Sociolinguistic State of Fandom [circa Summer 2021]
This study is an attempt to understand how language is currently used in online fandom. The survey has now closed. Results and updates will be available on the newsletter.
If you participated in the winter version of this survey, you may be experiencing deja vu and be curious about why. More information about the previous iteration of this study can be found in the FAQ, and details will be linked here when available.
The survey asked about labels used to refer to groups and about specific phrasing and vernacular you may see online. Once there are updates, they will be posted through the newsletter and available in its public archives. For further questions, check the FAQ.
Summer 2021 FAQ
What is this study about?
This study is an attempt to assess multiple elements of use and understanding of language in online fandom today. It covers both terms used to refer to activity and ideological positions within fandom, and the question of whether specific speech patterns are seen as more associated with a given group or identity.
In order to accomplish that, you will be asked to describe your familiarity with some online subcultures and with a selection of terms currently in use within them. Then, you will be asked for your first impressions of anonymized posts such as those you might hypothetically see in your daily life online.
Who is conducting this study?
I’m Cyrus Eosphoros, an early-career fan studies researcher. Data collection was run through the Anthropology department of Bellevue College, where I was a student through this year. My supervisor within the department is Dr. Katharine Hunt.
The survey and the study as a whole underwent IRB review. The original version of this landing page was constructed as the main form of recruitment material for participants. Concerns about the study or questions about the rights of research subjects can be directed to Bellevue College’s IRB Chair, at [email protected]
I'm now at the University of Washington, and this page will be updated with information on other parties involved as I get more established and make progress here.
How do I participate?
The survey has now closed, but I appreciate your interest! There will be other surveys in our collective future, and as I (slowly) make progress on making use of the data, you can know what I know, too.
Have I seen this before?
An earlier version of this survey ran briefly in February (the “winter 2021” version). It was closed early due to miscommunications at my institution regarding the potential scope of the study itself and which level of IRB review would be necessary as a result.
Because of that, if you filled out that version of the survey, I'm grateful for your time and effort; but I am only able to use answers from summer 2021 for research going forward.
My initial statement is available on this site, here. More information will be posted through the project newsletter and linked here when available.
Why was this version of the survey different?
Most importantly, it has been vetted to remedy the problems with the earlier version, including to make sure that it can operate anonymously and at scale. I also had the opportunity to remake it on a more flexible platform and restructure the survey design in the process.
Rebooting the study allowed me to deal with emergent logistical issues and take into account critiques made by respondents (thank you!). Some of the survey content has changed, and many of the questions have been altered or rewritten for clarity.
Did everyone see the same questions?
Many parts of the survey are randomized. You may not have seen the exact same questions as another respondent; this doesn’t mean that either of you are misremembering, nor that the content and design of the study as a whole has changed. I plan to publish the full survey as designed on the newsletter in the future.
Why are there so many optional text boxes in the survey?
This is also something Qualtrics itself keeps asking me.
More seriously: As you progress through the survey, you may have thoughts that you don’t feel are wholly covered by the answers you select, and that you consider important and want to add. This would probably be annoying to try to remember for the whole rest of the survey, to say the least! The text boxes are there to make it easy for you to add anything you remember you want to say as you go.
If you’re filling out the survey, and you feel that what you want to get across is encompassed by your selected answers already, that’s also great! Just hit the “Next” button if you’re done with a given page.
Why do you want this information?
Attempts to determine the position and affiliation of strangers based on a first impression can be crucially important on social media. Meanwhile, terms used to refer to different groups in fandom evolve rapidly and their use is highly subjective.
This kind of insight about language is currently a thing people assemble based on their own experiences in small corners of online life. I’m interested in understanding what that looks like for a wider variety of people online and what these experiences mean to you – which is to say, to us.
But I don’t think I’m involved in the kind of fandom you’re asking about. Do you still want my answers?
I’m interested in views from both inside and outside this subculture. “Transformative” fandom isn’t the only way to be a fan, and you might not consider yourself to do anything fannish at all – and that’s fine.
Cross-pollination between subcultures online only increases over time, and that makes everyone’s experience relevant.
I’m “in fandom”, or I have been in the past, but I feel alienated from it now and wouldn’t identify as such. Do you still want my answers?
Yes, definitely! For one thing, it sounds like something changed for you between then and now, and that matters.
I don’t think we’re on the same side here. Do you still want my answers?
Very much so, if you’re comfortable with giving them. (It’s directly relevant: “side” of what? And what gives you that impression?)
Why ask about
[topic]? Why is
[specific question] written
[specific way]? What is
[section] trying to achieve?
I’m very much looking forward to talking about the survey design, in detail, after it closes! That kind of post will also be on the newsletter as they’re written.
How were the quotes in the section on phrasing chosen?
That’s one of the design-related topics I’m looking forward to being able to discuss. And, conversely, one of the things I’m not going to be talking about right now.
Why ask about demographics?
Note: some people find the demographics questions uncomfortable. Those questions are optional, and you are encouraged to skip them if you are experiencing any discomfort.
Some speech patterns are seen as characteristic of specific groups or identities. This is less researched online than in terms of spoken, “real-world” language, in part because internet sociolinguistics as a whole are still relatively new. Any information about such impressions you’re willing to provide helps fill this gap.
Why not include race?
Sociolinguistic cues around race are a huge question I do not want to take up lightly. I believe posing explicit study questions about race, but doing so carelessly, would do more harm than good. At this time, I consider it beyond the scope of this specific study to determine how to do so, especially given that even English-speaking fandom alone is international.
Why use real quotes for the section on phrasing?
This helps me avoid concerns about hyperbole or stereotyping – such as might occur with hypothetical fake examples “designed” to elicit a specific response – in favor of representing how real people use words today.
How were the quotes you use anonymized?
The quotes are plain text without identifying information: username, name, date/time posted, and other such metadata have been removed. Characteristic information such as references to individual people or fandoms has been omitted.
I want to go find the people whose posts they are.
That would be harassment.
They are anonymized for a reason. Their inclusion in this survey is solely in order to provide examples of online speech, and is not a commentary on the people involved or the merit of their positions.
Does everyone see the same quotes?
Not even a little bit!
Each person sees a total of five, selected randomly, in a randomized order. No one will see all possible sample quotes, and no single quote will have been seen by each and every person who takes the survey.
(If you take the survey and feel like you didn’t see much variety, that’s on Qualtrics and the luck of the draw, I’m afraid.)
I would like to see project updates beyond this site.
Ongoing updates will be posted through the newsletter on Buttondown as they happen!
I participated in the Winter 2021 survey and want to know more.
If (and only if) you participated in the previous version of the survey, you are entitled to know more about what was done with your data, when available.
This information will not be released to the public, but – if you were one of the winter respondents – you can get on the list here. At the time of this writing, I haven’t figured out the best way to disseminate that yet – so you haven’t missed anything.
Can I save my answers and come back later?
Qualtrics saves responses as you go from one page to the next; if you have cookies enabled, you should be able to come back, in the same browser and on the same computer as you started, and pick up where you left off. (This is handled by the platform itself.)
If you want to write long free text responses and are worried about losing them, you may also want to back what you write up on your device.
No matter what, definitely step away if you need to stop!
Why do I have to be 18 to participate?
I’m legally required to only take survey responses from people 18 and over. If you’re under 18, your experiences still matter, I’m glad you were interested, and I’m sorry I have to exclude you.
“Participating” means filling out the survey. Anyone can always share the links, read about the results (once published), or do anything else that doesn’t involve sharing information with the researchers yourself.
Will you run similar studies in the future?
I hope so – for one thing, it’s not like language change is going to stop any time soon! However, I don’t have any concrete plans or timelines right now.
I have another question.
Responses may be slow, but I have a contact form now.
Can I share this link with—
Please do! If you’re online, and you’re interested in participating, I very much want you to.
(Originally posted on Twitter as the April status update.)
Bad news first: As you might’ve guessed, the shutting down early wasn’t my choice—or my instructor’s. Behind-the-scenes miscommunication plus backlash on here meant I had to shutter this and, in many ways, start over.
Good news: I am starting over, as in running a(n even) larger-scale study soon. I’ll still have a public writeup of my own experiences with this accidental pilot, and participants are still getting a bit more about what I was able to do with their data.
(Twitter is—I hope obviously—not the only place I’m going to be informing people of things, but it’s the easiest for me to manage this kind of mini-update on a quick turnaround. Feel free to pass any/all updates around as relevant.)
Speaking of people affected (I suppose this is the “the ugly” part): I still want to know about anyone else affected by backlash (concern trolling included). I had /hoped/ it would be all directed at me, but that was overly optimistic; I want to know how much so.
(The majority of response was inspiringly positive, and I remain grateful for that. Bear with me a minute longer, please!)
If - and only if - you were a participant, didn’t leave your email address to opt in to seeing results, and are feeling FOMO now, I’ll have a form up soon so you have another chance, too. (If you have specific questions: I have the executive function of a potato, but my DMs on Twitter are open.)
The revised survey will be somewhat different and is planned to be open for (much) longer, so I hope to see you there soon.