The academic linguistics of LOLspeak

On Submitterator, Musicman pointed me towards this great presentation on LOLspeak as a form of language play, and why people engage in that play. According to Lauren Gawne, who gave this speech last week at the Australian Linguistics Society conference, the choice to use LOLspeak has a lot to do with establishing identity—the playful identity of "cat", and the serious identity of "knowledgeable Internet user".

Includes an explanation of why LOLspeak is language play and not some language mashup "kitty pidgin".

You can read more about this on Lauren Gawne's blog Superlinguo.

The video, by the way, is 20 minutes long. It's also got a little bit of weird, warbly feedback in the audio, but that doesn't get in the way of hearing what Gawne is saying.


  1. That warbly background sound is due to a hiss/hum-removal program the audio must’ve been passed through.

    Yes, that digital whispering does sound worse than the original hum surely did.

    No, I don’t understand it either.

    1. They are noise-reduction artifacts, probably introduced to get rid of the hum, by someone’s child or friend who offered to encode the video for free (note also compression artifacts in the video itself).

    1. It’s spelt “Oh Hai” in the LOLcat Bible (as per Amazon preview of first pages), which is what the video is mostly quoting. I suggest you edit the wiki.

  2. “From everything we can gather, this is how cats speak at all times, and not just in contact with humans.”

    That made me spit out my tea.

    1. They’re certainly following conventions that it would be interesting to hear analysed in the same way.  “If you watch the video you get to hear me put on my best academic lecturer voice!”

  3. As a linguistic anthropologist, I’m curious why you called this “academic linguistics.”  Would you call research by a physicist “academic physics”?

  4. What I think is funny is, these ppl are studying lolcats at teh graduate level and they’re missing and/or getting stuff wrong.  eg, Ceiling Cat is first and foremost an explicit reference to that meme of the photo of a cat looking down through a ceiling trapdoor; FURST!!!1 isn’t the “overexcitability” of the lolcat, but that of a videogame 1337-speaker glommed into lolspeak. I could go on, but my cheezburger is getting cold.

    1. You’re conflating cat-identity with Internet-savvy-identity. As a meme-savvy Internet user, YOU know where all the phrases come from. But as a cat, Ceiling Cat is God, and FURST!!!1 is used when you are overexcited. Kthxbai.

  5. I used to want to kill myself when I glanced at the comments on icanhascheeseburger.

    I kind of find the whole thing a bit… pathetic?

    I mean it’s funny in the pictures, for sure; but taking it beyond that is a bit (to quote Alan Partridge) ‘sa-a-aaaa-ad’.

    I think a psychological or sociological study is in order, more than linguistic.

    1. Maybe you should watch some of the vid (I started to find it a bit dull with academic jargon and detail about 2/3 in).

      It’s actually a surprisingly interesting use of language; the fact that you can do it wrong means it’s not just an execise in ananity.

  6. It’s really a cool talk, but one that on its face seems a bit lite on citation and research. For example, after only about 5 minutes in I noted:

    ‘l33t’ (cited ~4min in): It probably should have been mentioned this term specifically (and really the netspeak practice of substituting numeric for alpha characters and orthographic substitutions in general) originated squarely within the hacker/phreaker/pirate/BBS culture and is IMO still more indexical of that, than of the gaming or ‘chat’ space. As an instance of the sort of cultural (word)play the author is interested in, the argot of hacker/phreaker world is the granddaddy of LOLspeak, not just a parallel instance of the same sort of thing, so it’d be cool if she historicized her examples a tad better..

    ‘Huizinger’ (~6min in): I think she refers to Johann Huizinga & his classic work Homo Ludens. Probably just a typo, but.. 

    still in the end these are minor considerations!

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