bubbler!" (39), "It's a Waterhole" (11) and even "Bubbler...? Drinking Fountain...? Who CARES!??!!! WE LOVE TITTIES!!!" (18). Felt like I had to include the last one for completeness, but it's a big step below the rest, obviously.

But then, there's "It's NOT a Bubbler.. Seriously" with 1,692 members and the keeno graphic you see above. But start scrolling through the messages and, along with the Coasties you'd expect, there are lots of people who say things like this:
i just joined this group to tell everyone that it is, in fact, a bubbler....

thank you for your time
But there's plenty of more serious stuff in there, like a group reacting to English Only crap:
Welcome to America - Now Speak Cherokee!
Update, Saturday, 7:00 am: Stop the presses! See the comment on this post by Polyglot Conspiracy. My future posts on the topic will be informed by CP's pioneering contributions to this area of investigation.

9 comments:

Ollock said...

I've never heard of a water fountain being called a "bubbler". I haven't done rigorous searching, but being in the WVU network I've seen more groups regarding the use of "soda" vs "pop" vs generic "coke".

Of course, the most common I've seen there are general perscriptivist groups that abhor poor spelling and 'bad grammar'. I avoid such groups in general, though I did once post a comment on one of their forums.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, soda/pop is huge, of course, including here. The state is split on the term, actually, so it's maybe esp. logical here.

'Bubbler' is the word most identified with Wisconsin (I've posted about it a while back, with pix, even -- check the archives.

The prescriptivist stuff is something I'll probably eventually talk about -- but after some more regional stuff, probably.

pc said...

Facebook (and Myspace and insert-other-SNS-here) is endlessly interesting for linguists (yay! I'm not the only one who thinks so!). To toot my own horn (hey - I went to a workshop last night on Impostor Syndrome; I was told to take credit for my accomplishments): I've posted on Facebook group names as dialogic and the potential for learning something about speech patterns based on these names and given a perfunctory treatment of the language prescriptivist group trend.

Mr. Verb said...

Well, excellent. Your posts on this were before I was a regular reader of Polyglot Conspiracy. (Hey, old people just need time to find the cool stuff.)

And that workshop on imposter syndrome, I believe, was conducted by Wisconsin's own Professor Monica Macaulay, morphologist, author of Surviving Linguistics, and an occasional reader of this blog. Small world.

pc said...

Indeed it was! I thought she was your colleague but I wasn't 100% sure on whether it was the precise same department etc. She was great.

The Ridger, FCD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Ridger, FCD said...

previous post apparently typed with fingers on wrong keys ...

You know what? It's a "drinking fountain"! And it's coke, as in "You want a coke?" "Sure, what've you got?" "Pepsi and Nehi."

Also ... Sorry, but (blame John at Thoughts in a Haystack) you're tagged!.

Bettina said...

Facebook is indeed interesting for linguists. I'm only a linguistic student, so I don't really have as much insight into linguistic practices as some of you might do. I came across your blog in search of linguistic theory on facebook. My focus will be on the status updates of facebook users.
Do you, by any chance, know some secondary literature on facebook and cmc practices? That would be helpful, I'm really struggling :)

Mr. Verb said...

I don't, unfortunately, but Polyglot Conspiracy has talked about this and knows a ton more than I do about the relevant areas. Should be a fun topic.