The QuEST project (Quebec English Survey on Twitter) aims to describe the way English is used in Quebec and differs from other Canadian regions.
The first stage of the project used publicly available Twitter data to identify linguistic features that should be examined in more detail. The second stage aims to further describe these features and determine if they are used in the same way in face-to-face communication.
Why study Quebec English?
Quebec English has attracted scientific attention due to the context in which it is used. Anglophone speakers constitute a demographic minority in Quebec, unlike most other places where English is spoken. But English is also the majority language in Canada as a whole, and carries with it cultural and social influence.
This is an unusual set of circumstances which can tell us a lot about language in general, as well as the social processes that affect it. This is of particular value for the fields of sociolinguistics (which analyzes differences in language use in a wider social context) and contact linguistics (which investigates changes in linguistic structure arising from the use of multiple languages in the same community).
Existing research has shown that Quebec is the most distinct dialect region in Canada in terms of lexical variation (differences in word choice). But although a number of studies have identified the words that are typical of Quebec, it is unclear how widespread they are or how important their use is. These are some of the open questions our study aims to answer.
Why use Twitter data?
Twitter is increasingly used to study language differences across regions because it provides publicly available data from a large number of speakers in a variety of locations. Aggregate analyses such as the ones we used, where the tweets produced by many different users are analyzed together, can provide valuable information that is difficult to obtain through manual observation.
Research such as ours only analyzes the way language is used, focusing on issues such as regional preferences for a certain word. For example, the Twitter data clearly shows that the word poutine is used more frequently in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada. We are not interested in, and hence do not analyze, the opinions expressed in the tweets, the users’ personal characteristics, and so on.
While this kind of research is widespread, scientists still do not understand if Twitter-based linguistic analyses fully reflect what happens in real life. That is why our study also aims to compare Twitter data with face-to-face communication.
Who is behind this study?
This study is conducted by a team of linguists at the CLLE research laboratory, which is operated by the Toulouse Jean Jaurès University and the CNRS (the French National Center for Scientific Research).
This study is associated with the PAC programme (Phonology of Contemporary English: usage, varieties and structure). Since its founding in 2004, the programme has investigated the way English is used in 28 survey locations across 9 countries.
This study has been granted ethics approval by the University of Toulouse Research Ethics Committee.