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Professor Benjamin Slade Publishes

Benjamin Slade, professor of linguistics, recently published "Virtual meatspace: Word formation and deformation in cyberpunk discussions"
in De Gruyter Mouton. 

     Garley, M. & Slade, B. (2016). Virtual meatspace: Word formation and deformation in cyberpunk discussions. In L. Squires (Ed.), English in Computer-Mediated Communication (pp. 123-148). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.


In 2013, US government contractor Edward Snowden made public information about PRISM, a global Internet surveillance program run by the US National Security Administration, in a highly-publicized case which led to his flight into exile abroad. In 2014, a group known as the Guardians of Peace, possibly sponsored by North Korean government elements, hacked into the computer systems of Sony Pictures Entertainment. In 2009, the US Secretary of Defense established a ‘United States Cyber Command’ (USCYBERCOM), which “unifies the direction of cyberspace operations, strengthens DoD [Department of Defense] cyberspace capabilities, and integrates and bolsters DoD's cyber expertise.” (U.S. Strategic Command 2015).

In a present where drone warfare is a commonplace means of international action, and corporate and government interests intersect around notions of ‘cyberwarfare’, there are many parallels to be drawn from reality to the cyberpunk genre of science fiction. William Gibson, coiner of the term ‘cyberspace’ and author of seminal cyberpunk works like Neuromancer, noted in 2012 that “Cyberpunk today is a standard Pantone shade in pop culture” (Evans 2012).

Since its inception, the cyberpunk genre of science fiction, which has instantiations in literature, cinema, and videogames, has influenced music, fashion, and spawned a subculture of fans interested in its ideas and aesthetics. This chapter deals with the use of linguistic forms in online cyberpunk discussions. This domain is interesting precisely because this culture is digitally 'native', dating to the earliest instantiations of Internet communication and surviving across the intervening decades, with the locus of active discussion shifting across multiple CMC platforms. These discussions are characterized by frequent neologisms and jargon.

In an initial exploration of cyberpunk glossaries found online, we noticed a variety of formation processes for cyberpunk terms: compounding (screamsheet 'newspaper'), clipping (base 'database') and acronym formation (DNI 'direct neural interface'), as well as fantasized borrowings (gomi, Japanese 'junk'). In this analysis, we are motivated by the question of which methods of word-formation are most characteristic and productive within cyberpunk discussions online from the late 1980s to the present day. This research question engages with long-standing questions in sociohistorical linguistics regarding actuation, the origin of linguistic features; and transmission, the means by which such features spread. We deal with the latter question on a subculture-wide level, engaging the question of which forms are favored in this particular subculture.      

In this chapter, we examine the ways in which words characteristic of cyberpunk are formed and deformed through diverse and complex processes, including blending around common sound/character sequences (corpsicle), re-spelling (tek for 'tech' or cypx for 'cyberpunk') and sequential clipping-compounding (netrode 'network' + 'electrode') as well as more complex creations (e.g., teledildonics).

We find clipping with compounding to be the most characteristically 'cyberpunk' word-formation process in the data in terms of both frequency of word-formation strategy, and frequency of use of the resulting neologisms. Our data include corpora from the Virtual Meatspace forum, including posts from the years 2006-2013 (Cyberpunk Review, 2013) and the Collective Cyberpunk Community forums, spanning the years 2011-2013 (Collective Cyberpunk Community, 2013) alongside 1980s-90s Usenet data from alt.cyberpunk. We combine these analyses in order to provide a longer-term view of lexical formation/deformation within the cyberpunk subculture. Several roots, including clipped forms like trode 'electrode' seem to be especially productive. Other common constructions take the form of cyber-X, X-punk, X-jockey/jock, and X-boy/girl. While some of these formation processes are well-known (see, e.g., Bauer & Renouf 2001), the large-scale use of such lexical innovations in the context of a subculture is not well-researched, and through the combination of synchronic and diachronic analysis, we make an effort to fill this research gap.

Part of the examination of the spread of neologisms must also involve analysis of the development and spread of elements more abstract than lexical items, i.e. morphological processes. The nature of online discourse—posts marked with explicit dates, threaded conversations,  etc.—offers an ideal opportunity to observe and categorize the adoption of neologisms and investigate the abstract morphological means of their coinage.

Last Updated: 11/28/16