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Saturday, 10 November 2012

Where have all the pronouns gone?

I noticed at work today that status updates on our internal social networking site are split about 50/50 into two categories:

People who use pronouns in their updates and people who display reduced pronounage.

e.g (reduced pronoun usage) Attended a Women in Business event at Gogar yesterday and made lots of new contacts, all interested in Focused Women, mobile banking app and more.

What’s that about? Why do  some people include pronouns and some people don't?

Perhaps there is some element of Twitterage, where people who use Twitter a lot are held to a certain number of characters and pronouns are the first to go, but we don’t have a character limit, and it’s not just (even) the ones that use Twitter that do it. 

If they’re not using Twitter, then they are probably texting people, and again, pronouns are right out. Character limits, little keyboards, a tendency to text on the move, all things add up to fewer pronouns.

And if they’re not texting, then they’re probably emailing. Some emails I receive are also pronoun-stripped.

I think that all it is probably indicative of is that people are very busy, but I find it impersonal and yet at the same time more direct. Even before you read the little message that tells you it comes from Twitter, you can always tell on Facebook which status updates are Twitter-fed.

It reminds me of a CV, where you don’t really use I, but talk about yourself in that weird CV-way*
e.g. “A remarkable and flexible limbo dancer who has worked with the best in her field at corporate and cultural events.”

You might be talking about how an event made you feel but because there’s no association with I, you, or me, it removes the personal connection. You might as well be reading instructions from a microwave meal:

Pierce film. Place in microwave for 1 minute. Remove film and stir.

It certainly gets to the point quickly, I suppose.

Glib points aside, I can’t quite put my finger on what I find slightly “off” about status updates with no pronouns. I don’t notice in texts or Twitter. I do notice when I see them on Facebook and G+.
I think perhaps it’s because on G+ and Facebook (and my internal work one) I expect status updates to be the start of a conversation, but these ones don’t sound like that. That’s just a random suggestion though – actually no idea why. Thoughts welcome.

*I have changed the words from my CV, because obviously if this is how I describe myself on my CV, that would be weird.


  1. Just be grateful they're not descending into complete chatspeak!

    1. Well, yes. I'm one of those people who punctuates text messages.

  2. It may be a holdover from a previous incarnation of Facebook that used to preface status updates with your name plus 's. My status update would therefore appear as Rhian's I'm eating doughnuts if I included the pronoun. Once FB changed, it took me a while to adjust to putting the pronouns back in.
    One of my chatspeak hates is when the chat word is the same number of characters as the proper word it's replacing.

    1. That is a very strange thing to do. I'd forgotten about the Facebook thing with the 's. That could certainly explain on there.

  3. Not 30 seconds ago I posted a mostly pronoun-less Facebook status update. Then I read your blog, and now I feel self-conscious!

    Coincidentally, the status update was about a Scottish festival I went to this weekend near Austin, Texas. (I live in Houston, Texas.)

    1. That is a funny coincidence! What kind of activities/events were at the festival?

    2. I mainly go for the music, and I much prefer folk/traditional to ”Celtic rock”, although they had that too. There was also a ” gathering of the clans”, so there were people in all kinds of tartan all over the place. There were also pipe bands, highland dancers, and I think some cabers being tossed. I mostly ignored the highland games part and hung out in the music tents.

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