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Sociophonetic and Allographic Variation of 'MeFi': A Case Study of Orthography as Social Practice

Date: 18 June 2013 Time: 1 - 2 pm

Venue: C89, County South

At the next Literacy Research Discussion Group meeting (Tuesday 18 June) we are pleased to welcome Kim Witten, University of York, who will be speaking on:

Sociophonetic and Allographic Variation of 'MeFi': A Case Study of Orthography as Social Practice

Creativity and expression through language use online can inspire netologisms, i.e., new words, abbreviations or acronyms entering the language through Computer-Mediated Communication environments (Witten, 2012). These netologisms may display unique orthographic features (e.g., mixed-case letters) and/or pronunciation variability (often owing to ambiguity in grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences). A spontaneous and naturally occurring example of a sociophonetically variable netologism undergoing enregisterment in an online community is found in the popular weblog MetaFilter ( One of the most notable ongoing debates within this community is the thirteen-year discussion of the "correct" pronunciation of their abbreviated place name. MeFi, from MetaFilter, has eight pronunciation variants, despite these forms being high frequency and mostly invariant in text. This variation is perpetuated by differing social goals and attitudes about language and identity. Pronunciation preferences plus demographic and attitudinal data were collected from over 3,600 MetaFilter participants in two site-wide surveys (capturing approximately 15% of the active MetaFilter population). Additionally, over 1,500 survey participants opted-in to have their entire posting history processed as a word frequency table and provided to the researcher. All data were entered into the researcher's Corpora and Sociophonetic Ethnography (CaSE) SQL database. Quantitative analysis and data visualizations show how age, geographic locality (as reflective of language background), participation behaviours (online and offline) and other social factors play significant roles in the pronunciation of this place name. Lastly, a correlation between allographic variants (i.e., MeFi or Mefi) and the two most common first vowels in MeFi ([mi-] and [mɛ-], respectively) demonstrate one way in which a pronunciation choice can be expressed in the social practice of online written speech.

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Uta Papen

Organising departments and research centres: Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language

Keywords: Phonetics, Sociolinguistics of orthography


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