GIFs as a linguistic phenomenon – some ideas

Actually, I got really tired of the discussion about “the correct” pronunciation of GIF in the English language. Fans of both most common styles (/ˈdʒɪf/ and /ˈɡɪf/) seem to be very confident and defensive about their chosen way of pronunciation and it is not actually a debate, but rather a mantra of “do” and “don’t” without any new argument.

But recently I read an article by Gretchen McCulloch (All Things Linguistic) on Mentalfloss, that inspected a possible reason for why people choose one or the other way. So, at least there is some constructive input for the discussion about this topic. Consequently, the article does not come to “the one” conclusion, but only tries to explain the origin of this issue, without judging what is right or wrong.

So, this is the way English speakers may think about it. As a German, I not only automatically tend to pronounce it /ˈɡɪf/ (in any language), but I also stumble upon other linguistic aspects of GIFs. For example: which German article is the most common for GIFs – der, die or das (read about it here). And I wonder how GIFs are dealt with in other Languages. Or in other words: Are there any other linguistic phenomena related to GIFs? Unfortunately, that is not my field of expertise, but I collected some ideas that I’d like to present. Maybe someone can explain some of it, or knows somebody who knows somebody who can do it.

  • Pronunciation in other languages – Is the pronunciation debate relevant for other speaking communities? Is the English word the archetype for “GIF” in other languages? How do speakers decide to say the word if their language bares one of the phonemes of the word GIF? Korean or Georgian, for example, don’t have an F.

  • How is GIF spelled in other writing systems? Is the Latin alphabet used for this word? Did Japanese and Chinese invent a new character for GIFs? Which letter is chosen to substitute the “g” when a writing system has separate characters for /ˈɡ/ and /ˈdʒ/, like Cyrillic (Г or Дж) or the Persian alphabet (گ orج)?

  • Which writing habit is most popular – GIF, Gif, gif, .GIF, .Gif, .gif ?

  • Is the word GIF used as a noun, a verb or possibly as other types of words (parts of speech)? The Oxford Dictionaries USA, for example, stated in their famous press release that their word of the year 2012 was “GIF, verb / to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event)”. And which other words are derived from GIF? For example “gif’d”, “gifable”, “giffy” and what not else

  • If a language makes use of grammatical gender, which one is used for GIF? German: “der”, “die”, “das”? French: “le”, “la”? Swedish: “ett” (neutral) or “en” (utrum, or common gender – which kind of is a gender for “living” things. And animated GIFs are living things, if we take the etymology of “animated” into account)

  • Which measure words / classifiers are used for GIFs in Chinese? Measure words have to be used to state the amount of things, for example one (piece of) apple is yi ge pinggou (一个苹果). For different types of things you have to use different measure words, an there are a lot of them. For GIFs, I could imagine that for example the measure words for “row” (), “group” (), “artwork” (), or the generic measure word could be used. Or some other. Maybe all of these are used, depending on the context and the speaker.

  • Can GIFs be used as a “universal language”? Long story short: I really do believe that this is not the case. Adam Leibsohn talked about this idea (video here, my thougts about it here). Communicating based on images might or might not be easier to understand trans-culturally than spoken language. But GIFs are not universal, because the make heavy use of tropes and motifs that are specific for one or only a few cultures.

  • How are GIFs paired with written language and how does this change depending on the content and/or context of the communication? Are they framed or accompanied by texts, do they have a title and nothing else, or maybe not even this? Do GIFs contain bits of text and if so, which relation do these texts have to the image content? Are text and GIF supported by one another, are equivalent to each other or completely independent? Are they used similarly to emoji or emoticons?

Hey, psst! Are you a linguistics student, scholar and/or fanatic and look for a research question for your next paper? I offer them for free ;-)


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