Welsh Tweets Can Show Experts How Language Evolves; ONLINE POSTS OFFER AUTHENTIC SNAPSHOT OF THE SPOKEN WORD

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 30, 2013 | Go to article overview

Welsh Tweets Can Show Experts How Language Evolves; ONLINE POSTS OFFER AUTHENTIC SNAPSHOT OF THE SPOKEN WORD


Byline: DAVID OWENS david.owens@walesonline.co.uk

IT has become a social media phenomenon keeping millions of people in touch, whether it's sharing their politics with followers or updating their mates with the trivia of everyday life.

Now researchers at Cambridge University have launched a new study into the evolution of the Welsh language - using Twitter as the basis of its research.

Researchers are using a database of Welsh tweets to identify the characteristics of the changes in the language.

According to the university, changes that take place in the language we use in everyday life - from buzz words such as "sweet" and "innit" - can be tracked using tweets because they do not follow the conventions of written language, so provide an authentic snapshot of the spoken language.

By analysing the content of the 140-character messages, linguists can then get to grips with the dynamics of the language played out in real time.

Dr David Willis from Cambridge's Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, who is heading up the study, has utilised information from his database of tweets to devise the questionnaires used for oral interviews.

"When your intention is to capture everyday usage, one of the greatest challenges is to develop questions that don't lead the respondent towards a particular answer but give you answers that provide the material you need," he said.

"If I want to find out whether a particular construction is emerging, and where the people who use it come from, I would normally have to conduct a time-consuming pilot study, but with Twitter I can get a rough and ready answer in 30 minutes as people tweet much as they speak.

"My focus is on the syntax of language - the structure or grammar of sentences - and my long-term aim is to produce a syntactic atlas of Welsh dialects that will add to our understanding of current usage of the language and the multi-stranded influences on it.

"To do this relies on gathering spoken material from different sectors of the Welsh-speaking population to make comparisons across time and space. …

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