Seven months ago I joined Twitter. Now I want to reflect on that decision. In my post I claimed that Twitter has changed language use and what I meant by “language” at the time was what I would call grammar, or certain rules that we have in place for language. Today, seven months later, I still support that general claim. However, I don’t think Twitter has changed the wider use or rules of language; instead, what it has done is create a language and rules within Twitter that may or may not work outside of that interface. For instance, it would sound rather peculiar if we actually said “RT” or “MT” when we shared or modified someone’s ideas aloud.
What I mean is that content within Twitter is tied to a specific context, the Twitter interface, and is therefore contextualized. The content, however, is not tied just to the interface but is also tied to the person who originally posted the tweet. Any Twitter user knows what happens next. The tweet gets responses sent directly to the original publisher, it gets re-tweeted by a person to all of their followers and/or it gets marked as a favorite.
As soon as this process begins the content starts to become decontextualized. The idea or content embedded within the tweet also becomes a dialogue opposed to the monologue that it started as. The difference, of course, between monologue and dialogue is that there is one voice in the former and multiple voices in the latter. What I find interesting, though, is that tweets can move from a monologue to a dialogue back to a monologue if we think of a monologue not only as having one voice but also as internalizing an idea and making it our own.
What I am describing is a theoretical approach to an issue, the thoughts of which originated after reading a blog post by James Hayton. He wrote,
“…because everything is limited to 140 characters, conversations about complicated topics become reduced to soundbites devoid of any subtlety of meaning. I write a 1000-word blog post on skill development in writing, and I get a 140-character reply saying ‘get words down and worry later’. It makes me want to beat my head against the desk.”
How can I write about Twitter and linguistics and discourse analysis all in one blog post? Consider a tweet an utterance. Better yet, pretend you’re a linguist and refer to it as an utterance proper.
If we were to analyze tweets, what would we define as an utterance? As the picture shows, every utterance proper is responsive and anticipatory. It responds to a previous action or idea and anticipates an answer or justification. We can think of the entire diagram as one utterance so it’s not solely the original tweet, but also the ideas that came before and the responses to that tweet. The utterance changes only when the theme or topic changes.
My reflection after seven month comes down to this: As an academic I can overthink and evaluate the whole process. However, Twitter is a tool that has many benefits when properly used. It has a language of it’s own that one must learn and internalize but once that language is internalized you can gain meaningful connections and participate in meaningful conversations.