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Not even real words: User construals of Twitter discourse as ‘talk-like’
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Language, Literature and Intercultural Studies. (Kulturvetenskapliga forskargruppen)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0680-4275
2015 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Linguistic research on computer-mediated communication has frequently addressed the supposed or actual orality (broadly, ‘spoken-likeness’ or ‘conversationality’) of written language in online contexts, and tends to construe orality in ‘discourse-external’ terms – e.g., in terms of theoretically or computationally motivated formal categories. This study presents an approach toward complementing extant research by focusing on ‘discourse-internal’ construals, or participant orientations (Schegloff 1997). The aim is to examine how Twitter users construe talk, on their own terms, when explicitly describing Twitter discourse as ‘talk-like’. The material comprises manually collected retrievals (via Twitter’s web-based search interface) of tweets containing the string “tweet/s like [pronoun] talk/s”, for the pronouns I, you, he, she, and they (N=300). Two research questions are addressed:

i. When Twitter users refer to their own or their peers’ Twitter discourse as being talk-like, how, if at all, do they substantiate notions of talk-likeness?

ii. What attitudes or values are attached to the notions talk-likeness expressed?

The results show that construals are often left implicit, but sometimes elaborated either in the body of a single tweet or over the course of a conversational exchange between multiple users. When elaborated, the construals are very diverse, but sometimes directly pertinent to categories common in both popular debate and scholarly work, such as mode, register, correctness, and appropriateness (see e.g. Baron 2008; Crystal 2006, 2008; Hård af Segerstad 2003; Jonsson 2013; Meredith & Stokoe 2014; Wikström 2014). For instance, some users associate talk-likeness with grammatical or orthographic (in-) correctness (Example 1), and others associate it with orthographic or lexical representation of dialect or accent (2), or less tangible notions of voice or tone (3).

  1. I tweet like I talk so if I spell some wrong it was on purpose. ... shiiid I passed all my English classes.......
  2. Hate it when scots tweet like they talk, you're not even writing real words
  3. @username oh my. He tweets like he talks. I can literally hear his overly preachy tone in those tweets…
  4. The reason I know it's not really [Jennifer] is because she's too grammatically correct. [Jen] tweets like she talks.

The expressed attitudes and values concern, inter alia, perceived problems of comprehensibility or appropriateness, both amusement and annoyance at the novelty of talk-like written language, and affiliation with identity categories or notions of authentic identity (Example 4; cf. Benwell & Stokoe 2006:245; Deumert 2014). Overall, the results suggest that a focus on users’ construals of their own computer-mediated discourse offers a window on how issues of theoretical interest to linguists, such as mode and register, are not only instantiated but also actively negotiated in online language use.


Baron, N. S. (2008). Always on: Language in an online and mobile world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Benwell, B., & Stokoe, E. (2006). Discourse and identity Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Crystal, D. (2006). Language and the Internet (2 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: The gr8 deb8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deumert, A. (2014). The performance of a ludic self on social network(ing) sites. In P. Seargeant & C. Tagg (Eds.), The language of social media: Identity and community on the internet (pp. 23-45). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hård af Segerstad, Y. (2003). Use and adaptation of written language to the conditions of computer-mediated communication (2 ed.). Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg.

Jonsson, E. (2013). Conversational writing: A multidimensional study of synchronous and supersynchronous computer-mediated communication. Uppsala University: Engelska institutionen.

Meredith, J., & Stokoe, E. (2014). Repair: Comparing Facebook ‘chat’ with spoken interaction. Discourse & Communication, 8(2), 181-207. doi: 10.1177/1750481313510815

Schegloff, E. A. (1997). Whose text? Whose context? Discourse & Society, 8(2), 165-187. doi: 10.1177/0957926597008002002

Wikström, P. (2014). & she was like "O_O": Animation of reported speech on Twitter. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 13(3), 83-111. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics Specific Languages
Research subject
English; Media and Communication Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-39099OAI: diva2:896354
MOOD-Z Microanalysis of online data; Online communication, discourse, and context; Zürich, July 16-17, 2015
Available from: 2016-01-21 Created: 2016-01-21 Last updated: 2016-07-04Bibliographically approved

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