Regional dialects are alive and well on Twitter, research finds

Jan 06, 2011

Microbloggers may think they're interacting in one big Twitterverse, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science find that regional slang and dialects are as evident in tweets as they are in everyday conversations.

Postings on Twitter reflect some well-known regionalisms, such as Southerners' "y'all," and Pittsburghers' "yinz," and the usual regional divides in references to soda, pop and Coke. But Jacob Eisenstein, a post-doctoral fellow in CMU's Machine Learning Department, said the automated method he and his colleagues have developed for analyzing Twitter word use shows that regional dialects appear to be evolving within social media.

In northern California, something that's cool is "koo" in tweets, while in southern California, it's "coo." In many cities, something is "sumthin," but tweets in New York City favor "suttin." While many of us might complain in tweets of being "very" tired, people in northern California tend to be "hella" tired, New Yorkers "deadass" tired and Angelenos are simply tired "af."

The "af" is an acronym that, like many others on Twitter, stands for a vulgarity. LOL is a commonly used acronym for "laughing out loud," but Twitterers in Washington, D.C., seem to have an affinity for the cruder LLS.

Eisenstein said some of this usage clearly is shaped by the 140-character limit of Twitter messages, but geography's influence also is apparent. The the CMU team used to recognize regional variation in word use and topics could predict the location of a microblogger in the continental United States with a median error of about 300 miles.

Eisenstein will present the study on Jan. 8 at the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting in Pittsburgh.

Studies of regional dialects traditionally have been based primarily on oral interviews, Eisenstein said, noting that written communication often is less reflective of regional influences because writing, even in blogs, tends to be formal and thus homogenized. But Twitter offers a new way of studying regional lexicon, he explained, because tweets are informal and conversational. Furthermore, people who tweet using mobile phones have the option of geotagging their messages with GPS coordinates.

For this study, Eisenstein and his co-authors — Eric P. Xing, associate professor of machine learning, Noah A. Smith, assistant professor in the Language Technologies Institute (LTI), and Brendan O'Connor, machine learning graduate student — collected a week's worth of Twitter messages in March 2010, and selected geotagged messages from Twitter users who wrote at least 20 messages. That yielded a data base of 9,500 users and 380,000 messages.

Though the researchers could pinpoint the users' locations using the geotags, they can only guess as to their profiles. Eisenstein said it's reasonable to assume that people sending lots of from mobile phones are younger than the average Twitter user and the topics discussed by these users seem to reflect that.

Automated analysis of Twitter message streams offers linguists an opportunity to watch regional dialects evolve in real time. "It will be interesting to see what happens. Will 'suttin' remain a word we see primarily in New York City, or will it spread?" Eisenstein asked.

It might be a mistake to assume that the greater interconnectivity afforded by computer networks and sites such as Twitter will necessarily result in more homogeneity in language. The social circles maintained by social networks such as often are geographically focused, he noted. Also, many people use the Internet to seek out like-minded people with similar interests, rather than expose themselves to a broader range of ideas and experiences.

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

More information: The paper is available online at http://people.csail.mit.edu/jacobe/papers/emnlp2010.pdf.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Twitter partners with Indian firm for SMS tweets

Oct 14, 2009

Twitter announced a deal with India's top mobile company Bharti Airtel on Wednesday that will allow users of the hot micro-blogging service to send "tweets" at standard SMS message rates and receive them for ...

Twitter testing tool to organize tweets

Oct 01, 2009

Twitter on Thursday began letting a small number of users test a "Lists" feature for dividing maelstroms of tweets into manageable sub-categories.

Twitter unveils new frontpage

Jul 30, 2009

Micro-blogging service Twitter has unveiled a new frontpage featuring a prominent search box in a bid to attract new users.

Twitter launches iPad application

Sep 02, 2010

Hot microblogging service Twitter launched an application for the Apple iPad on Thursday to rave reviews from technology blogs.

Twitter tool shows hot tweets when people meet

Oct 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first Twitter tool that ranks the popularity of individual messages plans to make the backchannel conversations at conferences and meetings more interesting.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.