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Internet Paralanguages

In July–August 2017, I was invited to be Guest Professor to teach a two-week intensive summer school programme entitled ‘Digital Living’ at Aarhus University. These are some notes and resources from my seminars, lectures, and workshops on Internet Paralanguages. Please feel free to use with credits back to this page.


Internet Paralanguages

Networked Paralanguages: seeing as hearing; images as action

As new platforms and technologies emerge, young people are inventing innovative ways to express ideas and communicate with their peers using mixed media on the internet. Most prominently, internet paralanguages that draw on non-lexical visual cultures are flourishing in mainstream, subcultural, and countercultural internet communities. In this week’s flipped-classroom format, we will explore some of these internet paralanguages, and students will draw from their personal experiences to teach their peers about their own use of these communicative symbols.


Compulsory readings

Highfield, Tim. 2016. “Waiving (hash)flags: Some thoughts on Twitter hashtag emoji.” OA:

Miltner, Kate M. 2014. “There’s no place for lulz on LOLCats: The role of genre, gender, and group identity in the interpretation and enjoyment of an Internet meme.” First Monday 19(8). OA:

Stark, Luke, and Kate Crawford. 2015. “The Conservatism of Emoji: Work, Affect, and Communication.” Social Media + Society Journal 1(2). OA:

Willard, Lesley. 2016. “Tumblr’s Gif Economy: The Promotional Function of Industrially Gifted Gifsets.” OA:


Lecture guide

1) Introduce notion of “code-switching” and initiate class discussion on socio-cultural impact of such paralanguages. To stimulate discussion, use “Code-switching and linguistic acrobatics on the internet” (, 2017)

2) Examine how internet paralanguages can be examined analytically. To exemplify process, use “The meaning and origin of “dicks out for harambe” #dicksoutforharambe” (Behind The Meme,  2016)

3) Explain how internet culture can be taken seriously as a form of popular culture. Discuss trajectories of research in popular culture by using (Laura Grindstaff, 2008) “Culture and Popular Culture: A Case for Sociology.” American Academy of Political and Social Science 619: 206-222.

4) Consider power dynamics in the study of popular culture. Use concept of “the absent other” (John Storey 2012, on Raymond Williams) “What is popular culture?” Pp. 1-5 in Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction. Harlow: Pearson.


Case Studies

Pen Pineapple Apple Pen and the Lifecycle of Internet Virality (, 2016)

#thoughtsandprayers, Grief hype-jacking, and Saturation fatigue ( 2016,) 

Brand-jacking gone wrong (restricted material; contact me for access)


Assignment: Dissecting Internet Paralanguages

Part A: This is an individual assignment/presentation. Students are to pick any topic on communication and paralanguages and teach it to the class in 5-minute flash lectures. Some guiding questions include:

What is your chosen artifact? When did it debut? Who created it? What does it represent, stand for, or mean? Who uses it? How extensively is it used, or how diverse is the population who uses it? How is it used? Are there trends in its usage? When was its peak? Has it died out? Has it been embroiled in any prolific incidents or scandals? Why did you choose it? Do you use it yourself? What does it mean to you?

Your chosen artifact can include, but is not limited to, hashtags, memes, emoji, gifs, etc. You may use the examples covered in the lecture, but are encouraged to be innovative and focus on a mode of internet-native communication you are really passionate about. Crystal will roam the class to offer guidance, and present her own 5-minute flash lecture as an example.

Part B: Be as creative as you wish, feel free to use props and technological aids, and if necessary, use words. You may like to consider presenting your findings as a form of performance art to your classmates.

Part C: Document this process and write a short reflection essay on how networked paralanguages affords you innovative ways (or limits/restrains traditional ways) of communicating with others. Consider some of the guiding questions from Part A in providing context in the essay. Discuss your reflections in relation to the concepts covered in class.


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