Sirpa Leppänen

Sociolinguistic diversity in social media

Theoretically, I approach social media as converging and regimented translocal activity spaces (Leppänen, forthcoming) with their emergent orders of indexicality (i.e. normativity) (Silverstein 1976, Blommaert 2005).

Within a framework that combines insights drawn from recent retheorizations of sociolinguistic super-diversity (Blommaert & Rampton, forthcoming), languages as local practice (Pennycook 2010), languge diversity as heterglossic activity and discursive and ethnographic approaches to diversity in computer-mediated discourse (Androutsopoulos forthcoming), I analyse language use and discourse practice by (young) people in a number of informal social media settings.

These settings illustrate a range of popular internet spaces (discussion forums, blogs, websites, web fiction, Facebook, YouTube and MySpace) and electronic gaming which afford their users different kinds of possibilities for communication, action, interaction, learning and cultural production.

With these analyses it illustrates typical ways in which the social media have become an important translocal social and interactional site for many young people, often involving uses of more than one language, register, style and genre, and opportunities and frameworks for negotiating social action, identities and a sense of belonging (Leppänen 2007, forthcoming).

In my work I show that key means through and with which translocality manifests in social media are language choice, as well as linguistic and discursive heteroglossia — e.g. polylingual languaging (see. e.g. Jørgensen 2008; Creese & Blackledge 2010), crossing (Rampton 2006), truncated multilingualism (Blommaert, Collins & Slembrouck 2005), style shifting, as well as code switching, genre mixing and intertextuality (Leppänen, forthcoming).

Such analyses reveal, in fact, a great deal of diversity in language use — between and across activity spaces in social media — but also a great deal of insistence on shared norms as crucial in processes of categorization, differentiation and exclusion according to patterns of language use.

What they also show is that language choice and linguistic and discursive heteroglossia are in a key role in the construction of identity — they show how in social media spaces the local identity, affiliations, assumptions and practices matter a great deal, but that they tend to matter in the guise of translocality — in the ways in which the local and the global are combined, interwoven and juxtaposed in various ways.

Hence, analyses of social media practices can show how language uses and identities draw on and reconstitute diversity and unity; fluidity and fixity; cosmopolitanism and locality.


  • Androutsopoulos, J. Forthcoming. From variation to heteroglossia in the study of computer-mediated discourse. In C. Thurlow and K. Mroczek (eds) Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media. London: Oxford University Press
  • Blommaert, J. 2005. Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Blommaert, J. 2010. The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Blommaert, J, J. Collins and S. Slembrouck. 2005. Spaces of Multilingualism. Language & Communication, 25(3), 197—216
  • Blommaert, J. and B. Rampton. Forthcoming. Language and Superdiversity. Diversities, a special issue.
  • Creese, A and A.J. Blackledge. 2010. Translanguaging in the Bilingual Classroom: A Pedagogy for Learning and Teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94(1), 103—115
  • Jørgensen, J.N. 2008. Polylingual languaging around and among children and adolescents. International Journal of Multilingualism, 5(3), 161—176
  • Leppänen, S. 2007. Cybergirls in trouble: Fan fiction as a discursive space for interrogating gender and sexuality. In C.-R. Caldas-Coulthard and R. Iedema (eds) Identity introuble: Discursive constructions. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 156—179
  • Leppänen, S. Forthcoming. Language choice and linguistic heteroglossia in web writing. In M. Sebba, S. Mahootian and C. Jonsson (eds) Language mixing and code-switching in writing: Approaches to mixed-language written discourse. London: Routledge.
  • Otsuji, E. and A. Pennycook. 2009. Metrolingualism: fixity, fluidity and language in flux. International Journal of Multilingualism, 7(3), 240—254
  • Pennycook. A. 2010. Language as Local Practice. London: Routledge
  • Rampton, B. 2006. Language in Late Modernity: Interaction in urban school. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Silverstein, M. 1976. Shifters, linguistic categories, and cultural description. In K.H. Basso and H. Selby (eds) Meaning in anthropology. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 11—55


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Email: sirpa.h.leppanen (a)

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CONTACT: Languages and Discourses in Social Media, Professor Sirpa Leppänen
Department of Languages (P), P.O. Box 35, 40014 University of Jyväskylä, FINLAND | socialmediadiscourses (a)