Friday Reads: Twitter is Changing The English Language

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We know that social media sites like Twitter change how we communicate online, but is it changing the English language itself? A recent study suggests Twitter displays more deviations from standard English spelling than any other social media site.

According to a study conducted by Brandwatch, there were more words misspelled on Twitter than any other site (“Research Shows Twitter is Driving English Language Evolution”). This might be due to Twitter’s restrictive stucture: with only 140 characters, you have to adapt your words on Twitter. Here are the results in comparison to other sites:

Twitter users are the least literate of the internet users we looked at, with 0.56% of words on the network being either misspelled or otherwise unofficial, perhaps due to its stricter character limit.

Twitter                 0.56% or 1 in 179

Google+              0.42% or 1 in 238

Facebook            0.31% or 1 in 323

Forums                0.18% or 1 in 556

Americans tend to deviate slightly more than those based in the UK, with the Brits at 0.53% and the USA at the global average of 0.56%.

The study goes on to mention the most common misspelled words, and they’re no surprise:

The second most frequent deviation was the usage of acronyms, the widest used of which was LOL, followed by WTF, LMAO, YOLO, OMG and FFS.

In terms of the actual words that are misspelled, here are the favourites:

  • definitely

  • separate

  • embarrass

  • achieve

  • surprise

  • weird

  • government

  • argument

This study interests me because it ties spelling to literacy. I’m not sure I agree with that, but the idea of long-term deviations from the norm is interesting to me. That says there’s a shift in how we treat words — YOLO, for example, has meaning beyond Twitter.

The most commonly misspelled words listed are fairly common misspellings in any media. Some misspellings online, like “pwned”, are purposely misspelled and the misspelling itself has meaning.

This study shows us how many deviations there are between social media sites in the US and UK. Beyond that, I think we have to look deeper at how grammar and usage on these sites is changing English. Have these changes made their way into spoken English? There are examples of this. Will these deviations in spelling have long-term effects, and if so, is that such a bad thing?

What are some other odd spellings you’ve found on social media sites?

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also follow him on Google+ or check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.