Study says Black Twitter is putting words in our mouths, literally

The African-American social media landscape is noticeably influential in adding new words to the American lexicon, according to a British researcher

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Black Twitter has already been acknowledged as a pop culture force to be reckoned with, but now a new study has found that it may also be America’s greatest source of linguistic creativity.

According to Quartz, “A new study, led by Jack Grieve, a professor of corpus linguistics at the University of Birmingham in the UK, analyzed nearly 1 billion tweets to find out how new terms emerge on the platform. By looking at words that go from total obscurity to mainstream usage on Twitter in a short period of time, the research can begin to answer questions like: Is one part of the country more linguistically creative than the others? And do new words spread from a geographical origin outward, or does the internet allow them to emerge everywhere, simultaneously?”

The short answer to that question is – yes, one community is most definitely more innovative in setting trends when it comes to language, and they can be found sharing their brilliant thoughts and ideas every day on social media. Which led Grieve and his team to conclude, “African-American English is the main source of lexical innovation on American Twitter.”

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To come to these findings researchers extracted billions of words from tweets by users in the United States. They pulled out the words that were very uncommon around October 2013, but had somehow become regularly and widely used by November 2014. After removing proper nouns and variations of the same term, they settled on a 54 “emerging words,” including famo and yaas.

Once they had their list of words they analyzed how those new words spread.

There appeared to be five “common regional patterns” of lexical creation: the West Coast, mostly centered around California; the Deep South, centered around Atlanta; the Northwest and New York; the Mid-Atlantic and DC; and the Gulf Coast, centered around New Orleans.

Of the five regions, the Deep South stood out in the way it brings about new terms.

According to an author, creative phrases usually start in densely populated urban areas in one region, then begin to spread to urban areas in other parts of the country. In the case of the West Coast, for example, terms tend to start in Los Angeles and San Francisco, then migrate their way over to Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

But in the Deep South things work a bit differently. There, the spread of creative new words appears to be driven more by culture than population density. In fact, Atlanta was found to be as much of an urban powerhouse as much larger places like LA and New York. And terms that originate in the South don’t jump to other cities; instead, they spread very quickly via areas with large black populations – regardless of proximity.

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The paper also found that three of the five regions have linguistic patterns that seem to be “primarily associated with African-American English.” And often, the percentage of a county that is black appears to be more important indicator of linguistic creativity and influence than just the number of people living there in general.

In laymen’s terms this means: the more black people you have in a region, the more influence that region will have on the country as a whole.

In Georgia and North Carolina, for example, linguistically innovative areas “are not necessarily more populous but do generally contain higher percentages of African-Americans.” This along with other factors, is how the authors were able to determine; “the inordinate influence of African American English on Twitter.”

And to be honest, scientific studies aside – many of us already knew this.