Talking about Twitter language and what it reveals about the world

It may seem like common sense that people’s regional dialects show up in their online communication. According to a new study that examined “380,000 messages from Twitter during one week in March 2010,” people in California say “coo” for “cool,” southerners still say “y’all,” and New Yorkers are more apt to say “suttin” instead of “something.”

But I think the study does just go beyond common sense in some of its other conclusions:

Eisenstein said some of the online “accents” mirror those in the spoken language, but not all. For example, many people in the Great Lakes region tend to have similar accents when speaking, but that wasn’t necessarily found to be true in the study, he said.

“One thing I think that it shows is that people really have a need to communicate their identity — their cultural identity and their geographic identity in social media,” he said.

This is interesting: how exactly do people portray their identity through their online language? On mediums like Twitter, people make very conscious choices about how to speak. People of different regions and dialects can choose to use their typical speech patterns or not. And why do they make these choices?

A broader question to ask is how much do posts on Twitter represent reality? What sort of picture of the world does Twitter deliver? This study can help us understand what Twitter behavior is like but can it tell us much about the broader world?