Michelle A. McSweeney, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Columbia University

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I am a researcher, linguist, and digital communication specialist. I study how we communicate via mobile phones, and am interested in how language is shaped by digital communication.

My research centers on the question: How do we communicate via text messaging? In face-to-face conversations, we rely on vocal cues, facial expressions, and other non-verbal features to convey meaning. These features are absent from digital writting, yet digital communication technologies have entered nearly every domain of modern life.


Recent Work

I am currently writing a book on the Pragmatics of Text Messaging: Making Meaning in Messages, expected early 2018. Currently, I am a Research Scholar at Columbia University in the Center for Spatial Research where I study how language shapes urban spaces.

I finished my PhD in Linguistics at The Graduate Center at CUNY in 2016 with a certificate in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. My dissertation sought to understand how bilingual young adults text and how that is related to academic literacy skills. Through it, I employed computational methods for sociolinguistic research. Both the corpus and the materials are publicly available.


Bilingual Youth Texts (BYTs) Corpus

A collection of 44,597 text messages donated by Spanish-dominant bilingual young adults age 18-21 in New York City. Some demographic information is available, and emojis have been preserved through use of a coding system. Messages span from late 2014 until April 2015. The corpus has been hand anonymized by two independent researchers.

Love Texts

In development

This project explores the language we use when sending texts to romantic partners. When complete, individuals will be able to upload their text message history and receive an infographic of statistics about their relationship. Expected late 2017.

Languages Above the NYC Subway

This interactive infographic tracts language neighborhoods along the New York City Subway System by visualizing the percent of speakers at each stop.


2018. The Pragmatics of Text Messaging: Making Meaning in Messages. In contract with Routledge, expected 2018.

2017. I text English to Everyone: Links between second language texting and academic proficiency. Languages.

2017. Chatting with the Natives. Harvard Design Magazine.

Pending. Lol! I didn't mean it: Lol as a marker of illocutionary force. Under review.

2016. Literacies of Bilingual Youth: A profile of bilingual academic, social, and txt literacies. The Graduate Center at CUNY, New York, NY.

2015. Review of SMS Communication, edited by Cougnon, Louise-Amelie and Fairon, Cedrick. Linguist List, 26.3129, July.

Review of Language, Literacy, and Technology, by Richard Kern. Linguist List In revision.

2011. Lusoga Made Simple. Busogal Cultural Research Center Publications. Jinja, Uganda: Marianum Publishers.

Selected Presentations

I’m trying to show you who I am: Identity performance in text messaging. Presentation at the Pop Culture Association National Conference. San Diego, CA, April 12, 2017.

“‘Excuse me, please, wya!’ The Construction of Politeness on Cell Phones”. Presentation at the Northeast Modern Languages Association Annual Conference. Baltimore, MD, March 23, 2017.

Yelling at Robots: The End of Language As We Know It?. Panel at Social Media Week, New York. New York, NY, March 3, 2017.

lol i didn’t mean it! Lol as a Marker of Illocutionary Force . Poster at Linguistic Society of America annual conference. Austin, TX, January 6, 2017.

Spatial Visualizations, Maps and More. Invited Lecture for The Digital Praxis, CUNY Graduate Center. New York, NY, October 26, 2016.

The Birth of a Language: The emergence of Txt as an independent language form. Dressler Linguistics Colloquium, Columbia University, New York, NY. October 14, 2016.

Pragmatics of CMC. Invited Lecture for Sociolinguistics of CMC, CUNY Graduate Center. New York, NY, September 20, 2016.

Did You Get My Message: The communicative cost of texting in a second language. Talk at Second Language Research Forum, Columbia University. New York, NY, September 24, 2016.

Lol! I didn't Mean It! Lol as a marker of illocutionary force. Talk at CIRCL, CUNY Graduate Center. New York, NY, March 8, 2016.

Using twitter to define bilingual literacy in a networked world. Panel at the Digital Media and Learning Conference. Boston, MA, March 6, 2014.

Blogging to investigate the linguistic, social & historical aspects of African languages. Bronx CUNY EdTech Showcase, Lehman College. New York, NY, May 3, 2013.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, a discourse marker. Talk at the 7th Annual SQUID Conference, CUNY Graduate Center. New York, NY, March 30, 2012.

Moody negation: Tense, mood, and negation in Lusoga. Talk at the 43rd Annual Conference for African Linguistics, Tulane University. March 15-17, 2012.

Predication in the clause and noun phrase of Lusoga. Talk at 42nd ACAL, University of Maryland. June 10-12, 2011.


Columbia University

Mapping for Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities. Fall 2017. Graduate School of Architecture, Urbanism, and PlanningProject-based seminar on using spatial tools for humanities and social science reseach.

Conflict Urbanism: Language Justice. Spring 2017. Graduate School of Architecture, Urbanism, and PlanningProject-based seminar on how languages in contact shape urban spaces.

The City University of New York

Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. 2014-2015. Hunter College, School of Education. Hybrid (online/face-to-face). Research seminar on the role that first and second language acquisition processes have in a K-12 classroom.

Teaching Linguistics Across CUNY Campuses. 2013-2015. The Graduate Center at CUNY. Seminar on college pedagogy and course development, now required for all first year graduate students in Linguistics.

Internet Linguistics. 2014. Lehman College, Languages and Literatures. Seminar on the role of digital communication technologies changing language practices.

African Languages. 2013-2014. Lehman College, Languages and Literatures. Project-based course investigating linguistic features of and contemporary issues surrounding African languages.

Pragmatics, Syntax, and Semantics. 2011-2013. Lehman College, Languages and Literatures. Theoretical courses in the Linguistics Major.

Introduction to Linguistics. 2012. Lehman College, Languages and Literatures.

Language Acquisition. 2011, 2015.Lehman College, Languages and Literatures.

Lansing Community College

Pre-Algebra, Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra. 2005-2007. Lansing Community College, Lansing, MI.Developmental courses in a sheltered program for students in the TRiO program.

Media Coverage

New York Times

Laugh and the World Laughs With You. Type 'Ha,' Not So Much. New York Times, July 8, 2017.


NY Magazine

Why the Internet Tilde is our Most Perfect Tool for Snark. New York Mag, June 5, 2017.


Tell Me Something I Don't Know

What does ‘lol’ really mean? Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. New York, NY, November 28, 2016.


Feeling Some Type of Way

Lol? Feeling Some Type of Way. New York, NY, November 17, 2016.


Metro New York

Infographic tracks Languages above the Subways. Metro New York, New York, NY, August 4, 2014.



Minor Infractions: Languages above the Subway. CUNY TV, New York, NY, October 1, 2014.