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Twitter does not destroy song lyrics, or anything really

I really rather like the new Kate Nash (Spotify go!). Reactions elsewhere have been more mixed to her sophomore release, which combines Made of Bricks-esque pop loveliness with screechy, punk-influenced experimentation. Several reviews have called it unweildy or unfocused – I disagree, but to each his/her own. What I can’t get behind, however, is the snazzily redesigned Independent’s astonishing insinuation that Nash’s occasionally naive lyrics are Twitter’s fault. Twitter!

So, go on, indulge me.

You might remember that I’m writing a little something about Twitter. I asked you all a few months ago to let me use all your posts for my dissertation, a research project into language use on Twitter. With a good 3,500 words to go, and a strong desire to have the whole thing finished and ready for printing by Sunday night (submission deadline Wednesday OH NO), I really should be writing that instead of this. Suffice it to say, I have Twitter on my mind. And now that I’ve used all your data and the research segment of the project is long complete, I can talk a little bit about what I’ve been specifically looking at without you going all shy and it affecting the way you actually wrote stuff.

Without writing several thousand words, I’ll try summarise. Since no one’s really looked at Twitter from a linguistic perspective before (current trends are all over social networking, rather than little micro-blog posts), I wanted to provide an overview of where language use on Twitter lies in relation to the more well-studied areas of text messaging and instant messaging. Specifically, I wanted to know whether the comparable character limitation placed Twitter more in line with text messaging than media which don’t impose a character limit on individual transmissions. I also wanted to take a more general look at the ways in which Twitter might be propogating linguistically innovative constructions or lexical items.

And what have I found? Well, most strikingly, that language use on Twitter appears to be far more standardised and traditional than that of either of the other two forms I looked at. Character limitation seems to play a role – it’s rare to see “it is” rather than “is”, for example; message lenth tends to push upwards towards the limit, which is typical of media that impose such restrictions; and there’s an awful lot of pro-dropping going on (“Watched a good film today” rather than “I watched a good film today”) – but, notably, things seem to be rather grammatically traditional. I found absolutely no significant evidence of Twitter “corrupting” language. If the notion that texting might be altering our fair tongue beyond recognition has been largely discredited by the academic community, then those accusing Twitter of doing the same don’t have a leg to stand on at all.

And yet, The Independent is still happy to print this:

…she’s ultimately hidebound by her vocal limitations, trying to squeeze articulacy into sing-song delivery, so that songs such as “Pickpocket” and the revenge threat “Kiss That Grrrl” are trotted out in two-syllable bursts, which follow the beat laboriously: the impression is of bite-sized, insubstantial thoughts, perhaps the way that lyrics are doomed to go in the Twitter era.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Andy Gill, The Independent’s reviewer, called Nash’s debut the “worst album of the year”, which is a pretty dissenting opinion and plainly a load of fucking ludicrous hyperbole that has no place in serious criticism. So perhaps I’m the one that’s naive to expect anything other than complete barmy nonsense this time around as well. But still. Come on. This is exactly the sort of thing I’ve spent the best part of a year hoping I’d be able to rally against, and sure enough, I can. So, Mr. Gill, I can now safely tell you that you are an idiot. As a writer, you should have such a respect and love of language. To spread ridiculous notions about it such as this one is absolutely terrible form.

I rather like the new Kate Nash album, by the way. Did I mention that already?


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