In investigating this question, many factors had to be considered. Firstly, the type of status updates that would be used. Would they be random or handpicked? Do I take them from a distinct group of people or from the entire Facebook network? For these first two questions, the answers were more or less obvious, for both a fair analysis and ease of collecting and collating actual data.
They were randomly selected, and taken from a specific group of Facebook users – namely my ‘friends’ on the network. This will obviously have an effect on the result of my data, as it won’t be a fair conclusion for all Facebook status’ and some aspects may be heavily influenced by other factors – youth culture, technologies influence etc.
The next factors to be considered were more specific, as to when the data would be taken: i.e. at certain points in the day, to allow for the possibility of more people online or a trend of status’ discussing a certain going on at a specific time. It may also inflict upon the actual language used as one could hypothesise more vulgarisms and even taboo might be used the later in the day it gets. Times of year could also impose upon context of language which may be dependent upon analysis. The age group also would have a large affect on the data and therefore analysis as to what is analysed, i.e. Vulgarisms, neologisms, elision of lexis etc.
For these two specifics, the answer came mainly for the same reasons as before; taking a simple ‘latest 100 status updates’ on a random day and having the age group already taken care of through the act of choosing only ‘my friends’, closing this down to a minimum of 14 years old up to 20 at the oldest. This 6 year age gap seemed insignificant enough to trim down and the difference in language structure and level within the gap would be minimal and non detrimental.
I collected the latest 100 status updates from a possible 460 people at 5.50pm, Monday 20th July 2009.
This though, did throw up some problems. There is the possibility on Facebook to update your status more than once, in fact, however often you want to. Therefore, there were repeats where somebody in the list had updated their status more than once within the ‘100’ band. In my opinion thought, this didn’t have any effect on the concrete data I had, or the analysis to be done as it would simply be analysing the language itself, and not the influence of the single person. A whole group of people yes, as conclusions can be drawn afterwards as to their collective view of ‘a Facebook status update’. Only if gender, age or any other human social characteristic was being paralleled with a certain language characteristic would this matter.
How did young people ages between 14 and 20 use language in 100 Facebook status updates as of 5.50pm on Monday 20th July, 2009?
Looking at the collected data in an organised fashion made many stand out features of Facebook updates immediately apparent. The first was the sheer amount of apparent non conformity to Standard English, many examples of neologisms, homophones and non standard clipping are rife throughout the research shown in the appendices. Some used quotes from various sources: music culture, film and simply quotes from other people, friends or otherwise. Some used vulgarisms as expected, but not as many or as frequent as expected – perhaps due to the time of day as previously stated.
But, what became most apparent was the use of the verb ‘to be’ in its third person present tense form, ‘is’ in order to make their name, the subject of a primary clause. This then led to the discovery of many other verbs and auxiliary verbs which also helped complete a whole clause using the name of the person as the subject of the sentence, so studying the syntax of Facebook status updates (from young people aged between 14 and 20) became the main focus of my analysis.
How many young people ages between 14 and 20 in 100 Facebook status updates as of 5.50pm on Monday 20th July, 2009, used their own name as the subject of a sentence?
I also narrowed down the extent of the explanation of what ‘young people’ entails in this question, and throughout my data, the use of ‘young people’ or anything to do with youths etc. will relate back to this specific.
There was however one more thing which had to be taken care of. As I was using real data from real people, and a large amount of them at that I needed permission to use their data; either that or change the names of the people. Due to the amount of time it would take to get consent off all these people I opted for the second of the two and have changed the subject’s names, leaving them with the same initials as their actual name. This is the explanation for the odd collection of names within my analysis and research.
To begin with, I found that out of my whole set of research, 63/100 status updates adopted the obligatory name as the subject of the sentence.
“Catherine Kyle Really hates surprises right now”
As opposed to:
“Estelle Bryan Chesterfield it is on Thursday then : ) Well Done girlies : )”
The first example, although poorly punctuated, does form a full simple sentence, using the capitalised adverbial “Really” and the active verb “hates” to form the beginning of the sentence. It then completes what could have been a simple ‘subject-verb-object’ sentence with the final object, “surprises” and a final adverbial to describe ‘when’, “right now”
The second example begins a new clause, disregarding the name and simply uses it to identify who posted it.
Both these examples throw up new possible analyses. They both capitalise the first word typed, probably through force of habit, which is (although not technically) correct for the second usage, the use of it in the first though was something I investigated further and found close to 16% of the people using their name as the sentence did the same thing, capitalising the first word typed, but using it at the first verb or adverbial in a ‘subject-verb…’ sentence.
It was even more interesting when taking into account the amount overall who capitalised the first word, not just using the subject as the sentence. A significant 28% overall conformed to this.
After annotating the research for the first time and looking for whole sentences which used their Facebook name as the subject of the sentence, I decided upon only using the first clause – with the subject’s compulsory name in as, after this primary clause, the fact it uses the name as the subject has no effect on the rest of the sentence.
“Catherine Kyle Really hates surprises right now”
Here, the whole sentence would be used to analyse, as it is just one clause, but here:
“Jane Loraine-Blame has had a rate random weekend but its bin fun lol xx”
Here, the sentence after to co-ordinating conjunction ‘but’ would be ignored; “but its bin fun lol xx”
So, according to my data, 63% of statuses are used with the name as the subject of the sentence.
This shows the popularity of using the name as part of the status update. It may also show the common usage of the present tense being used in status updates as researched by Oberlin College professor ‘Anne Trubek’ on her “GOOD” blog, January 26, 2009 at 5:47 pm. (http://tinyurl.com/statrsrch)
This included some anomalies which I considered and then added to the “Use as Subject” percentage:
“Julia McNuffin ? chris.. you’re the best boyfriend in the world! :D”
“Jenny McClan Passed driving test whaaaaaaaaaaa XD”
“Louisa Stiff cba with today at all”
The first is the ambiguity using the indistinct heart shape, ‘?’ which in present day modern society is colloquially known as the verb: ‘Love/Loves,’ and is frequently abbreviated to such in graffiti, on tables and in ‘doodles’.
The second elides the possessive determiner ‘her’ to the not fully pre-modified noun phrase “driving test” and was the only one in the updates to do so when using the name as the subject of the sentence and so I concluded that this in itself wasn’t a common language use and so could be added to the “Use as Subject” section
The third uses an initialism “cba” colloquially known as “can’t be arsed” in modern social circles. It also fits in with the Facebook status idea as it was first coined for the use of technology. Using the extended version of the initialism clearly adds it to the “Use as Subject” section as it sees the whole sentence make sense.
What should be surprising here though is the amount of people not using their name as the subject of a sentence, something which Anne Trubek did not even consider. This is because the Facebook model does seem to set itself up, specifically for you to update using your name as the subject of a sentence, as Anne Trubek states, it’s so “[we can] let everyone know what we made for dinner, what we are watching on television, where we watched the Inauguration, and the cute things our kids just did. We also like to be witty, and sometimes we aim for provocative obscurity.” And if you believe Anne Trubek’s limited conclusions, it should fit into one of the following categories:
“1. Prosaic: (what I am doing now) “Jill is baking bread”
2. Informative: (stuff I found somewhere else) “Jack loves this article from GOOD” followed by URL
3. Clever and funny: “Johnny thinks Obama should be sworn in a few more times, just to be EXTRA safe”
4. Poetic or nonsensical: “Josh is watching a parakeet form itself out of ice on the telephone wire””
I next moved on to analysing the first noticeable syntax related feature, that of the verb ‘to be’ in its third person present tense form, ‘is’ in order to make their name, the subject of a primary clause.
“James Crapper is finally back from Winster”
The usage of this, according to my research was also significant:
This again shows the wide popularity of using the name as the subject, but also a significant popularity in the usage of the verb “to be” in the present tense to convey or make known what the subject is doing, at this very moment in time.
After concluding what the most prevalent way to begin a status update seemed to be, I then moved on to other aspects of syntax, and began to find the numbers which made use of adverbials and complements in their sentences.
(Complements particularly, as they would fit into the Facebook system of getting across feelings or opinions after the “What’s on your mind?” prompt in the status update box.)
I first elected to analyse adverbials, was looking for sentences which used one or more adverbials within the first clause. Any after and I would be going against my previous decision to only analyse the first clause.
“James Crapper is finally back from Winster”
The amount of my collected data which made use of adverbials in their primary clause was over one fifth.
Next was the analysis of complements used in my research.
“Alison Prissy feels poorly:(”
The amount collected here was also of a similar amount, just over a fifth, but slightly less used that adverbials.
These findings here show little difference in amount of usage, and so the prompt from Facebook to ask about “What’s on their mind?” as opposed to something like “What are you doing right now?” has little bearing (from my research) as to what is ‘updated’.
Hence concludes my analysis. The syntax of Facebook status updates, from my findings primarily and commonly uses the subjects name as the subject of the sentence, also using the verb “to be” as “is” to give the audience, their network and friends a view of their immediate present and then can go on to tell either what they are feeling as of now, or what they are doing, as of now.
This is not though, the conclusion of research to be done on Facebook Status Updates. There are wider audiences to be considered, different age groups, ethnic backgrounds, knowledge bases which can be researched. Other language features possible to look at: Pragmatics, the influence of technology on the language used and what may come hand in hand with that in our time only – youth culture, as we are the first REAL generation to make full use of social networking websites like this to what is their full potential now.
The usage of non-standard English in the updates was another glaring subject which could be analysed hugely.
Simple analysis of my own shows that 65% of the updates use clear non-standard English and technological influences, be it new acronyms, smileys or complete neologisms. This large figure doesn’t even take into account features of spoken language which have transferred over, if so I can say the number would be incredibly close, if not dead on 100%.
Deep analysis of this would I’m sure bring about some interesting and perhaps rather revealing conclusions.