Searching Twitter For The Next Big Word

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online
Unlike any other time in history, new words and phrases in the 21st century can spread with viral efficiency.
A new research project at Aston University in the United Kingdom is hoping to track the digital spread of new English terms by analyzing over one billion tweets from both the UK and the US.
“I’m very excited to begin work on this project,” said Jack Grieve, a forensic linguistics lecturer at Aston. “No previous linguistic report has had so much data to work with so we have a great opportunity to map the emergence of new words and their lexical diffusion.”
“In addition to charting the internal movement of words in the UK and US, we hope to look at how words spread across the Atlantic, between the two countries – the first study to do so using the same methods in both nations,” Grieve added.
The researchers said the somewhat spontaneous nature of Twitter interactions make them similar to interactions made during speech. The similarity makes studying Twitter posts particularly significant to the study of the spread of new terms.
The study of new terms spreading on Twitter may have to consider the fact that these terms are being used predominantly by a relatively young age group. A study by the Pew Research Center released in November showed that those who look to the microblogging platform for daily news are becoming younger, more educated, and increasingly rely on their mobile devices.
According to the survey, 16 percent of US adults use Twitter and about half of them use it for their news. Twitter users tend to be younger and more educated “than both the population overall and Facebook news consumers,” the report added.
Pew researchers also found that 40 percent of Twitter news consumers have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 29 percent of the total population and 30 percent of Facebook news consumers.
After analyzing the opening night of the London summer Olympics, the Newton, Connecticut school shootings and the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage, the research team identified three central themes: Twitter users pass along news information as events develop; Twitter conversations about big news events evolve in sentiment and topic; and Twitter can match the sentiment of the general population.
The researchers at Aston University, in a partnership with the University of South Carolina, will also look at recent patterns of human migration to determine how the movement of peoples influences linguistic difference. The US and UK migration patterns will be determined by analyzing millions of online family trees.
“Throughout history, migration has been a key force in shaping and transforming language,” Grieve said. “Very little research, however, has looked at how more recent population mobility has shaped dialect variation today. Hopefully, we will be able to discover new and exciting findings.”
Citing examples such as ‘selfie’, ‘twerk’, ‘vom’, ‘buzzworthy’ and ‘squee’ – the UK researchers noted that new terms are being coined every year and spreading across social media.