Juhyae is a junior linguistics major and education minor at Swarthmore College. Anya is a freshman and potential major in Russian, also at Swarthmore College. Watch their video essay below.
College Campuses as Speech Communities.
Watch the Video.
In our #LanguageStory project, we set out to explore the semiotic landscapes of various college campuses to see how certain speech communities and identities developed within them. We first had the idea for the project during fall break, when Anya visited a friend at a different college. Anya and her friend were discussing the school police at their various colleges and realized that though they served the same function, the emic terminology or nomenclature differed from school to school. What Anya called “pub safe” (abbreviated from Public Safety), her friend referred to as “camp sec” (Campus Security).
Conducting Interviews Across 6 College Campuses.
The remainder of the interviews were collected individually, either in person or online. Juhyae interviewed her friend Jessica, a senior at Seattle Pacific University, via the internet software Zoom, and Anya interviewed her sister, Mara (senior at American University) in person and her friend Lucy (freshman at Pomona College) via Facetime. By interviewing friends at schools that are located in different regions across the country, and also vary by size, type of institution, and proximity to other schools, we hoped to gather somewhat diverse data about campus-specific language use on American colleges and universities.
Labels Are a Thing!
Additionally, students may have labels for the students at other colleges, such as “Mudders” (Harvey Mudd), “Scrippsies” (Scripps) and “CMCers” (Claremont McKenna College). However, sometimes these labels can turn negative as they become associated with stereotypes of other students. For example, Kennedy made reference to “Haverbros,” whom she describes as the typical frat-boy, lifting bro stereotype. Lucy also described CMCers using similar terms. We were interested in the fact that schools who were in much closer proximity—about 10 minutes or less by car—to other schools, such as Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Pomona, had more terms describing students of other campuses than did schools that were more isolated, such as Swarthmore, American, and SPU. We believe that the close proximity of one school to another causes more interaction between the schools, intensifying the identity-building, both linguistic and otherwise, at these schools.
"The Slytherins of AU"
Furthermore, campus identity can be created by shared lexical items and linguistic behaviors among the students that relate specifically to the campus and semiotic landscape of the college. Examples include the “swat swivel” (a phrase for looking around to make sure the person you are about to talk about is not directly behind you, practiced at Swarthmore), “spiblings” (fellow students from one’s Sponsor Group at Pomona), and the “Drunk Bus” (AU shuttle after 9:00 PM on weekends). Interestingly, many campus-specific lexical items are created and disseminated through Facebook meme pages, which can also be considered to be a part of the broader, semiotic landscape of colleges. Larger institutions like American University, for example, depend more on their meme pages to create cohesion and group identity than do smaller schools, such as the liberal arts colleges in our sample. However, there are active meme pages at nearly every college, and each plays an important role in the creation of group identity across a college campus.