“Why are hoomans so stupit?”: Written linguistic variation and blogging as the family dog

Queen, Robin

University of Michigan, United States of America


Despite significant interest in how written linguistic variation provides insights into various kinds of sociolinguistic processes (Preston 1985; Jaffe and Walton 2000; Preston 2000; Johnstone 2004; Nguyen 2005; Androutsopoulos 2000; Baron 2004; Herring and Paolillo 2006), the assumption has generally been that written variation represents writers’ ideologies concerning spoken variation and its associations with particular social characteristics. However, it is also possible to use written variation to denote social relations that have no clear antecedent in the spoken language. For instance, written variation has been used since at least the 19th century to represent beings who do not normally use language, such as family pets (Grier 2006). Unsurprisingly, there has been little previous attention paid to this kind of variation; however, focusing on the ways people construct the voice of a non-human animal opens a potentially important window into how social meaning generally becomes connected to, and manipulated by, linguistic variation. This is particularly true in the case of family dogs since dogs constitute an undeniable social “other” while at the same time constituting an intimate social interactant often considered to be a “member of the family.”

In this paper, I focus on data from weblogs written in the voice of the family dog, relying on a corpus of 20 blogs (422 posts; 88771 words) randomly selected from the Dogs with Blogs index (http://www.dogswithblogs.com.au). Specifically, I show that the use of phonetic respellings and other non-standard orthographic and grammatical elements represents a complex set of meanings tied to the representation of social difference on the one hand and social affiliation on the other. The linguistic elements include colloquial respellings (e.g. gonna); phonetic respellings (e.g. wuz), prosodic respellings (e.g. SOOOOO), graphic substitutions (e.g. 4 for “for”), non-standard grammar (e.g. it’s hards), novel pronouns (e.g. anydog) and kinship terminology (e.g. my human brother). I show that the dog’s voice depends on creatively using written variation to represent the social affiliation that humans typically have with their companion animals (e.g. Mom gave me her chicken skin jus cuz she luvs me) while simultaneously representing the unquestionable social (and essential) differences between dogs and humans (e.g. my peepol are always doing the wierdest stuff. i will never unnerstand them.) Because a focus on voicing non-human animals forces the examination of linguistic variation independently of human social configurations, such as gender, ethnicity or social class, it necessarily turns attention to a more generalized model of the relationship between linguistic variation and social meaning based more broadly on social differentiation and affiliation. By examining a practice such as dog blogging, this study provides new insights into exactly these meanings and heeds a recent call by Kohn (2007) to explore the semiotic processes that emerge out of human entanglements with other living beings, especially companion animals.

Session: Paper session
Digital Language 2
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 01