“Happy Heterogeneity”

The Androutsopoulis-Juffermans Editorial calls for us to be wary of the “happy heterogeneity” theory of the Internet as a vast sphere of superdiversity, where many disparate people, languages, and attitudes coexist and mesh together. Rather, the Internet can be recast not as a monolith but a collection of new technologies which independently impose different structures on its users, to varying effect.
So to what extent can superdiversity be said to exist in a communicative act such as writing on a forum or social media? Is there an inherent pressure to adopt a greatest common factor of language so that the largest number of people can understand each other? How is this diminished by the ability of niche groups to collect and communicate outside the linguistic norm they’re otherwise submerged in? While individuals may find support and solidarity this way, it still represents a diminishing diversity, ostensibly, a forum is circumscribed by its language, and individuals will remove themselves from those they can’t read and immerse themselves in those they can. Even an internet taken holistically is a strange solute, where bubbles of smaller languages float in a larger dearth of English or other dominant voices, with more or less osmotic membranes between them. But even within these bubbles, the languages are isolated and unified. It’s at their borders where actual superdiversity of language can exist. In a situation where multiple language are in play, a limiting pressure exists so long as any reader doesn’t understand one or more language, and the forum’s lingua franca naturally becomes the language with the most communicative power. Its use can be expected to rise.
The Belling article shows a longitudinal example of this process as a gifting forum moves from its inception through a period of maturation and multilingualism before a glitch renders it anarchic and eventually monolingual. In this case it was authority by moderators were attempted to maintain multilingualism on the site, and populist pressure which demanded monolingualism. There may be room for a study on just how multilingual forums are sustained on the internet, and whether their purpose (say, individuals wishing to practice one language or the other) influences how long they last. In a case such as the Luxembourg gifting forum, the multiple language were felt by many to impede the purpose of the forum. Separating this reasoning from political feelings is tricky, as both produce the same pressure towards monolingualism but come from different ideological roots. In studies throughout this course we’ve seen how eager individuals are to police themselves and each other’s speech, and so old prejudices of the written word linger and find new life on the same forums which were meant to emancipate language from these restrictions.
We’re presented then with the interesting state that Ibtisam has touched on in her previous blog post, of Ausbau languages as a potentially bottom-up construction, and their conflict with the traditional top-down imposed Ausbau language of nation states interested in unity. The Lexander article shows a profoundly interesting example of a community dynamically forging and adapting the languages at its disposal to fulfill the new role of texting in their society. Rather than compete with state-imposed standards of literacy, it coexists with it. “Through acting as mediators and as instructors, the young are put in power” this is a profound reversal of the traditional dynamic, where young people are imbued with language rules from elders and authorities, and then play and experiment with language on their own. Instead, their experimentation influences their elders, but the fact that widespread standards still arise points to the resilience of language.
This would seem to go against the claim by Androutsopoulis that technology facilitates rather than creates the interactions we see among groups seeking to communicate more frequently over longer distances. The notion of a young class of CMC-enabled people instructing their elders defies much of history, but the results are seen throughout the internet where new standards are continually being tested, warped, and reforged.

“Are you lost in the world like me?” – Moby

Hello all,

I recently went out from Facebook because I’m pretty busy and felt overwhelmed for all the politics and hatred in the world. Last night I entered back for some minutes. I found this new Moby’s videoclip. I watched and I closed my account again.

I hope you find this song interesting (as I did). It’s all about the dark side of CMC. 🙁

See you soon (off-line)!

New York Times: Those Lips! Those Eyes! That Stubble! The Transformative Power of Men in Makeup

A handful of “beauty boys” have primped and preened their way into the female-centric world of Instagram and YouTube makeup artistry—and the cosmetics industry wants in.


Digital Enregisterment and the Voicing of a Sex-Toy



As today’s readings focused on “digital enregisterment,” I wanted to share some pieces of a paper I have been working on that deals with this same phenomenon. As most of my recent research deals with performers (particularly women) in the adult industry, I think the concept of voicing and enregisterment in a CMC setting is particularly relevant as performers are characterized as both individual and social types by an audiences whose only interaction with them is mediated by online representation, either in the form photos, videos, personal websites or webcam sessions. The paper I want to share analyzes the online marketing strategies of the #1 top-selling male sex toy, a synthetic rubber vagina called the Fleshlight, and it’s line of toys modeled after female porn stars, called “Fleshlight Girls.” :

Fig 1.


While the popularity of the Fleshlight seems to support acceptance of a disembodied vagina as replacement for the whole, the semiotics of the brand’s marketing strategies suggest that more is necessary for the experience of simulation to be complete. Much of the company’s success has come through the addition of a line of products called Fleshlight Girls, where each Fleshlight is cast from the external genitalia of a different porn star and consumers pick products based on their favorite girls. The branding of the Fleshlight Girls goes beyond a realistic casting of the girl’s external genitialia however, as the company offers an opportunity to “Get inside today’s hottest stars,” a promise that points to the individuation of the Fleshlight Girls’ internal anatomy as well. While the site states that “each custom-molded Fleshlight Girls masturbation sleeve is an exact mold of each star’s most intimate parts,” the textures of the internal sleeves, though unique for each girl, are not modeled after their physical anatomy, a process that would be impossible to realize[1]. Instead, an iconic resemblance relationship is established through a semiotic linkage of text descriptions and accompanying images, which map the textures of the rubber sleeve onto the girl it represents.

The discursive work of the company’s website can also be described as voicing, with photos of the girls and descriptions of the Fleshlight itself serving as the entextualization necessary for voicing to occur. Though in defining voicing, Bakhtin (1981, 84) focused on the ways in which utterances index particular social or individual types, applications of voicing have since expanded to include a number of other semiotic channels. Agha’s concept of “figures of personhood” (Agha 2005), recognizable (linguistic and non-linguistic) signs that index social or individual types, is particularly relevant here. This illustrated in the following example:

Fig 2.


Featuring a design as wild as Christy’s tattoos, these dots and bumps will make your bad girl porn fantasies come alive.

On the Fleshlight website these “figures of personhood” are both emerge visually in the images of each girl and her respective inner sleeve, as well as discursively in the product descriptions and bios of each Fleshlight Girl. First, the image of Christy: her tattoos; her mohawk hairstyle; the heavy chain jewelry she wears around her neck and waist; as well as the metal cuffs on her wrists all function as semiotic material for the voicing of Christy’s character. Beside her are two images of the Fleshlight Sleeve itself, both the exterior which we know is a realistic mold cast from Christy’s vagina, as well as a cross-section of the inner layout of the sleeve. Though the textures alone might not be discernible as indexical of the same qualities as the image of Christy, the description below makes the connection clear: “featuring a design as wild as Christy’s tattoos, these dots, bumps, ribs and nodes will make your bad girl fantasies come alive.” Though we are meant to assume automatically that the inner texture of the sleeve is representative of Christy in some way, it is through the discursive work of the product description that the Fleshlight company elucidates the relationship more explicitly. Through the naming of specific visible qualities from the photo of Christy (her tattoos) along with characteristics of the sleeve texture (“dots, bumps, ribs, and nodes,”) the qualities of being “wild” and a “bad girl” are mapped onto both. Altogether, the description of the inner sleeve’s texture and it’s co-presence with the image of Christy and the Fleshlight itself create a semiotic totality through which Christy, and her respective Fleshlight are voiced as having the qualities of “wildness” and being a “bad girl.” As discussed in the Agha article we read, this voicing is both “social” and “individual” as it relies on the recognizability of signs as indexical of particular social types, while at the same time involves individual voicing through the “biographic identification” of Christy.

This is just one example from my analysis, and I would happy to be share more if anyone is interested! I had not encountered work on digital enregisterment at the time of drafting this piece but I think it is relevant to explore. I felt that the two readings (not Agha) that focused on this were functional examples but did not delve deeply into the differences between online and offline enregisterment practices. This is something I have questions about, as I firmly believe that especially in regards to my topic of pornography the estrangement of physicality is essential to the interaction and I wonder how that applies to other (perhaps less taboo) CMC settings.





[1] https://www.fleshlight.com/fleshlight-girls/fleshlight-toys/

Estíbaliz Amorrortu on Friday, 10/7/16: “Becoming an Active Speaker: The Case of Young New Speakers of Basque”

WHEN: Friday, October 7, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: GC Room 9207

COST: Free and open to the public

ABOUT: “Becoming an Active Speaker: The Case of Young New Speakers of Basque”

The numbers of new speakers (NS) of Basque has increased considerably due in part to the introduction of this language in the educational system. In this talk we examine the factors that play a role in the process of becoming, or not, an active speaker and the relationship between this process and the linguistic identity adopted by different types of speakers. We focus on youngsters who learnt Basque in school in immersion models.

SPEAKER: Professor Estíbaliz Amorrortu, Universidad de Deusto

Amorrortu works in the field of Basque sociolinguistics. She obtained her PhD from the University of Southern California with a dissertation on attitudes towards different varieties of Basque. She is co-author of the following books: Actitudes y prejuicios de los castellanohablantes hacia el euskera (2009) and Nuevos hablantes de euskera: experiencias, actitudes e identidades (in press). 


The ausbau-abstand paradox in new Arabic orthographies

Mark Sebba’s chapters 2 and 5 discuss orthography as an ideologically charged social practice. Through many examples, he shows that conventions as well as their violations convey social meaning.

The ausbau-abstand paradox: In order for a language to gain legitimacy as a “high” form, it has to increase its abstand (distance) from other languages, but at the same time, nearly all ausbau (development) languages have been modeled on an existing standard which already has a status of a literary form. For example, writing notin or not’n for nothing to express Jamaican Creol’s difference from English still makes use of the variation potential of English orthography. An attempt such as nuttn will fail to convey the meaning.

Standard Arabic orthography is both phonetic and deep. If a letter is written it has one pronunciation, and no two letters constitute one sound (with one exception). However, short vowels are not written, so they have to be guessed based on the grammatical context. In addition, geminates are written as one letter with a symbol that is usually omitted. That is, every word without a context has several possible readings that change the category (noun/verb/adjective) and the meaning of the word. Luckily, CMC allows Arabic speakers to model their language either on Fusħa (Standard Arabic), or on Latin alphabet.

In the early days of chat rooms, writing in Arabic was not possible for technical reasons. Arabic speakers were forced to use the Latin alphabet which does not have enough consonants to account for Arabic sounds. As a solution, they started substituting the missing Arabic letters with numbers that resemble their shape ح=7 ع=3 ط=6 ء=2 etc. and this practice quickly became the norm. However, the real potential of Latin alphabet to represent the missing vowels and geminates in writing was not fulfilled. I found the following examples in the same facebook comment: tmsk for [timsek], both t3llm and t3lam for [tʕallam], nzlha for [nazzilha] and bt3rraf for [btiʕraf]. As you can see, the presence or absence of vowels and geminates does not follow any rule. Using Latin alphabet did not eliminate the influence of Fusħa conventions, it only mixed them with English and French conventions too, creating a highly inconsistent orthography.

Writing in Arabic alphabet became very easy with the spread of smartphones. The problem here is that dialects differ from Fusħa on the morphological and phonemic levels (among other things). However, Arabic speakers can still take advantage of Fusha’s phonetic potential to write their dialects. For example, as you can see in the table, the final vowel [u] in northern Palestinian dialects is used with 5 morphemes that are different from their Fusħa counterparts. Since the vowels are not represented, I indicated what letter(s) is used (<letter>) and how it is pronounced when the vowels are recovered ([sound]). Notice that the last case, they, is the one exception I mentioned earlier where the sound [u] is represented by two letters <ua>.

him        his your pl.      you pl.acc.  they
Fusħa <h> [hu/hi] <h> [hu/hi] <km> [kum] <km> [kum] <ua> [u]
Palestinian   ? [u]   ? [u]     ? [ku]     ? [ku]    ? [u]

The question is which letter do Palestinian speakers use to represent the vowel [u] in each of these cases? The options are (1) adhering to the convention of Fusħa although they don’t represent the sound (2) representing all morphemes phonetically by using the letter <u>, although the semantic contrast will be lost (3) chaos.

I have been collecting examples of this variation for a while, and my impression is that the more proficient a speaker is in Fusħa the more she adheres to its conventions. The writing of speakers who are not proficient in Fusħa (who are the majority) is chaotic. I have not seen a speaker who uses option (2) consistently, although it is the “easiest” from a linguist’s point of view. Ambiguity and garden path effects are expected in this situation, but some of the forms that result from this “pick and mix” practice are completely counter-intuitive. The closest analogy I can offer for using the highly marked <ua> where it is not licensed is writing ogh for of. I thought of Sebba’s claim that the ‘informal ideology’ is implicit and below the level of awareness for most writers, but I don’t think it applies here. A more plausible explanation is that although <ua> is marked by virtue of being the only non-phonetic sequence, a final <u> could be just as marked because it is infrequent in Fusħa (this is an intuition, not a fact). With this in mind, low exposure to the literary language accounts for both getting used to reading this sequence as [u] and not knowing exactly where it appears (only in verbs).

In general, assigning social meanings such as “symbolic distance” or “ideological informality” to the practice of writing in Arabic dialects feels imposed and inaccurate. Most Arabic speakers I have asked object to the idea of making their dialect an accepted written language, if they recognize it as a language at all. One of my friends went as far as to accuse me of “romanticizing the poor”. Interestingly, the few people who do see the value of legitimizing dialectal writing adhere to Fusħa conventions, and thus demonstrate the abstand-ausbau paradox. I was not sure whether I can make this last generalization based on my small sample until I read Sebba’s chapter. He explains that in standardizing orthographies, what users are lead to want and expect is a set of rules, and this need is likely to be more, not less, strongly felt by users of language varieties which lack status and a prestigious literary tradition. In Alexandra Jaffe’s words “it is not only important to ‘have’ an orthography, but it is crucial for that orthography to have prescriptive power – to be standardized and authoritative like the orthographies of dominant languages”.

“Multilingualism and Language Empowerment: A Response to Inequality”: Free Conference at the GC on Friday, Sept. 23

Multilingualism and Language Empowerment: A Response to Inequality
A Graduate Center Symposium

Friday, September 23, 2016

Segal Theatre at The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York (CUNY Graduate Center): 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 10016.

Language and language choices play a significant yet often unacknowledged role in fostering inequality. This is most evident in the spheres of education, the workplace and public health, where insufficient services in “minority” languages result in disparities and lack of opportunities for speakers of those languages.

This symposium highlights the value and relevance of language and literacy projects conducted at the Graduate Center to New York’s multilingual population. Presentations throughout the day will focus on the education of immigrant students and speakers of minority languages, and will present the value and relevance of multilingualism and multilingual approaches as an effective way to combat inequality of access.

We hope you’ll join us to hear the latest research on the relationship between the maintenance or acquisition of languages and increasing equality of opportunity for speakers of minority and underrepresented languages.



“Capitalizing on Catalan Singularity”: Kathryn Woolard (U.C. San Diego), Friday, Sept. 16, 6:30 P.M.

The Graduate Center Ph.D. Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages


WHERE: 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016, Room: 4116 (Phone: 212-817-8410)

WHEN: Friday, September 16, , 201, 6:30 p.m.

ADMISSION: Free and open to the public


“Capitalizing on Catalan Singularity”: 

The theme of “singularity” appears in varying discourses surrounding the Catalan language, from the Catalan language policy law of 1998 to the Spanish Socialist Party’s response to the Catalan sovereignty movement in 2016. This presentation focuses on one notable use of the theme, in the promotion of Catalan culture at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007. I consider the placement and pragmatics of the concept of singularity in relation to discourses of Catalan’s “own language” (la llengua pròpia) and nation on the one hand, and to late modern market discourses of branding on the other.

Professor Kathryn Woolard, University of California, San Diego:

Kathryn Woolard is a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is author of Double Talk: Bilingualism and the Politics of Ethnicity in Catalonia (Stanford 1989/2014) and Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia (Oxford University Press, June 2016), and co-editor of Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory (Oxford, 1998). Woolard has been named recipient of the Ramon Llull International Prize for 2016.