Whaaaat? ‘Stretching out’ words on social media helps reflect different emotions

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Social media is a breed all of its own, and it’s one that researchers say has its own language too. Researchers find text messages and social posts where normal words are “stretched out” aren’t done so for fun — they’re actually conveying emotions.

Researcher Tyler Gray and a team at the University of Vermont find it’s commonplace to see extra vowels or consonants changing the way users read a word. For example, conversations that start with “Heyyyyyyyy” and end with “whaaaaaat?”

By stretching out a word, whether written or spoken, it can alter the meaning of that word, as well as the emotion behind it. Certain words can be an indication of sarcasm and playfulness, like “surrrrre” and “rightttttt.” On the other hand, “yessssss” can indicate tremendous excitement.

Emotions guide ‘balance’ and ‘stretch’ on social media

Researchers analyzed tweets from September 2008 through December 2016 using a more thorough search of “stretchable words.” This search totals about 100 billion tweets, focusing on balance and stretch. Balance focuses on the way letters tend to be repeated, while stretch focuses on how long a word is extended.

Researchers show that words with the help of balance and stretch are able to provoke different emotions and meanings. Studying these words will help investigations of misspelled and mistyped words in future studies.

With social media being an increasingly important factor when it comes to social interactions, the use of stretched words and the meanings behind them will continue to change language in the 21st century.

“We were able to comprehensively collect and count stretched words like ‘gooooooaaaalll’ and ‘hahahaha’, and map them across the two dimensions of overall stretchiness and balance of stretch, while developing new tools that will also aid in their continued linguistic study, and in other areas, such as language processing, augmenting dictionaries, improving search engines, analyzing the construction of sequences, and more,” Gray says in a media release

The study is published in journal PLOS ONE.

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