Repeating language: what do we repeat, and what does it signal?

Yesterday I attended a talk by Jon Kleinberg entitled “Status, Power & Incentives in Social Media” in Honor of the UMD Human-Computer Interaction Lab’s 30th Anniversary.

 

This talk was dense and full of methods that are unfamiliar to me. He first discussed logical representations of human relationships, including orientations of sentiment and status, and then he ventured into discursive evidence of these relationships. Finally, he introduced formulas for influence in social media and talked about ways to manipulate the formulas by incentivizing desired behavior and deincentivizing less desired behavior.

 

In Linguistics, we talk a lot about linguistic accommodation. In any communicative event, it is normal for participant’s speech patterns to converge in some ways. This can be through repetition of words or grammatical structures. Kleinberg presented research about the social meaning of linguistic accommodation, showing that participants with less power tend to accommodate participants with more power more than participants with more power accommodate participants with less power. This idea of quantifying social influence is a very powerful notion in online research, where social influence is a more practical and useful research goal than general representativeness.

 

I wonder what strategies we use, consciously and unconsciously, when we accommodate other speakers. I wonder whether different forms of repetition have different underlying social meanings.

 

At the end of the talk, there was some discussion about both the constitution of iconic speech (unmarked words assembled in marked ways) and the meaning of norm flouting.

 

These are very promising avenues for online text research, and it is exciting to see them play out.

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