Putting I’ma on the Map

I found this nifty application SeeTweet while surfing Motivated Grammar. It plots the most recent Tweets containing a given search term on a Google Map. Here’s MG’s post introducing the application in case you are interested in learning more about it (I’m digging it so far!). It could be a very useful exploratory tool for looking at words/phrases/syntax, etc. specific to geographically definable dialects. I’m sure some of you have heard of how Google has used search data to predict flu outbreaks. Well, you could also potentially use SeeTweet to witness event-specific verbal activity spread from an epicenter to the rest of the country. In short, this is a pretty neat tool.

Me? Well, I’m interested in looking at where I’ma, alternatively spelled Imma, is Tweeted. For an independent study project last semester I made an attempt to determine who it is using this nonstandard form meaning I am going to, but I had little success in doing so. I had a hunch that it may have a stronger presence in the South, or maybe that it has existed there longer, but I wasn’t sure. So below you’ll find maps of the geographic Tweet distribution in the United States. Each map shows the locations of the 200 most recent Tweets. In addition to maps for I’ma & Imma, I am also including ones for gonna & going to as the standard alternatives to I’ma/Imma. I wouldn’t expect gonna or going to to be distributed any differently from each other, but it would be interesting if their maps differed from I’ma/Imma. Finally, as a further “control,” I’m adding a map for the.

Before we begin, I have included below a map created by Eric Fischer showing the distribution of Flickr & Twitter users in the United States in order to get an idea of where all possible Tweets could be coming from. There will inevitably be fewer Tweets in general coming from low-density areas on the map where fewer Twitter users (& people) live. When interpreting the results of a SeeTweet search, keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular phrase isn’t used with frequency these regions when you’re seeing no Tweets in those areas. In red are Flickr users & in blue are Twitter users.

Below is a map of the 200 most recent Tweets containing I’ma.

Because I’ma is alternatively spelled Imma, I’m also including the 200 most recent Tweets of Imma. I find it interesting that the maps for I’ma & Imma seem to differ. I can’t say that I have any explanation to offer for you, here. Imma does seem to be much more heavily concentrated in the Michigan, Ohio, Indiana region. Notice that there are no hits for either I’ma or Imma from Minneapolis or Eau Claire, Wisconsin because I hadn’t Tweeted recently enough (I kid, I kid).

Here’s the map of the 200 most recent Tweets containing gonna.

And a map of the 200 most recent Tweets containing going to. To me the maps for gonna & going to seem to be approximately the same. Anyone notice a remarkable difference? I can’t think of a reason why they would differ.

As a sort of control (in addition to the Twitter density map above), here are 200 most recent Tweets containing the. Again this looks to approximate the distributions you can see in the gonna & going to maps. Everyone uses these words/phrases.

Because this tool is to me quite exploratory, I’m hesitant to draw any sweeping conclusions about the geographic distribution of I’ma/Imma users. It’s hard to tell if this nonstandard form is truly more localized to the South as compared to gonna & going to. If you’re going to twist my arm & make me say something, I’d argue that I’ma/Imma are more concentrated in the so-called Deep South; there are fewer Tweets containing the nonstandard form (in both of its orthographies) in the Southwest as compared to the gonna/going to controls. Are there any patterns you’re seeing that I’m not?

What’s really great about this is that it examines production (well, written production). I became slightly frustrated with my study last spring because while I was looking at grammaticality judgments of this nonstandard form, I didn’t really know to what extent my participants were actually users of I’ma. This application has allowed me to take a peek at where I’ma users are Tweeting from which is fantastic. I do think it would have been even cooler if the Tweets had timestamps; then you could get an idea of a word or phrase’s usage frequency, too.

Megan L. Risdal

Note: All SeeTweet searches were made on 08/22/11.



Filed under Linguistics

2 responses to “Putting I’ma on the Map

  1. Pingback: Putting I’ma on the Map.. Again | For the Love of Linguistics

  2. Pingback: Word Nerd Wednesday | Grammar Party

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