In pre-internet days, sociolinguists primarily sought to describe the spoken language of communities that could be clearly defined in terms of time, space, and speaker identities. Membership in these communities was determined by seemingly fixed categories such as one’s place of birth, class, gender, age, and occupation. Since the rise of the internet over the last three decades, the realm of sociolinguistics has expanded to encompass digital spaces and online communities. Being a member of these communities is a matter of free choice in which performing identities and acting out personae is quintessential. Social media are a window to online polylogues, and they allow us to observe how people interact with digital technologies and each other. The unique affordances of social media present new challenges for sociolinguists. After an introductory bloc, we will address some of these fundamental challenges and approach the topic from different vantage points. In doing so, we will attempt to answer questions such as:
- How can Twitter help us study language change and regional variation?
- What are the characteristics of the language used by different generations of internet people?
- What role do hashtags such as #MeToo, #cottagecore, or #CookieMonster play in creating communities on social media?
- How are TikTok performances and video games used to debate collaboratively issues of seemingly stable identities in terms of race, gender, sexuality, self, and other?
By the end of this course, you will develop a familiarity with the research methods for exploring language variation in social media and employ them to conduct small-scale studies on language use online.