How brand-new words are spreading across America

How brand-new words are spreading across America

Organisation: Quartz (United States)

Publication Date: 04/09/2016


Size of team/newsroom:large


The evolution of new usage in everyday language is something that has long eluded researchers, but the emergence of platforms that produce massive amounts of linguistic data has allowed linguists to spot trends that were previously invisible. Using a corpus of billions of geolocated tweets, we mapped out the emergence of new words in the United States, identifying where they began and how they grew. The analysis revealed that geographic proximity remains a vital part of language development, even though the age of the internet makes physical location less important. Some new words emerge in all parts of the country simultaneously, after being spread through the internet, but others—like “unbothered” and “boolin”—are heavily concentrated in particular parts of the country. The maps also reveal the outsized contribution of the South to the new American lexicon.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

This piece is the first of its kind to animate the geographic spread of real, new words and language as they emerged. There is a very large amount of data underneath the animated map, since, for each word, each slice of time needs a value for every county in the United States. It was tricky to get this to run efficiently in mobile and desktop browsers, but was necessary to animate and allow users to interact with a word’s emergence by dragging the timeline across the map.

Technologies used for this project:

shell, javascript, python, d3.js
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