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I Can't Even Because Language: Investigating Attitudes Towards Internet Phrases in Speech

Specht-Bird, Sarahmarie (2015)
Honors Thesis (138 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Tamasi, Susan L
Committee Members: Barber, Jessica M ; Hardy, Jack ; Bell, Stacy A
Research Fields: Language, Linguisitcs
Keywords: Internet; linguistics; slang; language change; language innovation
Program: College Honors Program, Psychology and Linguistics
Permanent url:


This study examines how the Internet-engendered phrases I can't even and because X are

used in the speech of Emory undergraduate students, what the prevailing attitudes towards them

are and how these attitudes affect their use, and how they function as markers of group

membership. Based on previous work on Internet language (e.g., Crystal, 2011; Tagliamonte and

Denis, 2008) and sociolinguistic examinations of novel speech features (e.g., Buchstaller, 2014),

this study undertakes a twofold data collection methodology involving a survey measure

followed by three in-depth focus groups to gather detailed information about the reported use of

these phrases. The findings of the study indicated that both I can't even and because X function

as tersely worded, efficient "conversation enders" associated with conveying humor. The use of

both is dependent on understanding of reference; however, I can't even is more stigmatized and

indicated to be used only humorously and ironically or to mock the speech of young, white

females, while because X is not reported to carry either stigma or prestige or to be associated

with any particular group of people. The lack of stigma for because X and its grammatical

function seems to indicate that this is a more productive, lasting construction, while the notoriety

of the stereotype associated with I can't even undermines its productivity.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Theoretical Background 11

Methods 24

Results 28

Discussion 53

Conclusion 68

References 71

Appendix A: Survey 75

Appendix B: Descriptive measures of survey respondents 80

Appendix C: Key areas of analysis and example words for survey and focus groups 81

Appendix D: Interview schedule 83

Appendix E: Focus group participant demographics 84

Appendix F: Focus group transcriptions 85


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