WHERE do new words come from? On Twitter at least, they often begin life in cities with large African American populations before spreading more widely, according to a study of the language used on the social network.
Jacob Eisenstein at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and colleagues examined 30 million tweets sent from US locations between December 2009 and May 2011. Several new terms spread during this period, including “bruh”, an alternative spelling of “bro” or “brother”, which first arose in a few south-east cities before eventually hopping to parts of California. Residents of Cleveland, Ohio, were the first to use “ctfu”, an abbreviation of “cracking the fuck up”, usage that has since spread into Pennsylvania (arxiv.org).
After collecting the data, the team built a mathematical model that captures the large-scale flow of new words between cities. The model revealed that cities with big African American populations tend to lead the way in linguistic innovation. The team is still working on a more detailed analysis and says it is too early to say which cities are the most influential.