Twitter shows language evolves in cities
Researchers have tracked the diffusion of words like "cool" and "uptight" from black communities to mainstream use in the past. "We have thousands of examples," says Eisenstein. Their data cannot shed light on why the flow is in this direction, but he notes that language is just one cultural area in which traditions have spread outwards from African American communities.
The team also found that cities that are economically and ethnically similar - rather than geographically close to one another - are more likely to share new words. "Their results indicate that birds of a feather tweet together," says John Nerbonne, a linguist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
Eisenstein says he is looking into whether neologisms now spread more rapidly because of Twitter and other social networks. He is also interested in exploring whether social media is accelerating the evolution of language more generally, something that could be done by analysing everything from blog posts to Facebook entries. It's not like the old days, he says, when the spread of a word relied on people travelling to new areas.
By Jim Giles