Playing with both cats and language
December 10, 2011 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I can has language play: Construction of Language and Identity in LOLspeak. A presentation by Jill Vaughan and Lauren Gawne of the University of Melbourne at the Australian Linguistics Society annual conference 2011.
posted by bjrn (29 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
How to explain LOLspeak to your grandmother, if she's a retired English teacher. Establishes that LOLspeak is scores high on fun scale, low on interesting linguistic properties.
posted by cogneuro at 11:57 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I couldn't get more than 5 minutes through this before getting all grumpy about the unscholarly historical claims. L33t-speak didn't come from internet gaming and chat, it grew out of B1FF, who was around in the 80s, and icanhascheezburger isn't where LOLcats originated.
posted by kenko at 11:58 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, the claim that LOLspeak is a form of language play is not what one would really call controversial, I think, good as it is to see it acknowledged that even ordinary schmoes can do interesting, self-aware things with language.
posted by kenko at 11:59 AM on December 10, 2011

There appears to be dialectical divisions as well. The slide 2 "Oh Hai" just feels wrong to me. I was taught to say "O HAI!" Quick google search shows "Oh Hai" is somewhat more popular. Oh well.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2011

fun fact: hai is German for shark
posted by hippybear at 12:03 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, the speakers claim that variation between the "teh" and "da" articles are just play, but I can't help but think that there's probably a phonological explanation for selection, since they are pronounced differently.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:05 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Despite the scholarly dubiousness of this, 15:05 is where you can go to skip the big words and get a good breakdown of how to construct LOLspeak.
posted by hanoixan at 12:05 PM on December 10, 2011

With the speaker's claim that people can get LOLspeak wrong, I'd expect at least some attention paid to local effects, phonological, morphological, or syntactic rules, and examples of ungrammatical or otherwise incorrect LOLspeak constructions. Instead the presenters seem content to just shrug their shoulders and explain all these constructions as "LOLspeakers are creative. They do stuff." They don't actually go looking for the rules they assume exist. With things like the LOLcat Bible, they have a huge corpus to work with, but instead of doing the real scholarly work of figuring out what correct LOLspeak is, they are content to just categorize the jokes.

Scholarly disappointment aside, I did enjoy the talk, so thanks for posting it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:23 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Biolinguistic inquiry into LOLspeak would be more fun. What is it with cats that their language capacity favors/is unable to handle certain kinds of structures? Why they cannot/won't bother learn human languages properly? Are human language constructions unoptimal for cats for some reason, is their semantic interface a bit different? And conversely, can human brain learn LOLspeak as first language without corrupting it?
posted by Free word order! at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

We shud allz speek teh lolspeek in dis thred! Iz gonna halp U!
Has U herd teh gud werd ov Ceilin Cas? Teh LOLCat Bible rockz!
k thnx bai
posted by jeffburdges at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Free Word, I'd always assumed it was simply an expression of contempt by the cats for their primate slave class, to conspicuously not need to become fluent in our language.
posted by hattifattener at 1:12 PM on December 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can has...? I think it should be I can have
posted by rurouphi at 1:15 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

L33t-speak didn't come from internet gaming and chat, it grew out of B1FF

Nah, I remember (what we would now call) l33tspeak existing before B1FF — B1FF was a reference to it. The point of B1FF was he was a member of the BBS/dialup community coming into the USENET/academic community and having entirely the wrong expectations and social signalling. Kind of a "country yokel coming to the big city" character.

I do think that gaming chat had a big role in regularizing l33tspeak, though, and turning it from fairly freeform orthographic play into something with more rules and right/wrong constructions.
posted by hattifattener at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Their quotes from the Bible aren't accurate. Or, rather, they seem to have been copy-pasted from a recent wiki version rather than transcribed from the print version they cite. ("FURST!!!1" and the consistent capitalization of "An" are not features of the book.)

That's another thing they've glossed over: It's a language that is constantly evolving. The incorporation of internet memes means there's perpetual turnover.

Plus, they seem to think Ceiling Cat was created for the Bible, rather than the other way around as is the actual case. (Which is to say, the Bible was likely inspired by Ceiling Cat--which, come to think of it, makes it especially hilarious.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:32 PM on December 10, 2011

At least a partial influence on l33t was calculator language games, such as 7734 for "HELL" (uh, turn it upside down, if this is already too obscure a reference). Or 0.7734 for "HELLO" if you were showing mom.
posted by dhartung at 1:35 PM on December 10, 2011

posted by Sys Rq at 1:36 PM on December 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nah, I remember (what we would now call) l33tspeak existing before B1FF — B1FF was a reference to it.

Yeah, I guess B1FF, being a parody, would have to be parodying something that already existed. But really, if all B1FF did was popularize or concentrate into a single figure something that was already happening, then l33tn355 was present even earlier than the presenter thinks.
posted by kenko at 1:55 PM on December 10, 2011

l33t-speak grew out of censored chat rooms and forums on BBS's, where you had to use substitutions to say words that were banned.

In fact, it's called l33t, because a lot of early BBS's had a feature called 'elite' access where you could hide hidden file folders and forums, etc that new users couldn't see. I used to join local BBS's all the time in the 80s and the first thing I would do would be to ask for 'elite' access so I could download pirated games (and other illegal stuff like phreaking manuals, the anarchist cookbook, etc).

I'm fairly sure the first widely spread l33t word (aside from cusswords) was 'warez'.
posted by empath at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

(heh, i just double-checked with wikipedia and it matches my recollection exactly, but I swear I didn't look it up -- i lived it :) )
posted by empath at 2:38 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: I swear I didn't look it up -- i lived it :)
posted by hippybear at 2:53 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, l33tspeak predates B1FF by a long ways.

l33t = leet = 3l33t = 'lite = elite. As in "elite hacker" or as empath noted - privileged BBS access. One of the chosen. Neo, you're The One. (Do feel free to point and/or laugh.)

Why, how did it develop - why the replaced letters and numbers? Obfuscation. (Mostly pointless.) It was literally originally paranoia about surveillance and eavesdropping, particularly from dictionary-based filtering programs - and not just from governments.

(On preview, I remember it being less about "banned words". Hack/Phreak BBSes didn't censor chat. )

Some people would run scripts on chat channels to capture, log or trigger events on certain words or strings. You could do that kind of thing if you ran a BBS and a Fidonet mail node, or hacked and owned node(s).

So, at the beginning there wasn't any one way to type l33t. In extreme cases ideally you wanted it to change and to spell words with different substitutions on the fly. Kind of like walking without rhythm on the sand in the Dune books. "Word" could become "werd" or "w3rd" or "\\3rd" and even more hideously obfuscated variants - because people could and would update their scripts if a user had a distinct and known style. Shorthand and code and syntax was also often used for further obfuscation between direct parties.

It was basically cheap manual encryption, however seemingly pointless and paranoid it seems today it did actually serve a function, if only to avoid nefarious scripts or other kinds of logic bombs or monitoring techniques from unethical users. Or to protect unethical users from being preyed on by unethical users.

Or even to protect ethical users. Legitimate uses of obfuscated communication could range from everyday teenage drama and angst to digital ANSI art or demoscene groups planning a major release of new art, so they can surprise their fans and competitors. (Drama on the internet is also not new. Go figure.)

But rumor has it that historically telecommunications surveillance programs took it seriously enough to include l33tspeak-translated dictionaries in their tools. Which actually does make sense - the early days of black hat computing were pretty wild and criminal. Some early computer criminals were running large scale phone, mail, check and/or credit card fraud, and the FBI was actually after them.

But, yeah, on the whole it was a whole lot of nonsense. I was there too. I used l33tspeak and I was a poser who wasn't up to anything more nefarious than scripting text based RPGs to level up faster, or downloading shareware.
posted by loquacious at 3:14 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The syntactic analysis of the verbal part of cat macros is kind of a funny exercise, but seems to entirely miss what's really interesting and novel about the things in a linguistic sense. The images themselves, having individual histories, carry a large part of the semantic content in any given cat macro. You can't really do this with face-to-face conversation. The history of art seems like an interesting comparison, with creative variations on different themes creating a narrative, but the internet cranks up the speed and scale to something that can actually approximate a conversation.

Places like 4chan that provide both rapid turnover and massive participation are what allows this novel sort of image/text hybrid conversation to arise, which is why it's a shame these researchers seem totally unaware of the history here.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 3:20 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Took me three seconds to confirm that was not where LOLcats originated. Where's the RIGOR
posted by user92371 at 5:20 PM on December 10, 2011

The History of LOLCats claims the Egyptians, hippybear. ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 8:51 AM on December 11, 2011

Yeah, I remember elite access on BBSes, too. When the whole L33t thing started, we thought that was just stupid kids trying to pose. Hated those little brats for slowing down my download of 24 floppies of OS/2 v. 2 on a 9600 baud modem. Didn't they understand I had important files to download, not just porn?
posted by QIbHom at 10:22 AM on December 12, 2011

"Also, the speakers claim that variation between the "teh" and "da" articles are just play, but I can't help but think that there's probably a phonological explanation for selection, since they are pronounced differently."

'teh' and 'da' also seem to show up in different phonological environments, with the voiced variant (da) usually being sentence initial, and the voiceless (teh) being intersentential. There's probably a whole bunch of other things going on, too. The articles have somewhat different indexicalities (pointing or referencing to different things/histories, and therefore the word-feel of each is somewhat different).

I liked the presentation, especially the end where they started to get into the links between indexicality and identity. I do wish they would have elaborated on that more though. I feel like the tables on the last few slides were really just the beginning.

Also, this presentation got me thinking about her question, why cats? (and not, say, dogs or birds or toasters?) It makes me wonder if cats have the sort of +autonomy/+independence/-loyalty characteristics that better lend themselves to how humans – specifically internet users – wish to anthropomorphize (and therefore stance-align) with more so than dogs.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:01 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, this presentation got me thinking about her question, why cats?

My guess would be it's not something intrinsic to cats as much as it is that the population of 4chan loves cats, and they're the ones who popularized the modern image macro. They're pretty mercurial, so it probably could have just as easily have been dogs... it wasn't though. It was Caturday, and so cats dominate image macros. Or they did... these days they seem to be more of a plurality than a majority. Bear in mind also that since they got most of these images from random web surfing and Google image searches, the fact that the available pool of cat photos was (and is) massive probably helped too. Zebra macros didn't take off because they just aren't enough pictures of zebras doing stuff. Consider also that cats, being domesticated, are frequently photographed interacting with human objects... rich and fertile ground for LOLs.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:13 PM on December 17, 2011

Zebra macros didn't take off because they just aren't enough pictures of zebras doing stuff.

Thank god it wasn't zebra macros (link to reddit is safe, but the link to the pic from reddit is pretty gross)
posted by empath at 3:33 PM on December 17, 2011

« Older Effing Dykes Presents: What Lies Beneath (Her...   |   BUY MORE STUFF. CONSUME. OBEY. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments