To some, this is an hola, a shalom, or a salve. To others, this is a שלום, a привет, or a 你好. All these people share a mutual understanding of the uplifting connotation of a few simple words. Yet to a Computer Science major like me, the same words mean something totally different: the rage-inducing and expletive-strewn hazing ritual for the new programmer (that’s ever so hilarious to spectate). While many programmers code in English, technical jargon transforms comp sci talk into another language altogether. With so many diverse subnetworks and their varying cultures and etiquettes, understanding the role of language in the Twittersphere in the dissemination of information is critical to controlling the reach and impact of one’s posts.
We as humans share a learned and accepted understanding of written language: we choose to express complex thoughts with combinations of tokens that represent individual entities and ideas. This fundamental similarity allows for some degree of mutual understanding between practiced languages. Aside from grammatical and syntactical differences, individual words and tokens can be translated and understood.
The represented concepts, or the cultural language, however, are not as easily transferrable. For one, connotation often takes cultural roots: while seven is a lucky number for Americans due to its association with casino jackpots, the number eight is lucky to the Chinese due to its similarity in pronunciation to the word for wealth. In British English, what Americans say as “hit me up,” or to follow up a conversation, is said as “knock me up,” which in regular english carries a less family friendly context. On a larger scale, sarcasm does not exist in Chinese culture. As an American-born Chinese, I once walked into a judgmental fourth grade english class armed with Asian parent teachings. It was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.
A person is, however, more than just the sum of his or her linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Every person carries a plethora of hobbies, unique ideas, and interests that fall into what becomes technical language featured by close-knit subnetworks. From niche gaming vernacular like wave-dashing and gimping to universal terms like social media, to understand the technical language used by a community one must gain an intimate understanding of the context and metadata of the subject. In the above examples, an understanding of Super Smash Brother’s game mechanics is necessary to understand the vocabulary. One must understand that social media includes Twitter and Facebook because they compile user-driven data.
Therefore, research that has concluded that only about 10% of Tweeters use multiple (practiced) languages ignores the unique boundaries that culture and subculture create. The research finds that multilingual users author more tweets and are more active in participation, implying that in a model of the Twittersphere with subnetworks separated by practiced, cultural, and technical language barriers, there is even greater overlap between individuals that think differently. The practiced language cleavage in society is much less difficult to span by users that share cultural and subcultural background. Gobbledygook of all size and shapes can mean the same thing to all who share laughter over it.