Skip to content
April 3, 2015

A Case Study of MetaFilter.com

by Kim Witten

I am very pleased to say that I have officially submitted my final dissertation, titled “Sociophonetic Variation and Enregisterment in an Online Community of Practice: A Case Study of MetaFilter.com.” This research presents the first large-scale mixed-methods study of enregisterment occurring in CMC. The varying pronunciations of two netologisms — the community’s nickname (‘MeFi’, from MetaFilter) and the collective nickname for its participants (‘MeFites’) — are naturally-occurring sociolinguistic variables that showcase the ongoing negotiation of community conventions and the development of group identity. An exploration of this kind adds an important piece to our broader understanding of linguistic interaction in CMC, while also exhibiting one of the many new directions of sociolinguistic research today.

Link to download the PDF: 2015-04-10_Witten_PhD_Thesis (12 MB) – 2015-04-10: this PDF has been updated to fix a chart error, as well as some minor changes requested by the University (e.g., replace “dissertation” with “thesis” throughout, remove “Department of” on cover page).

I hope you enjoy it (at 250+ pages—you’ve been warned!) and please let me know your thoughts.

Lastly and most importantly, thank you to all the MeFites — and especially the MetaFilter moderators – who made this possible; I couldn’t have done it without you and I am eternally grateful.

April 2, 2015

Dissertation is done. Abstract now, full text on its way.

by Kim Witten

At the very least, I meant to post an update about my viva experience. Time, it slips away. Nonetheless, I survived my viva. And winter. And the UK authorities threatening to deny my visa to stay in the UK. I am happily on the safer side of all these things, and Spring is even here, promising the tiniest sliver of warmth. The flowers have been fooled and so shall I be.

With that, I am happy to announce that in the next few days I will be posting my dissertation: “Sociolinguistic Variation and Enregisterment in an Online Community of Practice: A Case Study of MetaFilter.com“, for anybody who might dare to read all 250+ pages of it. Here’s the abstract:

 

ABSTRACT:

With the emergence of communities that are primarily based in computer-mediated communication (CMC) environments, we see the prevalence of internet-derived neologisms, i.e., netologisms. Often these netologisms are acronyms (e.g., ‘LOL’), blends (e.g., ‘weblog’), or other forms of abbreviation. These new forms may present challenges for English phonotactics, which must be spontaneously resolved by first-time speakers of the netologisms. If the forms contain orthographic characters or sequences that do not directly or consistently correlate to specific English phonemes or phoneme sequences, it is likely that these new forms display phonetic variation.

Netologisms can also be used as linguistic resources in taking stances or asserting aspects of identity, especially where phonetic variation is possible. These stances may represent the identity of the group, or they may become associated with particular identities within the group. The process by which sounds, features and word forms become associated with particular identities is known as enregisterment (Agha, 2003, 2005; Squires, 2010). Enregisterment has traditionally been studied in sociolinguistics as a function of individuals interacting in face-to-face (FtF) environments (Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson, 2006; Beal, 2009). However, as more of our daily interactions are mediated by computers and technology, attention must be paid to how enregisterment may take place in primarily text-based social environments.

This research presents the first large-scale mixed-methods study of enregisterment occurring in CMC. The varying pronunciations of two netologisms — the community’s nickname (‘MeFi’, from MetaFilter.com) and the collective nickname for its participants (‘MeFites’) — are naturally-occurring sociolinguistic variables that showcase the ongoing negotiation of community conventions and the development of group identity. An exploration of this kind adds an important piece to our broader understanding of linguistic interaction in CMC, while also exhibiting one of the many new directions of sociolinguistic research today.

References:
  • Agha, A., 2003. The social life of cultural value. Language & Communication, 23(3-4), pp. 231–273.
  • Agha, A., 2005. Voice, Footing, Enregisterment. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 15(1), pp. 38–59.
  • Beal, J.C., 2009. Enregisterment, Commodification, and Historical Context: “Geordie” versus “Sheffieldish.” American Speech, 84(2), pp.138–156.
  • Johnstone, B., Andrus, J. & Danielson, A.E., 2006. Mobility, Indexicality, and the Enregisterment of “Pittsburghese.” Journal of English Linguistics, 34(2), pp. 77–104.
  • Squires, L., 2010. Enregistering internet language. Language in Society, 39(04), pp. 457–492.
November 29, 2014

by Kim Witten | Permalink

A long overdue update! First and foremost, I am happy, proud, and very much relieved to say that I submitted my dissertation for review back in September. A lot has happened since that time! Here are some of the highlights:

  • I completed the Big Bad Bike Ride to support Ataxia Research. My personal page outlining my connection to the cause (and still accepting donations) is up, but will disappear after December 14th, 2014.
  • I took a much needed vacation with Alex and York friends to Portugal.
  • I applied for a work visa to remain in the UK for the next several years. Going through this process has not been fun, easy, or cheap, but it is coming along and I will be indescribably grateful and giddy when it goes through. Plus, I’ll get my passport back.
  • Most importantly of all, I began a new career path. I am now a web developer for an absolutely wonderful tech company here in York. Bytemark provides internet cloud hosting and are the creators of the free and open-source server management software, Symbiosis. I am learning so much these days — from building entire websites using Ruby on Rails, to self-hosting email, websites (including this one!), data storage and the like on private servers. Additionally, my coworkers are a fantastic and diverse bunch of smart, helpful, and patient people. I can’t stress enough the positive impact of being surrounded by accepting, supportive techies like these.

I feel truly blessed by all of these wonderful events and new people in my life. Although Thanksgiving whizzed by this year, I have taken the time to reflect, and the gratitude I feel continues to grow. It sustains me through these colder, darker days and nights and there is more motivation to learn and love in the company of good friends and family (near and far) than ever before.

This is a good outlook to have these days, as in less than two weeks, I will defend my PhD thesis to my examiners. From there, the end date of this long, academic journey will be determined. I hope that the work I have put into the dissertation is as successful as it can be, meaning that corrections will be minimal and I can share the dissertation publicly sooner rather than later. We shall see. Until then, I will revist these last four years and prepare to present my best on Friday, December 12th. Bytemark’s holiday party immediately follows, so the day and night are sure to be full of joyous celebration. It is quite the understatement to say that I am looking forward to it.

In housekeeping news, I have not decided what I will do with this website after this is all over. With the dissertation ever-present and all of the other things that went along with adjusting to a new life in England, I didn’t write even half as much here as I’d hoped I would. I’m toying with the idea of using my new Rails skills to built an entirely new website full of who-knows-what at this point, over at witten.kim. It seems logical to fold this site into that somehow. Again, we shall see.

Until and while it all unfolds, more to learn, more to love.

July 10, 2014

Middle of the End, pt 2

by Kim Witten

(This one really is going to be a short post, promise.)

I’m taking a little break from proofreading my dissertation to update this here website. I can say ‘dissertation’ because that’s technically what it is now. No longer a collection of non-sequential chapters. Granted, three are still in first round and need some others’ eyes on them, but all eight of them are written. And so now I’m reading the whole thing, start to finish, and fixing it up where I can. This part actually feels quite good. It is even fun. In a detailed, tedious sort of way. I’m looking forward to wrapping up the appendices and references … I’ll even be able to listen to podcasts again while I work!

In the meantime, I was able to sneak away and watch Toy Story I & II for the first time. The third one awaits, but I think I’ll save that for when I’ve read the whole dissertation. Dissertation.

June 26, 2014

The Middle of the End

by Kim Witten

This is was meant to be a quick post.

It occurred to me that I’m no longer at the beginning of the end of my PhD. I’m actually more toward the middle, or even possibly the end, of the end. I’m one small chapter away from having a complete first draft (with many of the other chapters in final form). I almost can’t believe it. I say almost because I’m painfully, critically, exhaustively aware of every word I’ve written so far. Including the ones I deleted (of which there were many).

And as I am at the middle of the end, I’ve been slowly making my exit plan. Which is actually my entry plan. To a life in the UK as a regular non-academic resident, with a job, and eventually a work visa to match. A life in England without a massive project influencing every decision, feeling, and pound spent…I can’t even imagine.

Even though the PhD is my number one priority at the moment, I have been rebalancing what it means to me to be a linguist, and how much time and energy I devote to that role. I’ve uninvolved (devolved?) myself from many linguistics-related activities, events, and the like. Even my RSS feed has been drastically reduced. This is partially in the vein of removing all distraction, but I cannot lie that part of me is testing out what life is like with just a little less linguistics in it.

I’m sure I’m being a bit hyperbolic. There will always be linguistics in my life, and I will never tire of learning more about words, sounds, meaning, accents, clicks, communities, dogwhistles, creaky voice, vowels, corpora, theory, indexicality, dialects, semantics, but not syntax — that I think I’ll continue to stay away from. For now though, as I dive with horse blinders on headfirst into the deep end of the end, I am also making my way to other potential pastures pools places, as it were. I’m ready for a little reprieve. And I keep adding to this long, mythical list of “things I will binge on immediately after the PhD”. It’s filled with books to read for fun, mini movie marathons (you know that I’ve never seen any of the Toy Story films?!), pointless and time-wasting games to lose myself into (without guilt!), hobbies I might like to try (dancing! cheese-making! martial arts! life drawing!), languages I’ve wanted to pick back up (well, French), day trips I’ve been meaning to take, people I’ve been meaning to call and to talk about something other than…

But until then, it’s back to middle end. With renewed enthusiasm, a pile of crispy, streaky bacon, and a cup of green tea.

April 7, 2014

AVML 2014 is in the works

by Kim Witten

Two years ago, I had the privilege of helping organize the very first Advances in Visual Methods for Linguistics (AVML) conference, held at the University of York (September 3-5, 2012). The conference was the first of its kind and—happily enough for us organizers and everybody else involved—was a huge success!

I am therefore even more overjoyed to announce that AVML 2014 is underway. This year it will be held at the University of Tübingen, from September 24-26th. We have two workshops scheduled so far, and we are seeking more proposals. If you have a data visualization technique you would like to share, the workshop abstract deadline is this Sunday, April 13th. The deadline for presentation abstracts is the following Friday, April 18th. If you don’t want to present, but would like to attend the workshops or conference presentations (and related events), registration will open June 1st.

If you’d like to get a flavor of what AVML 2012 was like, the former programme, abstract booklet, and selected videos from the conference are available. If you’d like to submit an abstract for this year’s meeting, guidelines can be found here.

Please feel free to send us a message if you have any questions about the conference and don’t hesitate to spread the word on Twitter or wherever else. Thanks!

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 11.40.00

 

April 7, 2014

A year from then

by Kim Witten

Yikes, really cutting it close! It’s been exactly one year since I’ve updated this site.

Life really does happen! In the short 3.5 years that I’ve lived in England, I’ve moved seven times. Most recently, two weeks ago. But I’m happy to say that I’ve got a long lease now and am settled into a fantastic place with my partner. Many other events—both good and bad and a whole lot in between—have taken place in the last year as well. Throughout it all, the dissertation has been with me, sometimes brightly in the foreground, sometimes disdainfully shoved and buried into a dark recess, mocking me. But I am happy to say that I can see the beginning of the end of this project. The dissertation is coming together, finally. I don’t think it will be the epic life-changing piece I once envisioned, but it already is a (manageable, realistic, and much more humble) contribution that I can be proud of.

I’m sure there will be many more thoughts on this in the next few months, as the defense transforms from a mythical beast into A Real Life Event. But for now, this has been the update. Thank you.

April 7, 2013

A Wonderful Sense of Place

by Kim Witten

I had a fantastic time at the Sense of Place event yesterday. Held at University of Sheffield and co-organized by Chris Montgomery, Emma Moore and Susan Fitzmaurice, its 70+ attendees were treated to four keynote presentations (Sali Tagliamonte, Karen Corrigan, Carmen Llamas, and Barbara Johnstone) and eight posters to peruse during the lunch and wine reception. The talks and posters were themed around the sociolinguistics of place, space and geography.

This event was in honor of Joan Beal, who celebrates the first day of her retirement this Sunday, and leaves us with a legacy of groundbreaking work in the field. Having read many of her papers but only meeting her in person as of yesterday, I can attest that she is not only a bona fide sociolinguistic legend, but also an enthusiastic and genuine supporter of fledgeling researchers such as myself. It’s inspiring to be encouraged to carry on by researchers who you respect and admire, knowing that there are countless miles of experiential road to travel to one day hope to reach their well-earned place of success.

The academics of the day seamlessly blurred into Chinese food and drinks and an endless stream of laughter with new friends and contacts. Before I knew it, I was stepping off the train, just before a pumpkin-like midnight and stumbling back home to my 300 sq. ft. flat — rolled up poster still in hand and thoughts of nothing but ideas for the next steps on a super long path. Which is how I find myself at Starbucks this Sunday (Internet at the new place does not arrive until the 18th), enjoying my birthday drink a bit early, and crunching some new data.

Attached is the poster I presented yesterday, for anybody who wants to take a look and puzzle on about places and their pronunciations of MeFi with me. Got some great feedback yesterday; always welcoming more.

(please click on the image below to automatically download the PDF)

2013-06-01 UPDATE: I’ve made some slight revisions and improvements to the poster.

2013-05-31 Online Place Poster_r5

2013-05-31 Online Place Poster_r5

March 10, 2013

the Digital Dualism *Discussion*, Part Three

by Kim Witten

I like that this post ended up being three parts (possibly more!) and not just one, or even…two.

This post is basically a link chronology, to cover where we’ve all been and where we’re all going.

In compiling this, I’m finding that the main thing that has kept me engaged in exploring the topic of digital dualism is the approach that everybody involved is taking. This isn’t a war, after all. It isn’t even an argument on the internet, really. It is a bunch of people with different perspectives figuring out something new and exciting. I want to be a part of that. I’m fascinated by it. It’s why I’m in academia—to join in on just this type of discussion. So here’s my contribution—a link summary—so that others too may easily understand and add their words to what has been thus far been an entirely welcoming duel—more foam swords-like than to the death; the best kind of academic infighting in my e-book.

1.
Is Google Making Us Stupid? (What the internet is doing to our brains)

by Nicholas Carr » the Atlantic, July, 2008

This article inspired Carr’s 2011 book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Carr takes a technological determinist perspective in both reads, citing evidence of the cultural consequences and social tradeoffs that go along with the rise of the Internet.

2.
Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality

by Nathan Jurgenson »
Cyborgology
, Feb. 24, 2011
This is the piece by Nathan Jurgenson that defines what Digital Dualism is and offers an alternative perspective, Augmented Reality.

3.
why I don’t like “augmented reality”

by Sang-Hyoun Pahk » 
Cyborgology
, Apr. 27, 2011
A response to Jurgenson’s definitions of digital dualism and augmented reality.

4.
Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality

by Nathan Jurgenson »
Cyborgology
, Apr. 29, 2011
And a follow-up response to Sang-Hyoun Pahk’s critique of “augmented reality” above.

5.
The IRL Fetish

by Nathan Jurgenson » 
The New Inquiry
, June 28, 2012
This is an expansion on what augmented reality is and an explanation of a contradiction inherent with digital dualism. The article covers many other areas as well and is worth a read.

6.
In Search of the Real

by Michael Sacasas » 
The Frailest Thing
, July 4, 2012
This is a response to Jurgenson’s article “The IRL Fetish.” It takes a balanced, logical and largely philosophical perspective, and introduces two new ways of looking at what we mean by “online” and “offline” as the “theoretical offline” and “absolute offline”.

7.
Strong and Mild Digital Dualism

by Nathan Jurgenson » 
Cyborgology
, Oct. 29, 2012
In this article, Jurgenson outlines a 4-part typology of digital dualism (with a flowchart to boot!), clearly states his position, and includes examples of others’ positions and perspectives.

8.
Theorizing Embodiment

by Jenny Davis » Cyborgology, Jan. 23, 2013

Davis takes Jurgenson’s 4-part typology outlined above and reformulates it in terms of materiality. She links to her earlier post on this reframing, but I personally much prefer the aesthetic and examples in this more recent one.

9.
On the Political Origins of Digital Dualism

by David Banks » Cyborgology, Feb. 23, 2013

A preview of the upcoming talk at the Theorizing the Web Conference. There is some overlap of the concepts and examples discussed in this post as with Carr’s early one “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (see link #1, above), which may or may not have caught Carr’s eye (ire? j/k)…pure speculation on my part. At any rate, the final presentation by Banks, here, is clearly inspired by the events of the days following this talk preview.

10.
Digital dualism denialism

by Nicholas Carr » 
Rough Type
, Feb. 27, 2013
This is the post that sparked the recent rounds of discussion on digital dualism. It is the must read; the 30+ comments are worthwhile as well.

11.
Responding to Carr’s Digital Dualism

by Nathan Jurgenson »
Cyborgology
, Mar. 1, 2013
Jurgenson’s response to Carr, hurried yet thoughtful, as he kicks off the Theorizing the Web conference.

12.
Always Already Augmented

by David Banks »
Cyborgology
, Mar. 1, 2013
Another response to Carr’s piece, as Banks prepares for the conference as well.

13.
The digital dualism of “digital dualism” critics

by Tyler Bickford »
TylerBickford.com
, Mar. 2, 2013
A long but also worthwhile read, as this post includes practical critiques of both “camps” and raises some really interesting questions and follow-up comments that will clearly shape the detail and direction of digital  dualist theories as we move along.

14.
All My Digital Dualist Feels

by Sarah Wanenchak » 
Cyborgology
, Mar. 6, 2013
An additional response to Carr, both complimentary and critical. Admittedly, this is the post that really got me into exploring the topic further. What can I say…I like talking about feelings.

15.
Digital Duellists: Intellectual Battle in the Shadow of Theorising the Web

by Chris Baraniuk »
The Machine Starts
, Mar. 7, 2013
A fantastic perspective and summary of the recent rounds up discussion up to that point. I’m indebted to Baraniuk for helping me understand what all is going on—there’s a lot to take in!

16.
Responding to Bickford on Digital Dualism

by Nathan Jurgenson »
Cyborgology
, Mar. 8, 2013
Jurgenson response to Bickford’s piece, above. He incorporates materiality, as well as points by Sacasas in the earlier “In the Search of the Real”

17.
Here is a writeup of the recent digital dualism debate…

by Nathan Jurgenson »
nathanjurgenson.tumblr.com
, Mar. 8, 2013
A meta-discussion on Jurgenson’s Tumblr blog. This is small part response to Baraniuk’s summary, large part email-as-interview between Baraniuk and Jurgenson.

 

I’ve intentionally tried not to interject too much of my own opinion or bias here—frankly, there’s too much to say in many directions. But hopefully this link chronology is helpful to someone, if not myself for later reference in dissertation writing. I would love to elaborate more on bits and pieces of this, but unfortunately for now I’m overwhelmed with other tasks. As fun as it was to procrastinate, I must now prepare (for teaching tomorrow), pack (for moving next weekend), quiet the mind (for marking 45+ student essays), and repack (for two weeks in the states –DC, Oregon, California, hellooo!). So yes, perhaps I’ll revisit all of this for reading away the the big plane ride. 

I am aware that I have been remiss in including Sherry Turkle and her book, Alone Together, thus far. This is despite her being what David Banks described as “probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent” of digital dualism (Sherry Turkle’s Chronic Digital Dualism Problem, April 23, 2012) and repeatedly mentioned in several of the posts and responses above. Admittedly, I am the least familiar with her work  and I have gotten very wrapped up in the other aspects of the discussion. So maybe another one for the plane—I have six flights in two weeks up ahead, so I should manage to do some of that much sought after deep and thoughtful reading that is so lacking in our modern age. On my Kindle, of course.

Thanks to everybody who has had the ideas, the critiques, and the guts to post them. You are all models to me for how to be a successful academic. It’s inspiring—at a time where I feel the impending doom of an unfinished dissertation and all the pestering imposter feels that go with, it’s appreciated with immense gratitude.

March 10, 2013

the Digital Dualism Debate, Part Two

by Kim Witten

I had every intention of posting an update yesterday, and even made long strides in doing so. But the post I wrote morphed into another monstrous tangent, which I may save for another time.

I want to represent both camps here as fairly as I can, but I’m clearly biased toward a particular perspective. My attempt yesterday, linking to this article by Nicholas Carr (from the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic): “Is Google Making Us Stupid? (What the internet is doing to our brains),” did not do that. Try again.

In this piece, Carr shares the concerns he and many of his colleagues have about the influence of technologies over the ages. This is backed by personal anecdote, examples from the historical record and selected scientific studies. I personally am not sure that the studies he chose actually prove the point he is making (but they seem like good studies that have things to say in their own right). This is another tangent though.

Carr doesn’t call himself a digital dualist, and this article was written years before Jurgenson coined the term. However, the nearly 5,000 word piece does go a long way towards giving the reader an idea of who Carr is and what he cares about. The digital dualist ideas are not readily transparent, but rather underlying what is – something between a hard and a soft form of technological determinism. Meaning that, Carr and many of his colleagues, believe that the internet and all its incarnations has been altering our brains, changing the way we read, the way we think, and therefore perhaps our very senses of self.* He relates to past examples of this—from Socrates on writing and memory (why always with the Phaedrus, people?) to Nietzsche’s typewriter, or the inventions of the clock, the printing press, the production “algorithm” and other irreparably society transforming events.

This is fundamentally digital dualist because there is a psychological divide inherent in technological determinism. The distance between man and machine is necessary because it allows one to be viewed as separate from the other. It gives directionality to the influence (machine as agent, man as patient) and it develops causality for the results of the contact and influence—that man is “reprogrammed”, “altered” and the mind possibly “flatten[ed] into artificial intelligence.” As Carr elaborates,

When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image.

So does that mean it is swallowing us up, too? Have we been reduced to little more than a medium? According to Carr,

what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.

So, perhaps. But I’m getting lost again. The point is, that whether Carr agrees with the term “digital dualism” or not, he speaks of man and machine as two separate actors, pitted against each other in a battle for attention. He may be skeptical of the strong stance that man is losing that battle, but I don’t think he’d cede on the idea that there is price we pay to play. Whether it’s the game frame, or the vendor one, a Space Odyssey or a debate on the very Internet itself, he sees sides and trade-offs. I suppose I do too. But I can only go so far with it, because I (and I can and should only speak for myself here) also see the tangles of an enmeshment, the willful yet automatic embodiment of technology in my everyday experiences, and the line that exists common to the “on” and the “off” being at times as inclusively wide as it is long.

—-

Later today I will post Part Three.

—-
*It very much reminds me of this rather deterministic quote:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
— ironically attributable to so many different people that all I can say for sure is that the Almighty Internet is now the keeper of them all.