At several places on this blog site, I have attempted to define and clarify what “citizen sociolinguistics” is. But readers may still be unclear about who counts as a citizen sociolinguist. Can scholars also be citizen sociolinguists? Can robots? Small children?
Generally, citizen sociolinguists are any people (let’s exclude robots for now) who talk about language and publicly share their insights, often via Interned-based social media. Citizen sociolinguists do not primarily concern themselves with scholarly debates. Instead their observations function as social gambits, luring any interested peers into a discussion of language by illustrating something unique, funny, interesting, absurd, or annoying about language around them.
“Katiemayoxx” , for example, who has a YouTube Chanel primarily focused on Make-Up tutorials, begins her video about “things Welsh people say” by explaining that “today’s video is going to be a pretty different video actually. Just something different that I wanted to film because I think some of you might find it interesting or maybe even funny.”
From another part of the world, “GregoryShampoo”, invites viewers to learn how to speak “Singaporean English, aka, Singlish,” urging them to learn “five very important Singlish words: Lah, Sia, Siao, Wa Lao, and Bo Jio,” and illustrating the best possible attitude to embody while saying them.
In the United States, “thethugyone,” from South Philadelphia, begins by telling his audience he’s had a bad cold, sinusitis, and pneumonia for a while, and so, he says,
…being sick, I’ve been on YouTube watching videos, like, incessantly. Just for entertainment, you know. And I came across like, different accent challenge videos and I figured, “I’m from south Philly I can do an accent too,.. I mean, just the way I talk, or whatever. So. Yeah. So I figured maybe you guys could relate to it? I don’t know if there’s anyone from South Philly or from Philly in general. People who aren’t from the East Coast think it’s from New York. But trust me, I’m from here. I’m from Philly and when I hear a New York Accent it’s not the same. So you’re all crazy, So the accent challenge, here it goes…
As these examples illustrate, those who I am calling “citizen sociolinguists” are generally non-scholars, and their insights are made with no intention of contributing to a scholarly discussion. Instead, these videos are primarily offered up as entertaining performances–enticements to lure in more viewers. And, they succeed! As the comment-threads following these videos go on to illustrate, these YouTube performances generate extended dialogue about language.
Many YouTube response comments reaffirm the initial YouTuber’s perspective or provide extended stories about their own experiences with the language under discussion. For example, comments following KatieMyoxx’s “things Welsh people say,” affirm what she has presented as “Welsh sayings,” in statements like:
im welsh and im from south wales, im from cwmbran and i say all these<3 welsh and proud!
Other commenters pick out specific words to underline as very important. One commenter, for example, reaffirms the importance of the Welsh word, “cwtch”:
Anyone can hug but only the Welsh can cwtch.
Another emphasizes that now she understands her own use of “cwtch” better:
OMG CWTCH IS A WALES THING! I’m a vocabulary person, and i said that word in a sentence at a gathering and someone asked me if I was welsh… it all makes sense now…
Typically, commenters add to the discussion by drawing on personal experience, but now and then commenters will proffer some knowledge that is less experiential, more scholarly–ish as this person, who emphasized historical of one of the “Welsh” words, “mun”:
‘mun’ is also in the Sheffield dialect of Yorkshire English of the 19th century and it meant man.
Similar chains of comments unfurl below the “Singlish” and “South Philly” YouTube performances referenced above, and infinite other social media performances, on YouTube and elsewhere.
All these comments, even those taking a more scholarly stance, become part of an on-going conversation, working together with the initial performance to produce a citizen sociolinguistic portrait of a certain way of speaking. By contributing to dialogue about language, these commenters (as well as the performer who sparks the dialogue) are taking the role of “citizen sociolinguist.”
And, as citizen sociolinguists all these social media performers are asserting (and creating) value for language they are using. Are you a citizen sociolinguist? Do you post your own performances? Comment on language? Please share below!