URC

The Ubercool Morphology of Internet Gamers: 
A Linguistic Analysis

Dana Driscoll
California University of Pennsylvania


            The Internet connects a number of diverse people and groups. Language is one of the main distinguishing characteristics from group to group, with each group having its own unique words and expressions. Such diversity is similar to different professions or ethnic groups employing a dialect. Communication features that are constant across the Internet dialect groups include the emoticons, e.g., “:),” and common abbreviations, e.g., “lol,” but there is a great deal of diversity as well. This study focuses on the morphology of a dialect of a specific Internet group—Gamers. The Gamers are simply a large group of people who play online games.  Most of these Gamers devote hours of their time each day to playing. They play such games as “Everquest,” “Ultima Online,” “Asheron’s Call,” “Unreal Tournament,” and “Quake.” Many gamers play more than just one game. A commonality between all of the aforementioned titles is that the players of such games form teams, which they call guilds or clans. This research has been focused on the Quake players, specifically the players of Action Quake II. The research has been done primarily on their clan chat rooms on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and through in-game observation. The chat rooms and in-game discussions are the clan’s primary means of communication, and therefore the best environment to study their language. 

Surprisingly, few linguistic studies have considered the topic of Internet dialects. The studies that have been conducted focused on the Internet dialect as a whole and did not look at the diverse groups on the Internet that communicate differently. Studies in the communications field have focused on the main Internet dialect as well, although those studies did not look at the language from a linguistic point of view. Studies in sociology discussed Gamers overall, but did not linguistically analyze language. Furthermore, almost all of the studies found are dated, and the language has changed from the time of the research. Because of the apparent lack of linguistic studies in the field of Internet dialects, this research is one of the first of this type. No study has looked at the specific dialect groups of the Internet. If nothing else, this study will prove that there is more to Internet language than a single dialect and that language of the World Wide Web is extremely diverse and segmented.

The first studies that will be discussed dealing with the Internet are not linguistically oriented, but rather come from the communications field. The first, a book dealing with Internet language as a whole, is called Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture (1997). It consists of sixteen articles by various authors about the dark side of cyberculture and its language. The article for which the book was named, “Flame Wars,” briefly discusses emoticons, or text expressions. Another article, “New Age Mutant Ninja Hackers: Reading Mondo 2000,” discusses the computer Hackers. It does mention some words they use; however, the article’s focus is on a computer conference, Mondo 2000. None of the articles discusses Internet language in detail. They only scratch the surface. 

            The second study was an undergraduate research project completed by Reid (1991). She discussed how ‘internet relay chat’ or IRC posed problems for current theory in communications. She discussed the nature of IRC and listed many of the common words that were found on IRC. The study is very dated. Many of the expressions that she claimed are popular have become extinct, and many new expressions are not mentioned. 

            Breeze (1997) wrote an overview about the Quake gamers from a sociological standpoint. She gave an overview of the game, focused on the Gamer’s sense of community, and briefly discussed their language.

Besides these three specific examples of non-linguistic oriented studies, many “Internet dictionaries” are available. Such titles include Webster’s Computer and Internet Dictionary (2000), Net Speak The Internet Dictionary (1994), and The New Hackers Dictionary (1996).  Interestingly enough, The New Hackers Dictionary does focus on one specific group’s language, Internet Hackers. Unfortunately, no linguistic analysis of the hacker language is present, as the book is simply a dictionary.

            Two linguistic studies also have been done on the Internet dialect. Hodges (1999) discussed a specific Internet language feature in her master’s thesis, “Deciphering the Pragmatic Content of Extralinguistic Items in Email.” She was specifically interested in the use of extralinguistic items such as “emoticons” and “acronym”’ in email communication. She also studied how the use of extralinguistic items differed by gender. Because her project was completed in 1999, it is one of the most recent ones that I have located. 

Davis and Brewer (1997) also did a linguistically oriented study of Internet language. They discuss it in their book, Electronic Discourse: Linguistic Individuals in Virtual Space. They document how the language of electronic communication has the speech characteristic of immediacy but has the writing characteristic of permanence. The study shows how communication that is solely through electronic sources is different than both writing and speech.

Because of the apparent lack of linguistic studies in the field of Internet dialects, this research is one of the first of this type. No study has examined the language of a specific Internet group. If nothing else, this study will show that there is more to Internet language than a single dialect and that language of the World Wide Web is extremely diverse and segmented. The specific research question is: How do the Online Gamers form specific words that contribute to their dialect?

Methodology

             Research was conducted in chat rooms of the Quake clans.  The chat rooms were located in Internet Rely Chat, or IRC. Because it was impossible to monitor all of the chat rooms for hours each night, log files were used instead. Log files are simply chat sessions that are saved and can be viewed at any time. Approximately seventy-five log files dating over a period of six months were studied. These log files were received from several gamers who had them saved. Everything was done anonymously. First, names that are used in the log files are nicknames the gamers use for themselves when playing. Second, any specific gamer names were changed before use within this paper.

             The language from the log files was sorted in two ways. The researcher documented each time a word (or form of the word) was spoken and who spoke it. An analysis was completed to determine which words were in frequent use and which words were new coinages that may not be used by the majority of speakers. The speaker was important because it had to be determined whether a single person or small group, or a majority of speakers used the word. The standard words were determined by number of speakers and number of occurrences. Each word in the standard dialect was analyzed for morphology, multiple forms, and definition. Throughout the course of the research, it was discovered that many of the terms and phrases the gamers used were incomprehensible even in context, so this researcher enlisted the help of a “Gamer veteran,” a person who was part of the Gamer group for over seven years, to help with the definitions. After the research was complete, the words and morphemes were analyzed to determine how they were formed. Working definitions were also formed for each word.

Results

             The following is a list of the results of the research. The words have been classified according to the way they were formed. Each type of morphological formation is listed along with common words and definitions. Other information has been included that is a large part of the Gamer dialect, such as alphanumeric symbols and voiced pauses. After the list of results, some statistical data are provided on the types of formation.

Clips: Clips are some of the more frequently used words in the Gamer vocabulary.  

      altho- although
      prolly- probably
      foo- fool
      cuz- because
      bout- about
      thx- thanks
      wether- whether
      id- I’d minus the ’ (Note- the deletion of the apostrophe is very common)
      spec- clip of spectator, means to watch or be a spectator
      msg- message
      peeps, ppl- people
      doods, d00ds- dudes
      dling, dl-ing, dl- downloading
     g'night - goodnight
      pwd, pw- password
      newbies- inexperienced players/users
      k- ok, okay
      pl- packet loss, game term
      frag- game term meaning kill, taken from war
      gf, g/f- girlfriend
      mofos- mother fuckers, taken from street jargon

          Acronyms: Some of these acronyms are used in the common internet
          dialect, although others are unique to the Gamers. The more common
          acronyms, which I found in a standard Internet dictionary, are marked with an
          asterisk.

                  n\m- never mind 
                       nm- never mind
                       rofl- rolling on the floor laughing *
                       np- no problem
                       dl- downloading
                       bbiab- be back in a bit *
                       lol- laughing out loud *
                       brb- be right back *
                       pos- piece of shit
                      gj- good job

Compounds:

awhile- a while
                        ahold- a hold
                        moreso- more so
                        ina- in a

Blends:

wanna- want to
                        lemme- let me
                        usin- using
                        welp- kind of like well… (as in “welp im going now”)
                        thatd- that would, gamers rarely use ’
 
            Suffixes:

-age- suffix, when added to a word it indicates action, or replaces the –ed suffix (for 
                        example- “I owned him” would become “I had ownage” or “it was ownage”).  
                        It assumes the place of the object
                        -or,0r, -zor- suffx, I am doing,  use or after vowel sounds and the letter x
                        (as in sexor or b0x0r), and zor after all other consonants (as in “I need 
                        foodzors” or “sleepzor”).  

            Prefixes:

uber- means very, can be prefixed to any word, such as “youre ubersexy” or “that 
                       was uber-cool”). Most of the time it is joined with a dash. This can also be a 
                       free morpheme. 

            Unique words: I have also included any standard English words which
            have new definitions in this category.  

                       uber- multiple meaings- a) large, b) very, c )group nature (as in uber cool)
                       w00p, woop- joyus exclamation, similar to ‘hurray!’
                       w00t, woot- joyus exclamation, similar to ‘hurray!’
                       Ho- multiple meanings- a) greeting, b) whore
                       own, owned- multiple meanings- a) ownership, b) to win over someone or
                        something, c)an excellent performance
                      elite, l337, l33t- used very frequently, derogatory term, means the opposite of the 
                        normal ‘elite’ definition.  Often associated with ‘fakeness’.  The newer
                        definition stemmed from the overuse of the word by ‘newbies.”
                      m4d, mad- very, as in “m4d l337”
                      bogged- overloaded
                      unf- sexual sound
                      ort- sexual sound
                      spectate- to observe
                      nog- affirmative
                      phat- cool
                      r00t, root- administrator of computer server* interesting usage (I got r00t on your
                        b0x0rs)
                      Heya (greeting)
                      b0x0rs, boxors(rare)- computer servers
                      woops- I goofed up, like whoops or oops
                      egads- exclamation, used extremely surprising but very non serious situations
                      muh- me
                      ya- you
                      Aye- very rarely will they use the word yes, but rather use aye as affirmation
                      gah- exasperation
                      ringers- game term, when a person not of the team plays for that team, incognito
                      hammer- to repeatedly do something, especially in reference to logging 
                              on to a server or ftp
                      lamer- loser
                      sweet- multiple meanings, a) standard meaning- sweet tasting–very rarely used 
                        b) pretty, nice, good
                      yer- your, you’re
                      j00- you

            Also included in the research were other language elements that were common in the Gamer dialect. These elements convey meaning and give a more complete picture of the different aspects of the dialect.

Voiced Pauses: Because the gamers are not face to face, typed voiced
             pauses are used in the same manner they are used in speech.

                       Uhm, uhhh, hrm (signifies thinking), heh, erm, uh, hmmm

            Laughter: This is also impossible to signify without typing something. There
            are many ways the games signify laughter, the three listed are the most
            common.

                       hehe, laf, lol

Alpha-Numeric Substitutions: These are very common in the Gamer
            dialect.  Any or all letters can be substituted.  Some of the more common
            substitutions are listed in the unique words section and the alternative
            spellings section.

                       1- L,l
                       3- e (most common)
                       4- a
                       5- s
                       $- s
                       7- T,t
                       8- B,b
                       0- o (most common)
                       @- at
                       * - “star”

Alternative Spellings:

                       doods- people (derived from dudes)
                       4 (instead of for)
                       2 (instead of too, to) example: “it happens 2 me 2 :(“
                       lewser- loser
                       b4- before
                       ph34r- fear
                       l337,l33t- see unique words section
                       b0x0r, 80x0r- see unique words section

Expressions: Here are some examples of the emoticons that were found in
            the Gamer Dialect. Many of these are also found in the main Internet dialect.

                       :/
                       =(
                       shrug
                       sigh
                       :P
                       =]
                       arrrggh
                       :) :( 
                       :0 :o
                       :[  :]

             The following data are statistical calculations dealing with the different types of morphological formations. The first set of data represents just the different ways of forming words, without the unique coinages. The second set includes all words, but does not include the alphanumeric symbols, emoticons, voiced pauses, or laughter.  

Total number of words (not including unique coinages):


43

Clips

24—55.81%

Acronyms

10—23.26%

Blends

5—11.63%

Compounds

4—9.30%

Total number of words including unique coinages

72

Unique coinages

29—42.27%

Clips

24—33.33%

Acronyms

10—23.25% 

Blends

5—11.63%

Compounds

4—5.55%

 Discussion

            The Gamer dialect is based on English. It has no speech equivalent and appears only in written form in IRC (“Internet Relay Chat”) rooms, Gamer web sites, Gamer message boards, and within the games themselves. Although it is written, the syntax is more similar to speech than to writing. Because of the nature of the Gamer dialect, a form of typed speech, the main concern is speed. The gamers find many ways of shortening what they have to type, so they can convey meaning faster, just as shortening occurs in spoken language. Articles, apostrophes, and punctuation found in normal writing are often omitted, and any and all shortcuts with the language are taken. This clipping is shown from the vocabulary. Phrases and single words are the most frequent modes of communication. To illustrate this point, listed below is an example, taken straight from the chat scripts studied. The name of the speaker is in <>, and the message is after the name of speaker.

<cashcowc> did Gnomes win?
                <Stalin> its not over yet
                <Pr0vokeR> U
                <Pr0vokeR> pos
                <Drewskee> spam is irksome.
                <CriM> first map we won (:
                <CriM> on to sludge
                <Pr0vokeR> score?
                <Mr_Hobbers{d1nn36}> sludge youll get raped
                <CriM> 10 5 i think
                <CriM> Laf
                <Pr0vokeR> haha
                <Pr0vokeR> that close?
                <Mr_Hobbers{d1nn36}> Welp. not bad
                <Drewskee> haha
                <Drewskee> gj C
                <Drewskee> snicker
                <|-det0x-|> yes crayz?
                <Mr_Hobbers{d1nn36}> Crayz, Im surprised u didnt pull ur modem. 
                      U doin pretty b4d that map
                <Pr0vokeR> OVERFLOW CRAYZ
                <Pr0vokeR> !!
                <|-Crayz-|> bleh
                <Stalin> hobbs doesnt like us
                <Drewskee> hobbers is a fruit 2night
                <|-Crayz-|> yea i know its pretty sad
                <Stalin> since he doesnt get ops here
                <|-Crayz-|> an OGL person being biast
                <|-Crayz-|> ya kno?
                <Stalin> aye, and he does in l337 chan

           As shown through the example, the language of the Gamers, although written, is very similar to speech. To keep up with the speed of the conversation, the Gamers have developed words that allow them to convey meaning faster, such as their clips and acronyms. Almost all of the words in this study that are not unique are shortened versions of English words. The average new word created is between 4 and 5 letters. In this research, dialect word longer than eight letters was discovered, although the Gamers will use longer English words when necessary, such the word “surprised” from the example above. Also, alphanumeric characters, acronyms, and emoticons can help Gamers covey meaning faster than with words.

          The Internet is unique without borders or boundaries. People from everywhere in the world can be a part of the Internet community. The Internet has many different groups, all speaking a specific dialect. There are people who spend time in chat rooms, and the studies have studied general chat rooms. Other groups, such as the Hackers, Gamers, Phreakers, and Techies—all have dialect differences. Those groups share some dialect similarities with the general Internet dialect, such as acronyms and emoticons, but they have a much larger vocabulary and more defined expressions. The best way to describe the sub-dialect groups may be through an analogy of the dialects of America. The standard American dialect is much like the standard Internet dialect. Americans share and understand expressions and words regardless of their sub-dialect. Specific geographical regions and/or specific groups, such as the North, South, and speakers of Black English, are very similar to the many groups on the Internet.

          This study is by no means complete. The research task of determining the morphology of Gamer words was completed, but little attention was paid to the rest of the Gamers’ speech. During the research, it was also surprising to discover that there are sub-sub-dialects of the Gamer dialect. These dialects are based on the type of game played. The main group studied was a group of people playing a first action shooter game. Another major group is those players of the massive multiplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG. Many similarities in dialect exist between the two, but there are some major dialect differences. Besides the Gamer dialect, other dialects, such as the Hacker and Techie dialects, are wide open to study. It would be interesting to see what the variation is between the Internet sub-dialects and the standard Internet dialect.

References

Breeze, M. A. (1997). “Quake-ing in my boots: <Examining> Clan: Community<Construction in an online gamer population” [On-Line], Cybersociology Magazine (Vol. 2). Available: http://www.socio.demon.co.uk/magazine/2/is2breeze.html

Davis, B. H., & Brewer, J. P. (1997). Electronic Discourse: Linguistic Individuals in Virtual Space. New York:  State University Press.

Dery, M. (Ed.) (1991). Flame Wars The Discourse of Cyberculture. London: Duke University Press.  

Fahey, T., & Prevost R. (Eds.) (1994). Net Speak The Internet Dictionary. Hayden Books.

Hodges, S. (1999). Deciphering the Pragmatic Content of Extralinguistic Items in Email. Unpublished master’s thesis, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Margolis, P. (2000). Webster’s Computer and Internet Dictionary (3rd ed).  Random House Reference.

Raymond, E. (1996). The New Hackers Dictionary. Boston: MIT Press.

Reid, E. (1991). Electropolis: Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat. Unpublished Manuscript, University Of Melbourne, Australia.


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