Exploring African American Language in the Nation’s Capital

asp_94_1_coverThe most recent issue of American Speech, “Exploring African American Language in the Nation’s Capital,” edited by Tyler Kendall and Charlie Farrington, is now available.

This special issue brings together a wide range of scholars of African American Language (AAL) who explore aspects of the new, openly accessible Corpus of Regional African American Language (CORAAL). Each examining the same data from different perspectives, contributors offer new insights on AAL and offer initial thoughts on what CORAAL can offer for both the studies of AAL and for sociolinguistic research more generally.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

Speaking from the Heartland

pads103_coverSpeaking from the Heartland” by Christopher Strelluf, the newest Publication of the American Dialect Society, is now available.

Drawing on acoustic measurements of more than 140,000 vowels recorded during interviews with 50 English speakers from Kansas City, Strelluf rigorously examines the vowel systems of those living in this large metropolitan area and traces a half-century of sound change from 1955 to 1999.

The results reveal a series of recent innovations that challenge Kansas City’s characterization as a Midland dialect city—or more broadly challenge the characterization of the Midland dialect. By examining these features in Kansas City, this volume updates knowledge about one speech community as well as contributing broadly to studies in the phonetics and phonology of American Englishes.

Read the first chapter, made freely available.

Now Available: First Issue of English Language Notes Published by Duke University Press

ELN_561-cov_early_for-JmktWe are pleased to announce that the first issue of English Language Notes published by Duke University Press, volume 56, issue 1, “Critical and Comparative Mysticisms,” is now available.

A respected forum of criticism and scholarship in literary and cultural studies since 1962, English Language Notes (ELN) is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of scholarship in literature and related fields in new directions. Broadening its reach geographically and transhistorically, ELN opens new lines of inquiry and widens emerging fields. Each ELN issue advances topics of current scholarly concern, providing theoretical speculation as well as ptractical interdisciplinary recalibrations. Offering semiannual, topically themed issues, ELN also includes “Of Note,” an ongoing section featuring related topics, review essays or roundtables of cutting-edge scholarship, and emergent concerns. ELN is a wide-ranging journal that combines theoretical rigor with innovative interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Critical and Comparative Mysticisms” contains essays on mysticisms through a critical lens. This rarely, if ever, articulated vision of mysticisms juxtaposes them with other disciplinary and epistemological avenues of critical thought, such as historical, political, and literary studies. Mystical traditions, which often lie at the margins of institutionalized religions, tend to break down the boundaries that develop within religious contexts over time and offer syncretic alternatives to them. Mysticisms also offer alternative versions of knowledge seeking, being, and experience that contribute to a distinct and compelling branch of contemporary critical theory, intervening in current ideologically loaded discourses of religion and drawing on the vast archive of mystical thought, writing, and art from around the world in all periods. This special issue also contains a roundtable section with brief interventions concerning various angles of mysticism.

Read the introduction, made freely available, and browse the table of contents.

Speech in the Western States, Volume 2: The Mountain West

ddpads_102The most recent Publication of the American Dialect Society, “Speech in the Western States, Volume 2: The Mountain West,” is now available. This collection is an exhaustive treatment of Western vowel patterns and serves as a unique resource to dialectologists, sociolinguists, and students of language.

Filling the void in our knowledge of the development and diffusion of the vowel features that define Western States English, this companion volume which examined speech in the coastal West now turns the lens toward speech in the Mountain West. The inland states of the Western U.S. offer a varied history, geography and population that contribute to a rich linguistic landscape. This volume, for the first time, brings together work on the vowel patterns found in Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Montana, showing diversity while still offering some evidence of the formation of a supra-Western pattern.

These chapters draw attention to a number of new and less well known features that also play a significant role in defining and differentiating, at least in some areas, modern Western vowel systems. Building on earlier work, such as the broadly defined Western dialect region presented in the Atlas of North American English, we can now talk with more confidence about shared “Western” vs. more local norms, as well as discuss potential changes in progress and how long “Western” vowel patterns cited in earlier literature have been around.

To learn more, read the introduction, made freely available.

Speech in the Western States: The Coastal States

ddpads_101The most recent volume of the Publication of the American Dialect Society (PADS), “Speech in the Western States, Volume 1: The Coastal States,” edited by Valerie Fridland, Tyler Kendall, Betsy Evans, and Alicia Wassink, presents a collection of new articles investigating what is perhaps the most understudied American dialect region, the American West. In an attempt to remedy this dearth of descriptive work on Western United States dialects, this volume brings together research undertaken by a combination of established and up-and-coming scholars across the West to focus on the phonetic changes occurring in vowel systems across the coastal region, California, Oregon, and Washington. The following volume will move the lens of inquiry to vowel patterns in the Interior West.

Though pointing to several shared “Western” features, these chapters force us to reconsider the dialect uniformity often assumed for these states, pointing to key differences between California and the states in the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, surprising similarity was discovered among the vowel systems of minority and majority ethnic groups in these states. In surveying the research presented here, we come away with a sense of a region still in the process of dialect formation—a process that is creating both similarity and difference within the region—but it also seems clear that the West, at least along the coast, is not a unitary dialect region as often reported, but one characterized by features that have arisen only within the last 50 to 100 years, features that have already begun to display the local character of the people that live within its boundaries. The research presented here begins to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of what the Coastal states of the continental Western United States sound like and how they fit into the larger picture of United States dialect diversity and the studies lay the groundwork for further research on the speech patterns of the Western United States.

Browse the table-of-contents and read the preface to the issue, made freely available.

Celebrate German-American Day with American Speech

Happy German-American Day! Celebrate with two volumes of the Publication of the American Dialect Society (PADS), “Pennsylvania German in the American Midwest” and “The Life and Death of Texas German.”

ddpads_96_coverIn “Pennsylvania German in the American Midwest,” Steven Hartman Keiser studies the divisions separating the Midwestern and the Pennsylvania varieties of Pennsylvania German, demonstrating that these dialects are divided by boundaries similar to those that distinguish dialects of English in the same geographic regions. Keiser provides empirical detail on the distribution of key linguistic variants in several Pennsylvania German–speaking communities in the Midwest and explores the internal changes, patterns of migration, and language contact that have led to the current geographic and social distribution of these features. In addition, he considers the potential for future dialect divergence or convergence as he describes the links between these language varieties and the notions of regional identity in the attitudes of Pennsylvania German speakers in the Midwest and those in Pennsylvania toward each other.

asp_83_5_prThe Life and Death of Texas German” presents the first major study of Texas German as spoken in the twenty-first century, focusing on its formation and the linguistic changes it has undergone. This New World dialect, formed more than 150 years ago in German communities in central Texas, is an unusual example of a formerly high-status dialect that declined for sociopolitical reasons. An important case study for dialect research, Texas German is now critically endangered and will probably be extinct by 2050.

By comparing and contrasting present-day data with data from the German dialects brought to Texas since the 1840s, the volume offers an in-depth analysis of mutual interaction between the German-speaking community and English-speaking Texans, long-term accommodation of Texas German speakers in this new community, and language hybridization on the Texas frontier. The volume also analyzes a number of phonological, syntactic, and morphological changes in Texas German over the past century and examines sociolinguistic aspects of the Texas German community from its foundation to today, providing insight into the dynamics underlying new-dialect formation, diglossia, language shift, language maintenance, and language death. Finally, the volume investigates the rapid disappearance of languages, which has global social and cultural implications for areas beyond linguistics.

All one hundred volumes of PADS are freely available online through 2016. Browse volumes 1-100 to discover the breadth of this resource, dating from 1944 to the present. To learn more about the journal, visit

The Singular “They” and Trans* Studies

They used as a “gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person” was chosen as the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society in January 2016. The so-called singular they has been used for centuries to replace he or she when referring back to a generic antecedent, although this makes some copy editors and grammar aficionados cringe. (Did you see this row between Merriam-Webster dictionary Twitter account and Andy Smarick? It all started with this tweet.) What’s new and was recognized by the society is the emerging use of they as a pronoun to refer to a specific known person, often as a conscious choice by someone rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.

Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, explains: “In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion. . . . While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

ddasp_91_1In “Singular They: An Empirical Study of the Generic Pronoun Use,” published in American Speech volume 91, issue 1, author Darren K. LaScotte presents a study that explores which pronouns native English speakers use when writing about a hypothetical person of unspecified gender. LaScotte discovered the majority of participants use singular they when referring to the indefinite, singular, genderless antecedent “the ideal student.” In an optional write-in section of the study, participants were asked why they chose the singular they. Responses included mentions that they acknowledges those that fall outside of the gender binary.

These responses in LaScotte’s study highlight the relationship between the singular they and trans* studies. In TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly’s recent special issue “Trans*formational Pedagogies” (volume 2, issue 3), two articles delve into the use of pronouns and the trans* community.

ddtsq_2_3In “Trans* Disruptions: Pedagogical Practices and Pronoun Recognition,” Tre Wentling asks, “With the increasing number of trans* people who queer the gender binary, how does language affirm or deny their personhood?” In Wentling’s study, the results demonstrate that trans* students who identify as genderqueer tended to use gender-neutral and third-person pronouns. However, educators were less affirming when it came to gender-neutral pronoun recognition. “Accurate pronoun recognition supports trans* students’ identity development and honors their personhood,” Wentling says.

Susan W. Woolley’s “‘Boys Over Here, Girls Over There’: A Critical Literacy of Binary Gender in Schools” examines the ways teachers and students enact, respond to, and subvert practices that articulate and distinguish categories of boys and girls with three years of ethnographic research in an urban public high school. From the abstract:

Dividing students according to their socially recognized sex or gender reinforces the perceived stability of binary male/female sex and binary masculine/feminine gender categories while also exceptionalizing transgender identities. Students and teachers who challenge such practices engage in critical literacy readings of school spaces and of the mundane ways binary gender and sex are read onto bodies. Critical literacy provides a method through which students and teachers may engage in reflection and critical practice to raise awareness and challenge everyday practices in schools that construct boys and girls as stable, discrete categories.

For those who embrace, or are ready to embrace, the singular they, there’s a website for you:

Celebrating 100 Volumes of the Publication of the American Dialect Society

ddpads_100The most recent volume of the Publication of the American Dialect Society (PADS), “Contested Southernness: The Linguistic Production and Perception of Identities in the Borderlands,” by Jennifer Cramer, is the 100th volume of this publication.

Contested Southernness” explores the interactions between language, identity, and borders where these interactions are neither simple nor straightforward. Through the example of Louisville, Kentucky, identities at the border are shown to be fluid, complex, and dynamic, with speakers constantly negotiating their amplified awareness of belonging. Read the volume, made freely available.

In celebration, all one hundred volumes of PADS are freely available online through 2016. Titles include:

Browse volumes 1-100 to discover the breadth of this resource, dating from 1944 to the present. To learn more about the journal, visit

New Books in March

It is already March and Spring is on its way, but even more exciting are the new books coming out this month. And we have plenty of them!


Diana Taylor’s Performance explores the multiple and overlapping meanings of performance, showing how it can convey everything from artistic, economic, and sexual performance, to providing ways of understanding how race, gender, identity, and power are performed.

In Indian Given María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo provides a sweeping historical and comparative analysis of racial ideologies in Mexico and the United States from 1550 to the present to show how indigenous peoples provided the condition of possibility for the emergence of each nation.

In The Official World Mark Seltzer analyzes the suspense fiction, films, and performance art of Patricia Highsmith, Tom McCarthy, Cormac McCarthy, J.G. Ballard, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and others to demonstrate that the modern world continuously establishes itself through the staging of its own conditions.feminist bookstore

Kristen Hogan traces The Feminist Bookstore Movement‘s rise and fall, showing how the women at the heart of the movement developed theories and practices of lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability that continue to resonate today.

Drawing on an eclectic range of texts and figures, from the Greek Cynics to Tori Amos, Nick Salvato’s Obstruction finds that embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness can paradoxically enable alternative modes of intellectual production.

A celebratory new edition to Jane Lazarre’s Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness, in which she, a white Jewish mother, describes her experience being married to an African American man and raising two sons as she learns, from family experience, teaching, and her studies, about the realities of racism in America.

In Cold War Anthropology, David H. Price offers a provocative account of the profound influence that the American security state has had on the field of anthropology since the Second World War by mapping  out the intricate connections between academia and the intelligence community.

diaspora and trustIn Memorializing Pearl Harbor Geoffrey M. White examines the challenge of representing history at the site of the attack that brought America into World War II, showing that the memorial to the Pearl Harbor bombing is a site in which many histories are continually performed, validated, and challenged.

In Diaspora and Trust Adrian H. Hearn proposes a new paradigm for economic development in Mexico and Cuba that is predicated on the development of trust among the state, society, and each nation’s resident Chinese diaspora communities, lest they get left behind in the twenty-first century economy.

In Sexual States Jyoti Puri uses the example of the recent efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in India to show how the regulation of sexuality is fundamentally tied to the creation and enduring existence of the Indian state.

the geographiesAntoinette Burton’s Africa in the Indian Imagination challenges nostalgic narratives of the Afro-Asian solidarity that emerged from the 1955 Bandung conference by showing how postcolonial Indian identity was based on the subordination of Africans and blackness.

In The Geographies of Social Movements Ulrich Oslender examines the activism of black communities in the lowland rain forest of Colombia’s Pacific coast to show how the mutually constituting relationships between residents and their environment informs the political process.

In Domesticating Organ Transplant Megan Crowley-Matoka examines the iconic power of kidney transplantation in Mexico, where the procedure is inexorably linked to the imaginings of individual and national identity, national pride, and the role of women in creating the Mexican state.

motherless tounge
In The Sublime Perversion of Capital Gavin Walker examines the Japanese debate about capitalism between the 1920s and 1950s, using it as a “prehistory” to consider current problems of uneven economic development and contemporary topics in Marxist theory and historiography.

In Motherless Tongues Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history as seen through the work of translation in the context of empire, revolution, and academic scholarship in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond.

In Tourist Distractions Youngmin Choe uses Korean hallyu cinema as a lens to examine the importance of tourist films and film tourism in creating transnational bonds throughout East Asia and how they help Korea negotiate its twentieth-century history with the neoliberal present.

Ricardo D. Salvatore’s Disciplinary Conquest rewrites the history of Latin American studies by tracing its roots back to the first half of the twentieth century, showing how its ties to U.S. business and foreign policy interests helped build an informal empire that supported U.S. economic, technological, and cultural hegemony throughout the hemisphere.


Interview with American Speech Editor Tom Purnell

We recently had the chance to chat with Tom Purnell, recently-appointed editor of American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage, a publication of the American Dialect Society. He discusses his new position, trends in the field of linguistics, the American Dialect Society Word of the Year, and even emojis. Additionally, we are happy to share the news that all volumes of the Publication of the American Dialect Society are freely available online. Browse volumes 1-99, dating from 1944 to the present.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your new role.

Professionally, I’m trained as a phonologist, so I study sounds—primarily tones—and how they interact with metrical systems. I got into sociophonetics when, in the last year of my graduate study, I got a part-time post being the phonetics lab manager, for lack of a better word, at Swarthmore College. John Baugh handed me his famous recordings on “hello” spoken in three different accents, and he asked me to look at them, and that led to an experiment down at the University of Delaware—where I was a student—and then led to a paper we published together with Bill Idsardi, which has gotten a lot of traction publicly and in different professions, like the legal fields.

That got me into sociophonetics and thinking about how language works in society and how people react to speech, a lot of times through belief systems and their own biases—but also how quickly the brain works in terms of processing, and what types of things the brain does with speech. So that led to a lot of different areas of sociophonetics. Then, at the University of Wisconsin, I joined a few years ago with Joe Salmons in the German department, and then later Eric Raimy in the English department, and we started looking at Wisconsin Englishes—primarily how German and other languages influenced the language, specifically the varieties of English spoken in the Upper Midwest. That’s continued from 2004 until now. So that got me very interested in the social aspects of language—particularly in the locality of language, how language change occurs, how it occurs in a local setting—and that’s been at the center of both those areas of research.

How did you become the editor of American Speech?

ddasp_90_4I almost didn’t become the editor! I saw the announcement for it, and I knew that [former editor] Michael Adams was stepping down, and the announcement was sitting on my desk for a number of weeks. Right before the deadline, a student came in and asked me, “So, are you going to apply?” Then I started thinking a little more about it, and I wrote a member of the committee who was at Wisconsin, and she encouraged me to apply.

I was transitioning off of the University of Wisconsin Press faculty committee, and I felt like I had spent some time learning about how presses work—primarily on the books side of things—and that this would be an interesting way to broaden this interest. I applied for it because I thought learning about journals, learning about the editing aspect of it, would be productive for my own research. But also, there are many ways of shaping the field through the journal—not only reacting to what people are doing, but also encouraging types of research. I felt like that was some of the motivation.

It could also have come from the motivation that when you read an article and you get six sentences from the end, and the author makes spurious claims—I was really tired of seeing those! This has to stop! So this is my way of contributing to that. Also, I had written a few articles in American Speech and participated in two of the audio features right before the announcement came.

Is the field of linguistics changing right now? How?

We’re at a point in the field where a lot of the vanguard, so to speak, the leaders from the middle of the twentieth century are retiring from the field. You have sociolinguists who are retiring or about to retire; you have the Dictionary of American Regional English moving through this huge transition into the Internet age, and then you have to ask what’s next, and how is this field going to move forward, both in terms of dialectology and sociolinguistics. I think there are things we can do in the journal, like using special issues to call attention to certain topics that are more relevant.

ddpads_99If you think of the Word of the Year, last year with “#blacklivesmatter,” it shows there are still issues with race and language, even though we’ve been working on African American English for years. There’s a sense in which we can set some special issues that address real-life problems and inform them. I think that’s going to be a promising place.

I think the other thing to do is something that [American Speech managing editor] Charles [Carson] has suggested: to try to group together old articles, articles from since Duke University Press has been involved with publishing American Speech but also even further back, and then thematically group them together, to remind readers about things that have been said in the past so that as research goes forward, they have this strong foundation.

So that deals with looking back, but doing it in a way that’s going to help address issues that are relevant today. At the same time, there are some cautions to this. There’s a big movement now for very rapid analysis, like big data analysis. And I think there are a lot of papers coming through the pipe that deal with trying to use things like Twitter. We have to be cautious that we’re not preventing people from sending those papers in, but we want to make sure that the research is done correctly.

I’d also like to try having cross-journal connections. There are a number of journals that deal with social issues. Maybe they have a slightly broader or narrower approach, but they would still be germane to people who are working on language. Sociolinguists have sort of shied away from making a lot of statements about society, but rather just making observations. I think we need to continue making these observations and say, well, what do we make of this? How can we further discussion on issues of, let’s say, the racial disparity in schools? How can we address issues with violence—not that we’re going to be police or anything, but how is the public discourse about public shootings; how do we talk about that type of violence; how do we talk about it in the political world? It’s an election year, so we think about that. What kinds of patterns are out there? What kinds of words are being developed? There have been some papers coming out that do this—that start with a basic question and go into deeper research.

What do you think are the current hot topics in the field of linguistics?

Sociophonetics has been hot, and I’m not sure that it’s going to stay the same way. I think there’s going to be a change in how people use technology. After initial work on sociophonetics by people like Erik Thomas, there was a movement to rapidly go through and analyze all kinds of things. I think we’re going to find some things out of that, but at the same time, rather than be the focus, it has to be one of many tools. I imagine you’ll see analyses come through that use everything from Twitter to doing an analysis of someone’s voice, and then try to put pieces together, rather than doing a very narrow analysis. The focus has been on the individual, the identity of the individual with respect to the speech community, or the speech community.

ddpads_98_coverAt the same time, we’ve taken certain things that have been axiomatic—like that when you speak in free conversation, you’re more free and you’ll speak more vernacular. It turns out, looking at some of the Dictionary of American Regional English recordings, that a number of the speakers were actually more vernacular when they read a story, and when they spoke in free conversation, they were more careful. A number of my students have found this when they do these analyses in class. I have them compare the style and the register, and it turns out that the more vernacular pieces are read passages rather than spoken, which seems to go against one of [William] Labov’s major generalizations.

But there are factors for that, and I think we need to start exploring some of the other factors. There are methodological issues, like these are older speakers, so they’re more nervous when they’re reading. So they’ll throw in “onest upon a time” at the beginning because they’re focused so much on the process of reading. You could argue, well, we’re only focusing on younger speakers now, and so on and so forth, but I think that misses some of the generalizations about how different people behave differently in the same setting. Even if you had younger adults who have a problem with reading, they may have been doing this same thing all along, but we’ve not been catching those things.

I think we will find more nuanced approaches to language rather than large categories of behavior. I’d like to see more articles come through that focus more on that—not narrowly on the individual, but looking more at the range of variation, even outliers. Sort of like a thread on a coat, where you pull a little bit of it and it starts unraveling, there’s a sense in which some of those little things we observe may turn out to be nothing, but may actually turn out to be a new avenue of research. I’d like to encourage those papers that look at things we don’t even expect to find.

What is your favorite part of the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year vote?
WOTY_Charles Carson_2

Photo courtesy of Charles Carson

The best part of the Word of the Year vote is the energy. There’s this very raw energy in the room. First of all, the room is jam-packed, and it seems like this has built up over the last several years. People from the [Linguistic Society of America], from all the other groups that are meeting at the conference, know that this is the only thing that’s happening at that time, and they just pack the room. You’ve got to go early to get a seat! Recently I’ve been late and I’ve had to stand in a corner, and you’re stuffed in there! But the energy itself, and people feeding off the energy, is just something. It’s really exciting.

You get votes, and you get people standing up to make statements. Some of them are funny, some are more serious, but they’re very impassioned pleas to vote for word X—or not vote for word X, as the case may be. What’s really interesting is—looking at it outside that vote—is that people pay attention. I think some of the dictionaries have already announced their word of the year, and we have no control over that. But for the Word of the Year for the American Dialect Society, anybody can have influence over the selections of words. If you’re at the conference, you can stand up to say ‘this is the word I want.’ They solicit words the day before, and actually people have already been talking about the words online, so there’s a slate that’s building. But you have the chance to go, and you have the chance even that day to throw in a word. It’s a participation sport. And it gets physical at times as well!

I think when everybody comes out, they may not agree, but it’s something you talk about and share with your students; people are immediately blogging, and their students read that. They talk with other people, and there’s a lot of discussion. I would imagine that there’s more discussion of the Word of the Year this way. When it comes out from this kind of vote, it’s a very populist approach to language.

Do you have a favorite Word of the Year in the past couple of years?

I’m not a lexicographer, so I’m always surprised when I go. I hear words and I’m like, ‘Oh, where did that come from?’ Some things I’ve heard, I’ve thought, ‘Who says that?’ So it’s interesting to hear people say ‘Oh, yeah, in our part of the country, my students say this.’ Maybe I’m just really out of touch, and it’s my one shot of getting in touch linguistically!

“#Blacklivesmatter,” last year’s Word of the Year, was a relevant word. I think there are words people vote on because they’re relevant. People will argue and say ‘Oh, that’s not a word, it’s a hashtag,’ but hashtags have this role as words now. My middle-school son walks around saying ‘hashtag X,’ you know. Or he’ll say things like ‘much happiness.’ He uses these expressions, and he does use a hashtag as a word. I have to catch myself from being the parent and saying ‘No, you cannot use that, that’s not a word.’ But as a linguist, I have to let that flow.

So I’ve been surprised by a lot of the winners in a way. Some of the winners you expect because you hear them, they’re so prevalent, but I really enjoy the surprises. Like how “sharknado” made it, but of course it made it in the “most unnecessary” category.

Have you seen Oxford’s Word of the Year, the “face with tears of joy” emoji?

face_with_tears_of_joyYes, I have! So with the hashtag, I can accept it as a word because it’s connected to words. Orthography is just random symbols that we’ve selected and said ‘Oh, that’s a sound,’ or not a sound, in the case of silent e’s and whatnot. But they’re just symbols, right? I think this pushes that concept of sign and symbol a little too much. But probably I’m more put off by it just because I never use it. I wasn’t the first one to think of that! But because I don’t use emojis, emojis are just not in my worldview. But I know there are people who use emojis.

It’s hard to speak an emoji, though.

Yeah. I think part of the problem is also that “hashtag” has a more straightforward interpretation. And emojis, like a drawing, are much less straightforward. It’s similar to onomatopoetic words, but even those are culturally bound; they’re not actually universal. I think it’s the same thing with emojis; you have this thing that someone had to provide an interpretation of, like what teardrops mean with a smile. If someone didn’t tell you what that meant, would you have picked that up anyway? So part of that is that we need some knowledge that this doesn’t mean “I’m happy that you’re sad” or something. Who knows; there could be several different interpretations. But we had to learn that interpretation.

The counter to that is that we have to learn all words anyway. We have to learn the meaning anyway for a word, so someone could argue, well, that’s what makes a word a word! I think that’s what makes a sign a sign, but I just have a harder time with that. Hashtag, to me, is okay. I can live with that.

Follow along with this year’s Word of the Year vote at the 2016 Linguistic Society of America conference. The vote will take place Friday, January 8th, from 5:30pm-6:30pm EST in the Shaw Room at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. The vote is open to the public, so if you’re in the area, consider attending to feel the energy that Tom describes! Otherwise, follow along on Twitter with the American Dialect Society and Duke University Press.

For the first time, all back volumes (#1-#99) of the Publication of the American Dialect Society, dating from 1944 to the present, are available online. They will be freely available throughout 2016. Browse the archive to discover the breadth of this resource. Learn more about American Speech at