Geek Anthropology: Geek Language

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Geek Anthropology is back! We’re going to explore the ins and outs of geek language. Humans rely on language as a means of communication. Most anthropologists tend to agree that language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols that we use to encode our experiences of the world.

The study of language from a cultural point isn’t new. Anthropologists have been geeking about language since the beginning since language is easy to observe and study in detail. It seems that all began with Sir William Jones (1746-94), who studied Sanskrit in India. He found out that Sanskrit had several similarities to classical Greek, Latin, and other modern European languages. And this was amazing since it pointed to a common origin.

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Then, scholars would classify languages depending on the language family they belong to. Each language family has a common ancestral language. But, researchers didn’t stop here. They started to study the relationship between language and culture. (Ethnolinguistics)

They also found out that people use more than language to communicate: gestures, memes, stickers in chats. So, we can get a mix with proper grammar and paralanguage. Paralanguage refers to volume, pitch, emphasis, speed, etc. So, understanding the ins and outs of a language and its culture isn’t that comfortable.

Someone has competence when the speaker knows the grammar, the written rules, and unwritten rules. The speaker also knows what vocabulary and topics are suitable for different audiences in various social settings. Here is where things get geeky.

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Geeks tend to communicate using different vocabulary and symbols depending on the fandom they belong into. Said in other words, depending on the speech community they tend to use certain ways of speaking and certain symbols. You will not say “may the Force be with you” to say goodbye to a Trekkie, nor “LLAP” to a Star Wars fan. You will also choose different memes accordingly.

Changing vocabulary, grammar and symbols from one fandom to another is code-switching. In the same way, we don’t talk in the same way to our parents and friends; we don’t when we’re in different geek environments.

Stronger language communities might influence weaker ones, or it can happen the other way around. Not only geek communities influence one another, but they also “fight” for controlling the public discourse. It can occur in different communities, but also within the same one among people that belong to different “social layers.”

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Think about the memes you use the most. Are they connected to just a fandom? Several? What words do you use with your geek friends that non-geek wouldn’t understand?

Find more about Geek Language here.

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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  • I loved this article so much; it’s really a great introduction into the field of geek language. Do you know of any interesting scientific articles that I could read to get to know more? (I have some background in anthropology and access to uni library so I should be fine.)

    In response to your final question, I’m writing an article about the words I use that non geeks wouldn’t understand, specifically those from the gaming world. So many geeky words that sound like total gibberish to non gamers there!

    • Maybe you might be interested into “the visual language of comics” by Neil Cohn. It’s not exactly geek language, but it explore how comics are a language šŸ™‚ With grammatical rules and all. As for articles, hmmmm they are scattered in Anthropology magazines šŸ˜® And if you’re not into the Academia, getting your hands on them is expensive. My take: read about as much as you can about language from an Anthropological view, and write your take on it. I’ll be glad to discover new geeky words I haven’t heard of! šŸ˜€ šŸ˜€ šŸ˜€