Think all regions tweet alike? They don't, according to Jacob Eisenstein, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. When it comes to the language of Twitter — with its 140-character limit — there are regional dialects.
Eisenstein and his team studied one week's worth of data from Twitter — more than 380,000 tweets from 9,500 users.
They found that while in Southern California something might be "coo," a Northern Californian who's making the very same brief, trenchant observation is calling it "koo."
And instead of typing "something," a New Yorker is more likely to tweet the word "suttin."
"It's a nice example of a phenomena that we see in a couple of different places on Twitter," Eisenstein tells NPR's Robert Siegel. The standard form — something — is used throughout the U.S. Then there are phoneticized versions spelled more like it sounds — like the word "sumthin." And then there's "suttin," Eisenstein says, which is almost never used outside the immediate area around New York City.
Eisenstein says researchers were surprised to discover that these kinds of regional differences in tweets are almost completely unconnected from spoken language. For example, he says, there are a lot of ways to say that something is funny on the Internet: "LOL" is a standard term used throughout the U.S., but, he says, there are other forms that are regionally distinct.
"Unfortunately, most of these forms are things that you can't say on the radio," he says. Moreover, he says, they'd never find their way into a spoken conversation.
With its improvised shorthand and creative misspellings, studying Twitter will help researchers see whether social media is making written language more like spoken language.
"There was no way to identify that kind of regional variation until now," Eisenstein says. "And now, through social media, we have written communication being used in a very conversational, informal way, and we're starting to see all the same richness and diversity that we see in spoken language ... in written language, too."