Michelle A. McSweeney, PhD

Associate Research Scholar, Columbia University

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Research Scholar at Columbia University, Center for Spatial Research.

I am a researcher, linguist, and digital communication specialist. I solve problems that arise from the constraints and affordances of digital communication platforms. In my research, I seek to understand how we establish intimacy in writing. In my work, I seek to communicate complex, abstract, or humanistic research through visual means.

My research can be summed up by the question: How do we convey tone in text messaging? In face-to-face conversations, we rely on vocal cues, facial expressions, and other non-linguistic features to convey meaning. These features are absent in text messaging, yet digital communication technologies (text messaging, email, etc.) have entered nearly every domain of modern life. I identify the features that facilitate successful communication on these platforms and understand how the availability of digital technologies (i.e., mobile phones) has helped to shape urban spaces.


Recent Work

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 (as in text messaging) 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 available. From 2014-2016, I served as a Digital Fellow, teaching computational research methods and supporting the mission of GC Digital Initiatives. I am interested in how language is shaped by digital communication.


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. Prototype is expected mid 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.


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

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

Did You Get My Message: The Communicative Cost of Texting in a Second Language. Under review.

Making Meaning in Messaging: A Functional Approach to the Pragmatics of Text Messaging. Under review.

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

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

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

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

Pragmatics of CMC. Invited Lecture for Sociolinguistics of CMC. September 20, 2016.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, yeah, yeah, a discourse marker. Talk at the 7th Annual SQUID Conference, CUNY GC. 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.


Graduate Level

Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. 2014-2015. Hunter College, School of Education. Hybrid (online/face-to-face). Research based course 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.

Upper Undergraduate

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.

Lower Undergraduate

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

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

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

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.


Felling 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.