Blog Post

Introduction

Hi y'all,

Bear with me using the Texas 2nd person plural here; as a foreigner at UT Austin I'm trying very hard to assimilate. It would appear mine comes as the latest post of a wave of belated UT folks' introcudtions. Like Beck and Cate, I am a grad student at the English Department who also works in the Digital Writing and Research Lab. The three of us I think give a nice example of the kind of diversity we have here: feminist rhetoric + media studies + X (as in X-ray as well as X-rated, Beck), performance, humor, and identity (Cate) and English language and linguistics (myself). Okay, "English language and linguistics" is about as broad a term as they come. I am having real trouble narrowing down what specifically I am interested in - or rather, what to exclude. In general terms, I look at language mostly from a perspective that keeps the user (speaker, writer, social network persona...) and context in mind to a fuller extent than some "pure" linguists. Sometimes I look at language to explain social dynamics (e.g. what does hyper-correct speech in Jamaica tell us about the shifting ideologies of class and access to resources in a society that has developed chances for upwards mobility only relatively recently) and sometimes I look at social factors to explain linguistic phenomena (e.g. why do American and British written standard English show divergent developments in the use of relativization strategies over the last 50 years?). Ultimately, I do not think this distinction between the llinguistic and the social holds up anyway, as I see language as always already a social phenomenon.

Ok, let's get a bit more concrete: my dissertation topic is still incubating, but I have some relatively fixed ideas already. I will be looking at relatively large quantities of computer-mediated discourse (CMD) data with questions in mind about the status of and relationships between varieties of English (.e.g "Southern US English," "Cockney," etc.). Academic treatment of CMD in the past has too often focussed on the extraordinariness of 'internet language' and tended to treat said language as a unified whole. I want to try to avoid both these tendencies. Therefore, I plan to look at data from one specific platform (likely Twitter) and potentially develop theoretical notions of sub-genres therein (lots of thoughts how to do this, but nothing ready to share yet). Then it will have to be determined how the patterns observable in those data relate to received descriptions of different varieties of English, and to what extent these concepts of varieties hold up in the CMD context. But in order to answer these questions, I first need the data, which is what I am working on right now. With the Twitter API's new OAuth process, I ran into a lot of dead ends, but I think I've finally found a tool that will work for me: Jonas Geduldig's TwitterAPI module for python. I'd love to hear other suggestions though. I'm not a competent coder in any language, but I can wrap my head around most stuff in python (and if need be probably scala too).

In addition to my dissertation work, I also have fun stuff going involving technology on the pedagogy side through my work in the Digital Writing and Research Lab. This year I'm teaching a class on the rhetoric of hip hop and will try hard to get all my students to sample, remix, and loop materials to construct multimedia arguments for their final projects. In all honesty, I am not very good with many creative software applications myself. The only exception is probably sound stuff, which I have an ok working knowledge of. So this will be a big learning experience for me as well as my students. In addition, I have the honor of leading the lab's podcasting group this semester. Beck is part of the team for that, too, and our first episode - on the sound of horror - will be coming out just in time for Halloween. I'll be sure to post a link in a separate post on this site.

Looking forward to meeting y'all (there, I did it again).

Cheers,

Axel

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