Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

The Emotive Meanings and Functions of English 'Diminutive' Interjections in Twitter Posts

Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

The Emotive Meanings and Functions of English 'Diminutive' Interjections in Twitter Posts

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Interjections that have the diminutive -y/-ie (or plural (2) -ies) suffix, such as whoopsie, wowie and owie, occur extremely rarely in most written sources. A brief survey of Google Books and online newspapers shows a striking lack of such forms; similarly, a corpus search of the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA; Davies 2010-) or the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA; Davies 2008-) on average brings up fewer than five hits per item. However, data from the microblogging service Twitter suggests that 'diminutive' forms of interjections (henceforth DIs) are used not as infrequently in written language as might have been previously thought, as is seen in the following examples in (1) from Twitter (; emphasis in bold mine):

(1) a. Bosses love it when you show up a half hour late and just say " whoopsie." (accessed 28 April 2014 (3))

b. Wowee I got so much more positive feedback on that iggy thing than I thought like I'm blown away haha (accessed 28 May).

In previous studies of diminutives and interjections, DIs have received little attention. Schneider (2003: 226-227) mentions oh goodie as a diminutive form of an interjection, but concentrates instead on an exhaustive study of synthetic diminutives formed from nouns. Merlini Barbaresi (2000: 324) mentions the -ie suffix as a class-changing feature and gives good -> goody as an example of the suffix creating a DI. DIs have also been mentioned briefly in other research, most often linking DIs to child speech (e.g.,Franck et al. 2010) and jazz jargon (see Hart 1932). Although considerably lower in frequency than their base interjections, the various forms of DIs raise questions regarding their meanings and functions in English tweets posted on Twitter.

In this paper, I focus on English DIs used on Twitter. I endeavor to show how DIs are used as linguistic devices to display emotion in various contexts. DIs often appear as internet slang and humorously or satirically, conveying both positive and negative connotations, which may explain the reason for the exclusion of these features from newspapers and (semi-)formal or scripted speech. For this study, I have included whoopsy, whoopsies, oopsy, oopsies, owie, ouchies and wowie (along with orthographic variants) due to frequency. Some of the DIs I have excluded are, but are not limited to, (oh) dearie (me), (oh) goodie and righty-ho. The main question of this paper aims to fill the gap in the research of DIs by examining the functions and emotive meanings DIs in a corpus of tweets. How are they used on Twitter and what emotions do they display? I do not aim to compare DIs to their non-diminutive forms (NDIs) in this paper except when relevant; rather, I hope that the results may be used for future studies of the suffix and the comparison of DIs and NDIs.

The paper, thus, is divided as follows: following the introduction, I provide a background discussion of diminutives and interjections in general. In section 3, the paper discusses Twitter as a form of public conversation, which is followed by methodology in section 4. Section 5 presents quantitative results, while section 6 analyzes the data through a qualitative approach of specific DI meanings, particularly within their humorous, (semi-) serious and negative contexts. In section 7 I include some final considerations regarding DINDI forms. Section 8 ends the paper with concluding remarks.

2. What do we know about DIs?

DIs are formed from two main parts: the base interjection (e.g.,wow, whoops) and the diminutive suffix (e.g.,-y/-ie), which I take up in turn in 2.1, 2.2 and summarize in 2.3.

2.1 Interjections

Interjections have been defined in various ways (see Ameka 1992 and Gehweiler 2010 for more in-depth overviews); for example, Ameka (1992: 106) writes that "interjections are relatively conventionalised vocal gestures (or more generally, linguistic gestures) which express a speaker's mental state, action or attitude or reaction to a situation. …

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