TikTok talk

Largely characterized as a Gen Z phenomenon, TikTok is a video-sharing app with more than 100 million active users in the U.S. alone—and it’s changing the way that we speak, says sociolinguist Nicole Holliday.

Kristina García

The influence and importance of language

Labels for what happened Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol were very different from those used to describe the Black Lives Matter movement or the 2020 election results. How much weight do individual words actually have? It depends on the context.

Michele W. Berger

Media Contact

In the News

TikTok language rabbit hole

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences co-hosted a podcast episode about linguistics and TikTok.



No shared language? No problem! People across cultures understand clues from ‘vocal charades’

Gareth Roberts of the School of Arts & Sciences weighed in on a linguistic study that found that people can use vocal sounds to mimic parts of the idea they’re trying to convey, such using chewing noises to evoke the word “food.”


NBC Philadelphia

Zoom, social distance, ‘blursday’: The coronavirus has changed how we speak

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about how language has evolved amid the pandemic. “Social changes can bring sort of a boom of new words that are used more commonly or old words that sort of get resurrected,” she said. “As the whole world has changed as a result of the pandemic, that has opened up some opportunities for new words to spread.”



When Republicans attack ‘cancel culture,’ what does it mean?

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about the origins and evolution of the phrase “cancel culture.” “It is used to refer to a cultural boycott,” she said. “We’ve had the term ‘boycott’ forever and ever. It just means, ‘I’m not going to put my attention or money or support behind this person or organization because they’ve done something that I don’t agree with.’ That is not new; that’s very old.”


Huffington Post

Here’s why it’s a big deal to capitalize the word ‘Black’

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about the importance of acknowledging the cultural ramifications of whiteness. “We call some classes ‘Black History’ but the ones that focus on ‘white history’ are just called ‘history,’” she said. “That kind of erasure is an issue, because it continues to situate whiteness as ‘normal’ and everything else as ‘other.’”


The New York Times

Massachusetts court won’t use term ‘grandfathering,’ citing its racist origins

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about the phasing out of words with direct links to slavery, such as “grandfathering.” “This is the legal system, and there are wrongs to be righted,” she said.