Hashtags could be encouraging Twitter users to speak more properly, according to new research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
By analyzing more than 100 million tweets from nearly 3 million different users, researchers found that tweets containing hashtags were likely to be more formal and contain fewer abbreviations and emoticons than messages without hashtags.
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Conversely, @replies (publicly visible messages aimed at a specific user) contained more localized slang and non-standard language.
Study lead author and Georgia Tech professor Jacob Eisenstein posits that the discrepancy has to do with the potential audience size of each type of tweet.
Since hashtags are intended to help users locate content outside of their immediate network, more eyes are likely to be on a hashtagged tweet, thus encouraging users to conform to conventions associated with formal speech.
"This research shows that for many people on Twitter, non-standard English is not a question of ability, but of reserving standard English for the right social situations," Eisenstein says in a news release.
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"In this sense, heavy social media users have an especially nuanced understanding of language, since they maintain multiple linguistic systems. They know to use each system when it's socially appropriate."
Eisenstein's study, "Audience-Modulated Variation in Online Social Media," is published in the current edition of the journal American Speech.
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