June 15, 2020
professors marco shappeck and julie welch

UNT Dallas professors, Drs. Katie Welch and Marco Shappeck, have landed in the prestigious research journal, Language, for their work demonstrating how students in their linguistics course gained highly marketable skills by analyzing their own use of the texting acronym, LOL.

Their study, “Linguistics in General Education: Expanding Linguistics Course Offerings through Core Competency Alignment,” was published in the June edition of the Linguistic Society of America’s (LSA) quarterly flagship journal.

As the headline on the press release from the LSA playfully states, the findings in the study are no laughing matter. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board certainly didn’t think so. Welch and Shappeck’s course, LING 2050: The Language of Now, has been adopted by the THECB as a qualifying course for the state’s core curriculum.

“Although our research findings indicate that linguistics courses are capable of building career-readiness skills in students, we were surprised to learn that our field is heavily underrepresented in the Texas Core Curriculum,” Welch said. “The fact that UNT Dallas is one of a handful of universities with linguistics courses recognized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is indicative of the innovative nature of our work. The course's inclusion in the core affirms for UNT Dallas students the quality education they are receiving while also highlighting the opportunities that exist to expand linguistics offerings across the state.”

For this key assignment, students had to evaluate their own usage of the popular texting phrase, using it as a data set they can analyze. After going through a series of research activities designed to help them deepen their understanding of the history and current meaning of LOL, students then made predictions about the future of the word.

While the assignment content was linguistic in nature, Welch and Shappeck contend that by working through the assigned project, students also gained highly transferrable competencies such as critical thinking, inquiry, analysis and information literacy.

“The LOL project was designed to challenge our perceptions of language use and meaning in new technologies,” Shappeck said. “However, the larger themes in LING 2050 focus on new strategies we are using to convey meaning in interaction, something that seems relevant given the new tech platforms we have been utilizing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Shappeck cited the use of Zoom, and other types of video chats, used for meetings and virtual instruction as people are working and studying remotely. He said people are developing new mannerisms to show, for instance, politeness, or to indicate that they are listening, or laughing.

“When we have a poor internet connection and normal turn-taking sequences are difficult to achieve, we may give the floor for longer stretches of time so as not to interrupt a person’s train of thought,” Shappeck said. “Linguistic research helps students develop a sensitivity to emergent norms and speech patterns in different modes of communication and media.”

Given the developing landscape of communication and technology, LING 2050 will have plenty of important topics to address in how language adapts to our interactional and linguistic needs in the coming years.