A closer look at Twitter: Amsterdam, you're raining!
'Nieuwegein, you don't feel like homecoming anymore', 'Amsterdam, you're fantastic', 'Utrecht, you're a terrible city to drive in'. On Twitter, this construction - where someone addresses a place to share an experience - is widely used. A group of linguistics experts from the Radboud University took a closer look at the construction.
On Twitter, it is often not immediately clear where the sender is when they send a tweet. When someone wants to report on experiences in a certain place, that person must first share where he or she is and then what it is like there. This can become a rather cumbersome - and woolly - message. For example, ‘I'm in Amsterdam right now and it's so beautiful here.’ Linguistic scientists in Nijmegen have discovered that Twitter users have found a different way to briefly and powerfully share their experiences of a particular place or day. Helen de Hoop, one of the researchers: 'They simply tweet: ‘Amsterdam, you are fantastic’. It is immediately clear to everyone that this is the experience of the person who is tweeting and not some kind of general description or communication.'
The researchers examined the construction in a Twitter corpus of over eight hundred Dutch tweets in which a place (or a festival or holiday) is fictitiously addressed in this way. 'The place or time addressed provides the coordinates from which a report is made,' says De Hoop. 'The rest of the message refers - often implicitly - to the positive or negative experience the Twitterer has there. In 70 percent of the cases we found, it's about something positive, usually a compliment.'
Even though the place or holiday is addressed like a person would be addressed (Adam, ...) and the second person 'you' is used, in the way an addressee would be addressed, this is not a case of full personification according to De Hoop. ‘That is the case in poems or songs, such as Oh Oh, The Hague, beautiful city behind the dunes. In those, the place is portrayed as a person', says De Hoop. ‘In this new construction, it's all about sharing experiences on the spot. It's all about the place remaining a place.’ This is clear from a number of tweets that the researchers encountered in the corpus, such as 'Amsterdam, you were wonderful again. I want to live in you', 'Utrecht, you're a terrible city to drive in' and 'Tilburg, you're going to see me often. Because I'm going to study Communication in you. YESSSSSSSS'. If the place were fully personified, this would lead to strange interpretations.
Remarkably, the found Twitter construct even makes ‘ungrammaticality’ acceptable in some contexts. 'Take, for example, 'Amsterdam, you are raining’’, illustrates De Hoop. 'Verbs such as rain have an empty subject ‘het’ (it) in Dutch, which is grammatically indiscernible but does not refer to anything. But if someone spending the day in Amsterdam wants to tweet that it is raining there, 'Amsterdam, you are raining' is fine.'
The researchers found more instances of 'you're raining' in the corpus: 'Mysteryland, you're raining. Not cool', 'Roffa, you're deliciously raining very hard’, 'Tilburg, you're not the prettiest already, and then you're raining too. Not chill'. According to De Hoop, this is an important side effect of the discovery of the construction: it shows that grammar is not a rule system that excludes certain constructions, but rather a system that facilitates the creation of new constructions. De Hoop: ‘The use of social media offers unprecedented opportunities to quickly evaluate experiences. Apparently, grammar does not restrict this. Grammar is flexible and adapts itself, in this case to social media. And in that context, it's fine to say something like ‘you're raining’’.
The article 'Amsterdam, you're raining' recently appeared in the Journal of Pragmatics. The research involved: Joske Piepers (Tilburg University), Maria van de Groep, Hans van Halteren and Helen de Hoop (Centre for Language Studies (CLS), Radboud University).
Photo Credit: By WeeJeeVee - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77258791