When I first started this project, I didn’t know what to expect. I had recently become a fan of digital humanities when I joined the course, so I was excited for whatever was coming my way. But nothing could have prepared me from the analysis I was to do through this project.
The project, Linguistic Landscapes of Beirut, required me to go out to the streets of Beirut and take pictures of any instant of langiage or language contact. This slowly became my favourite and least favourite part of the project. On the one hand, it made me focus on sign language in Lebanon for the first time — something I don’t think I would have ever done otherwise — but on the other, it was often times uncomfortable to take pictures of people’s shops and such without asking for permission. But I soon realised that I’d have to do more than just take pictures, that my research would lead me to conducting interviews with various people, which is why I had to put my anxieties aside and locate myself physically with the project. I went where the research led me, and the experience was one I’ll value as I move forward with my degree.
The project also taught me a thing o two about quantitative over qualitative analysis; distanced readings of my data. I tried to understand what story my data was trying to convey overall without having to delve into each and every record — and that’s a layer of analysis I’ve never had to deal with, one I think I will carry with me as I approach future papers and projects.
I initially took random photos around Hamra and where I live in Mar Youssef (Dawra), but then decided I wanted to tap into my knowledge of the Armenian community and tackle Burj Hammoud. I wanted to understand why it was that Bourj Hammoud was the first place people thought of when they tried to guess where an Armenian lived, and what it was exactly about the area that was so Armenian.
What I found (or didn’t find) astounded me. There was, in fact, a lot of bilingual and trilingual signs that included Armenian, but barely any Armenian-only signs. That said, losing the main argument I was going to make — that Armenian identity is somehow preserved by sogn language in Burj Hammoud (BH) — led me to an even more interesting (to me, anyway) analysis, thus proving that a researcher must always evaluate and reevaluate his/her data, for there is always something to find or another angle to look at the topic from.
The internet is a miraculous place. Whatever one’s convictions may be towards it, there’s no escaping the huge impact the world wide web has had on our lives. And entangled in its sphere of contact is linguistics. In his book, Inventing English, Lerer talks about the impossibility of having one standard English because of what theorist Jacques Derrida would refer to as (linguistic) flux. And yet, there’s a recent rise in criticism of Internet Linguistics, with linguists complaining that it is corrupting the language.
Internet Linguistics is s fairly new study. Through social media platforms, linguists have been able to study patterns in Internet speech and between speech communities online. The findings are quite interesting. While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seem to have common tropes in Internet language, it’s Tumblr that can be discerned from the others. In fact, having done my research, I’d venture to say the terminology used on other platforms originated from Tumblr. As such, here are three common tropes of Tumblr language:
1. A Play With Verbs
The very first thing any new Tumblr user must know is its 101 terminology. A crash course on it would teach one that verbs on Tumblr have usages that are different from the one used in colloquial speech. In fact, the colloquial on Tumblr inverts the notion of grammatical correctness.
Two common phrases often used on the website are “I cant even” and “Im so done.” The first means “this link is so amazing that I have lost my ability to express my appreciation for it in fully formed sentences. All speech has been reduced to this ill-formed sentence. Thus is the depth of my excitement about this. Click on it. Click on it if you too would like to experience this level of incoherent excitement,” as per The Toast. The second one indicates the inability to even deal with something beyond the point of reading; that what the user sees is so ridiculous, all hope for humanity is gone. There is nothing to be done. Stupidity. Stupidity everywhere.
As can be seen, both terms are quite lauded. It’s interesting to see how Internet users unconsciously adopt them. Here’s an example from Twitter:
2. no punctuation or capitalisation is used in these posts what why
It is an unwritten rule that no punctuation or capitalisation be used in Tumblr or Twitter posts. This reflects a sense of urgency or dismay in others or in oneself, according to PBS Idea Channel. It’s interesting to see how context and place play a role in this. Incoherent texts make no sense if one were to read them randomly from a piece of paper. But if the same text were in a Tumblr post or a tweet, it would be perfectly legible.
How else would one express one’s feelings on tumblr? Just like “i cant even” and “im so done,” abbreviations and memes speak a thousand words. Courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries Blog, here are two prominent examples of abbreviations:
TL;DR: this acronym (Too Long; Don’t Read) is included by a user to tell other users that their post will be very long.
SMH: an acronym for the words “shake my head.” It’s usually used to express disappointment or dissatisfaction over something.
There is a wide range of abbreviated vocabulary that holds a stronger meaning that the longer form of the same word. The study of Tumblr language lies within these intricacies and language dynamics. Interested to read more about how to talk Tumblr? Click here!
Above is a word cloud created with Voyant Tools from a sample block of tumblr text.
With all that said, can one say there exists an Internet dialect? I would say so. Tumblr is just one of many, many platforms with its own dialect. Hopefully, when more research is done in this direction, we’ll have a better understanding of the socio-linguistic dimensions and importance of Internet linguistics. Check out what PBS Channel had to say about it.
Works Cited/Further Reading
New words are created and coined every day, but, surprisingly, it isn’t every day that a word gets its official recognition from the Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, upon browsing the newest entries in the database (entries dating 2000 and beyond), the first thing I noticed was the low number of words. Only 115 words have been added to our lexicon since the year 2000, which says a lot about how cautious the OED is about adding new words into it. In fact, according to Oxford Art Blog, “in the past, a word needed to be in use for two or three years before it could be considered.” Now, it goes back to the extent to which a word is circulated. And technology plays a role. For that reason, it’s no surprise that words related to the internet or words that emerged as a result of it are frequent in the list. Some examples are: “live-blogging,”podcasting, and “retweet.”
With that in mind, of particular interest were the selection of words that were added. Studying the quantity of words would tell you that those who make the decision as to whether or not a words gets added are very stringent about it, but looking at some of the words that have actually been added would give you a bit of a laugh. Before checking this section of the OED, I’d never come across the 2005 word “happy slapping” for instance, the definition of which is so specific and strange, I find it questionable that circulation plays a role in the decision to add a word. Some other favourites were “selfie,” “tenderpreneur,” (this one’s perfect for Lebanon) and “totes.”
Another interesting tool in the OED is the option to view categories of words. A look into words that come from Uralic (European) roots show us that almost half the entries (21/48) come from the 1800s, while the rest come primarily from the 1900s, 1700s, and earlier (13-1400s). Checking the subjects that these words pertain to, one can note that they mostly come from commerce, economy, trade, and military, which suggests that countries that spoke Uralic (northeast Siberia, Finland, Hungary, among others, which are also the roots/sources of the Uralic words) fared quite well with surrounding countries, suggesting a geographic and perhaps political relationship with its neighbouring countries, one that allowed for the spread of these words. “Shako,” for example, is a word commonly and mistakenly attributed to the French because it was so often used by them, as can be seen in the recorded instances of use.
Finally, looking at the “Timelines” option of the OED would lead to a number of conclusions about the effects of a country’s history on its contribution to the OED, the epistemology of certain words, and the development of vocabulary in general. The subject of film, for example, generates the following the following graph:
I can note an obvious rise in film-related terms starting from the early 1900s.. That tells us something about the history of film. The first feature-length film ever made was 1915’s controversial The Birth of A Nation, after which the film industry boomed to become what it is today. So, it would make sense for cinema to expand as a study and as an art to comprise a rich vocabulary during that time period.
Another interesting option in “Timelines” is the ability to check words per region. A quick search of terms originating from India would produce the chart below. There is a steady decrease in the number of terms, and that can be (but is not necessarily) attributed to the British colonisation of India (1850-1947). The colonisers changed a lot about the Indian educational system, for instance, which played a part in standardising British English in India. To this day, Indian schools follow the British Curriculum, which hinders the spread of Indian-originated English words.
The Oxford English Dictionary is a powerful tool that can be used to quantitatively and qualitatively study the evolution and development of the English language. The content of this post is just a glimpse of what it can do and say about our history and the history of global Englishes. I encourage you to browse around it and see what you can find — it’s totes fun!
In his widely-known essay, “Différance,” french theorist Jacques Derrida explains the notion of Play, that everything is in a constant flux that pertains to time, context, and geographic place (space). Before reading Seth Lerer’s take on dictionaries in his book, Inventing English, I hadn’t thought of the context as much as the content. Suddenly, questions of authorship and historical/social/spacial implications became integral to how I perceived a dictionary and how credible that dictionary was, vis-à-vis the person reading it, of course.
Lerer delves specifically into the Johnson and Webster dictionaries, and in an effort to study the dynamics of lexicography in line with the aforementioned point, I will draw a comparison between three sample definitions taken from both dictionaries to see what each lexicographer said about each word. I will then study the implications of what was included and excluded in the definitions provided.
The first word I looked up was “woman.” The very first thing I noticed about the definitions was how similar they were: both define a woman as the “female of the human race,” the essential difference between the two being Webster’s small but necessary addition of “grown to adult years.” This becomes more interesting in light of Joseph Reed’s essay on the two dictionaries. Reed writes that there is “revision” and “transfer” from Johnson’s dictionary to Webster’s, which Reed likens to plagiarism. Here, we see that Webster only adds to Johnson’s existing definition, further clarifying it. He does not present a more contemporaneous definition of the word.
Both lexicographers provide instances of use for both words. Johnson’s examples are derived from literature (Shakespeare here) as opposed to Webster who relies largely on the Bible and other religious texts, both for this specific definition and for many others.
Another thing to note about the definitions is how they both Other the woman to the man. In both dictionaries, the woman in defined as the female of the human race, but the man (noun) is defined as a “human being,” which says a lot about inherently patriarchal discourses, even at the time. Of course, our understanding of gender today is not binary, but it is interested to trace the origins or older traces of the system of patriarchy.
Finally, on the topic of origins, it’s interesting to study the sources of the word in both dictionaries. As per Reed, Webster accuses Johnson of “inaccurate etymologies,” yet Webster derives the term from “womb” and “man,” which is much less credible than Johnson’s Saxon-originated “wifmann.”
The second word I looked up was “adultery.” Again, the definitions are as follows:
–Johnson: The act of violating the bed of a married person.
-Webster: Violation of the marriage bed; a crime, or a civil injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring.
Webster provides a much more detailed and exemplified definition to the word, while Johnson sticks to his concise and blunt definition. I found it interesting to study this word for what it bears in insight to the growing cultures and policies if the time. Comparing both definitions would help one make a timeline that traces the evolution of cultural perceptions and official understanding of adultery. Webster adds that adultery in most cases involves a child out of wedlock, with which come a lot of questions pertaining to certain child-related legalities. In short, Webster’s is a more complicated and weighted definition. That said, adultery as we understand it today is simply an affair, but rarely one that involves a child, making Johnson’s definition more fitting.
The third and final word brings me back to Derrida’s concept of Play, providing a perfect linguistic example of it. Johnson defines the word “awful” as something purely positive, something “that with strikes with awe.” Webster, on the other hand, while keeping those same definitions, also adds that “common people [today] use it in the sense of frightful, ugly, detestable.”
Both definitions are near completely similar, having the same sources, same cited examples (literature; Shakespeare), with the only difference being Webster’s addition of the negative understanding of the word. That said, it’s interesting to note that the negative meaning of the word was a secondary one to Webster, as he states the positive first. Still, he acknowledges the fact that common people used it in its negative sense, meaning he was aware of the more or less prevailing meaning, but chose to keep the positive one as the primary meaning. Today, “awful” in its positive understanding has fallen into disuse — it is obsolete.
This assignment helps us realise how language adapts and assimilates with the currents of time. Not only has this made me stop to think twice about a dictionary, it has actually made me consider the lexicographer first, and that the dictionary — which is more or less a trusted source of information — is what the lexicographer makes it, and can be subjective in every sense.
Following is a video that contains a very brief, very simple introduction to the impact Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster had on the literary world:
The study of language rests partly on the study of its evolution within (among other things) certain social, historical, and geographic contexts. In the English language, as I’m sure is the case with most languages, words find a way of falling in and out of use, getting an updated, more contemporary definition, or sometimes going so far as changing their meaning entirely. In this short blog post, we’re going to look at some of these aforementioned changes through studying the evolution of the words “defecate,” “tweet”,” and “queer.”
Old use: “When..it iz defecated by al nights standing, the drink iz the better” (R. Laneham Let).
Modern use: “Malaysian diplomat under a ‘love spell’ admits he defecated outside victim’s home” (OneNewsNow).
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “defecate” first emerged as an adjective that described that which was purified. It soon became a verb and was given an attachment. The word “Defecate” then referred to purifying the body from pollution. As we see it today, the word means, to quote the OED, “to void the body of faeces.” It’s interesting to see the meaning shift the way it did. While this isn’t an example of a word that was greatly changed, seeing the way in which an attribute was added to the word to give it a more specific meaning (purifying something bad in general to purifying faeces specifically) is noteworthy.
Old use: “The little bird..Tweets to its mate a tiny loving note” (G. Meredith Poems).
Modern use: “Who Tweeted it: Donald Trump or Kanye West? (CNN)
What initially started out as a phonetic noun in the 19th century, the sound of an animal, has now become a popular term coined after the creation of social media platform Twitter. While both meanings are in use today, the former has been replaced with words like “chirping.” And that goes back to the popularity of Twitter. “Tweeting” is almost exclusively attached to the social media outlet now, to the point, in fact, where some people might not even recognise the original meaning. Tweeting associated with birds is therefore falling out of use.
In the Twitterverse, a “Tweet” is both a verb and a noun. The noun refers to the 140 character posts users make or messages they write on each other’s boards, while the verb refers to the act of writing and sending a message/post.
Old use: “His appearance bordered..upon what is vulgarly called the queer” (Scott Woodstock).
Modern use: “Author writing a ‘radical queer’ Bible with gay relationships and gender-flipped prophets” (PinkNews)
The term originated from a 16th century word for ‘perverse.’ It started out as an adjective that referred to veering from the socially approved of norms. It was then used to describe people who were in trouble, often for having lots of debts; ‘Queer Street is full of lodgers just at present’ (Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, 1865).
It wasn’t until the 19th century that it was used the way it is understood today; to refer to homosexuals. It was also often used as a derogatory word by heterosexuals, but in the 1980s, as part of a pride movement, homosexuals used the term on each other to spread it in more positive light, and this last version of it is the one that prevails until today. While it is used more to refer to the general spectrum of sexual and gender identities that do not conform to the traditionally accepted orientations, it is used in positive light nonetheless.
Ys lent to us to leade oure lyfe
To lyve to dye whan hatefull death
Shall rydd us hēnce and stynt oure stryfe
My ynward mane to heavenly thy nos wold trade me
And styll thy’s flesh doth evermore disswade me
Retaine, Refuse, no frend, no foe,
Condeme, alowe, no chance, no choise
your fame, your life, shall end, shall growe
no badd, no good, shall pine, reioice
So helpe, so hate, mistrust your frend
as blisfull daies your life may end
The above text, embedded from the
As I worked through the transcription, I made a number of observations about the language employed as well as the text as a whole. In the following short reflection, I will be focusing on the physical aspect of the page as well as its content to draw out some conclusions — specifically philological ones – pertaining to the two verses at hand: “From loue aboue a spending breath” and “Retaine, refuse, no frend, no foe.”
To begin, it’s worthy to take a look at the physicalities of the page to try to draw out some observations related to the history of the text. The piece has the tell-tale signs of a Middle-English (or at the very least, an old) text: the old parchment is part animal skin, the worn-out binding, the faded beige/yellowed colour of the paper, and the small tears here and there. These and other elements of paratextuality such as the ink used and the lines drawn are suggestive of the manufacturing processes of the time.
The verses are also six lines each, with some starting in capital letters and others not, which tells us something about the poetic form and structure of the time. What’s more interesting about the page itself, however, is what we can see happening with the ink. If one were to take a closer look, there seems to have been a different text or a different variation of the same text under the current one. The ink is this verse (“From loue aboue a spendyng breath”) is clear and defined, as opposed to the second verse. This leads me to hypothesise that the verses were written, then the first verse was erased and updated — which would explain the differences in lettering (but more on that below) — and the second was not, eventually fading out. Of course, this is just an educated guess at best, and there’s no way of knowing more unless extensive research is conducted.
Such research would delve into the evolution of the penmanship of the author. There are subtle differences in the way the same letter is written from the first verse to the second, such as “ℰ” instead of “e.” If the author rewrote the first verse on the spot, then it’s peculiar that the first verse have that version of “e” and the second not. And if he rewrote/wrote over the first verse at a later stage, then I question its presence at all, given the fact that the first version (ℰ) is older than the second. This could go back to a number of things, such as the tendency to write certain words in certain ways. For example, when I write my last name, I change the “M” and the “R,” as such:
The possibilities are infinite, and that’s part of what makes this transcription exercise hard and fascinating at the same time.
On a more textual note, the differences between the Middle-English and Modern– English verses are plentiful. The most obvious difference is in the fact that the “e” was dropped from the end of a lot of words (growe VS grow; oure VS our; helpe VS help).
Another change is in the usage of “y” and “i.” In Modern English, a myriad of words begin with the letter “i,” but in the verses, the letter is scarce (what is today known as “inward” is “ynward” in the text. Similarly: “lyfe,” “styll,” “stryfe”). The pronunciation of the two is almost reversed, in fact; “daies” is Modern English’s “days,” so the phonetic aspect is different. Furthermore, the Modern English “S” changes its form depending on its placement within the sentence. It alternates between its modern use and its old one (ſ), with the latter changing form when joined with an “h” — a stylistic choice.
The examples of the “e,” “i,” “y,” and the “s,” or better yet, the evolution of these letters from Old to Middle and from Middle to Modern is an example of what is known as remediation. Remediation is the process of remedying a certain media — of correcting it. This by no means suggests that these symbols needed to be corrected. They simply fell out of disuse as readers let go of them for a simpler version. And as this process of transcription is digitalised in the media, the work both loses some of its value as well as gains some new values, which in and of itself is fascinating.
Finally, something I noticed about my personal handwriting is how easy it is to write in cursive in Modern English versus Middle English. The letters in the latter seem to be more stand-alone with few exceptions. That said, since penmanship is such a subjective thing, and I’m not acquainted with the language well enough to see if I can use it in cursive writing, that’s a point that remains particular to me.
In the grander scheme of things, transcription, extreme close-reading, and distanced-reading become important in understanding different aspects of an old text from a more contemporary analytical and literary paradigm to arrive at observations and conclusions pertaining to the historicity, contextuality, and paratextuality of the text.