Mind Your Hashtags: A Sociopragmatic Study of Student Interpretations of French Native Speakers' Tweets

Mind Your Hashtags: A Sociopragmatic Study of Student Interpretations of French Native Speakers' Tweets

Geraldine Blattner, Amanda Dalola, Lara Lomicka
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0177-0.ch003
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This chapter explores how French language learners in three different second and third year French courses (intermediate and advanced levels) understand and interpret hashtags using the popular microblogging tool Twitter. The present study highlights how this social media service may provide an authentic and dynamic platform that enhances the language learning experience, while developing students' multiliteracy skills in a second language (L2). Data from 18 students at a large southeastern university were examined via 579 analyzed tweets, 171 of which contained hashtags. In this project, we investigate the relationship between students' ability to access information in the hashtags and to understand the nature of the larger tweet in which it appears. The results of this study suggest that language learners have a tendency to glance over the hashtags and make guesses based on the information contained therein. The incorporation of cultural and linguistic elements linked to microbloggers' social tagging is an interesting and important aspect to add in foreign language classes. Learning about and understanding hashtags can promote the development of noticing cultural references, a skill that is indispensable for successful autonomous communication across national boundaries and for online communicative practices.
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Following the social networking media explosion, online communities have been the focus of a variety of applied linguistic and second language acquisition (SLA) studies. Scholars have attempted to integrate these new communicative platforms into both teaching and learning in higher education. One tool that has grown in popularity over the last decade is Twitter. This tool allows people to tweet short text messages, often from a mobile device, in order to disseminate a thought, opinion, or a feeling. Lakarnachua and Wasanasomsithi (2014) note that Twitter blends features of both blogging and social networking. It is often utilized for short spontaneous communication. In educational research, Twitter’s role as a learning tool has shown potential in myriad ways over the last few years. Microblogging can provide opportunities for learning to take place out of the classroom, and it can serve as a tool for collaborating with experts (Lord & Lomicka, 2014; Wesely, 2013). It also offers both access and mobility (Antenos-Conforti, 2009), provides authenticity in learning (Lomicka & Lord, 2012), fosters student engagement and involvement (Ragueso, 2010), serves as a knowledge-sharing tool (Dennen & Jiang, 2012), and is participatory, authentic, and immediate (Antenos-Conforti, 2009).

In order to grow the current body of literature on Twitter, we explore a less researched area of this microblogging tool – the use of hashtags and how learners of French understand the ways in which native speakers employ them. Hashtags were first used in chat forums in the 1990’s in order to categorize items into groups. While Twitter did not invent hashtags (they first appeared on Twitter in 2007), the microblogging tool did help hashtags to reach surprising levels of popularity, meriting further study (D’Cunha, 2014). After much success on Twitter, other digital platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest adopted hashtags for both personal and professional ventures. Users now tag keywords, phrases and strings of text to search for and track conversations and topics. Hashtags can also be used to show humor, sarcasm and to assign meaning to a post. When using hashtags, it is important to be specific and to cater hashtags to the corresponding social media network. Hashtags should be relevant, not too long, and they should not consume the message. We chose to explore hashtags using Twitter because hashtags were linked to this tool before other social networking platforms. To that end, the present chapter focuses on the incorporation of the microblogging platform Twitter in the context of second language (L2) classes, and addresses the potential linguistic benefits of such an addition from a teaching and learning perspective.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Indexicalities: The use of signs to point out any linguistic or social identity.

Searchable Talk: Online discourse where the primary function appears to be affiliation via ‘findability’.

Hashtag: Word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic, or facilitate a search for it.

Microblogger: A person who engages in the act or practice of posting brief entries on a blog or social-media website.

Tweetsmart: A term used to describe someone who is a savvy user of Twitter.

Socio-Pragmatic Competence: An ability to recognize the effect of context on strings of linguistic events and to use language appropriately in specific social situations. In romance languages a typically difficult socio-pragmatic competence for language learners is to master the pronouns of address (i.e.: tu/vous in French, tu/usted in Spanish).

Metacommentary: Commentary about other commentary. In the context of Twitter, hashtags are often employed with this function, as a way of categorizing or reacting to the comments made in the tweet.

Misparsing: Incorrectly placing word boundaries in a contiguous sequence of letters. For example, #FATALBERT may be parsed correctly as FAT_ALBERT or misparsed as FATAL_BERT. Because hashtags do not allow for spaces between words, this is a common outcome in the Twitter environment.

Hybridities: Words or sentences that contain elements from two or more languages, e.g. franglais, trop awesome .

Multiliteracy: In our technologically-saturated society, being literate does not only imply being able to read and write, but also knowing how to interact in a variety of electronic media. In other words technology users must rapidly identify the discursive and interactional norms in a particular medium in order to communicate with other users in an appropriate and expected manner.

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