Short, fast and easy to write: what is a supervernacular?

February 1, 2016 12:33 pm


“I’m going to write an article about supervernaculars”. “Superwhat?” This exemplary exchange sums up the majority of the reactions that I have received when announcing the topic of this article.

The term supervernacular is, indeed, not yet a well-known concept even among people who are interested in linguistics. This leaves room for the wildest associations: supervernacular, the language used by superheroes? All wrong.

Similar to many new phenomena of our times, supervernaculars emerged due to the advancing technology, more specifically to technologically mediated communication. The number of people possessing a mobile phone is rising worldwide, now also allowing the “bottom of the income pyramid” to have access to telecommunication. Consequently, more and more people can communicate globally, across physical and sometimes cultural borders by using similar linguistic resources.

Each new technological means of communication, however, comes with its possibilities and boundaries, both of which shape the communication that runs through them. Text messages, for instance, have a limited number of signs, which led to the development of a language form that is short, fast and easy to write. Supervernaculars are the result of how such technologically mediated communication influences our language use. In short, it is a term used to describe “languages that are used over and beyond linguistic and cultural boundaries.” Supervernaculars often include expressions or linguistic aspects that are globally used and influenced by the English language. Nonetheless, they are eventually always dialects, as people shape the supervernacular according to their local linguistic background.

A good example of the influence of the global English as well as the medium on a term is ‘LOL’. Being part of a global medialect, this expression, meaning ‘laugh out loud’, is often used in supervernaculars. The contribution of the technological medium on this expression is twofold. Firstly, due to the nature of messaging one cannot hear or see when the other person is laughing. So, if you want to transmit the laughter, you need to express it in writing. Secondly, the expression is abbreviated in order to keep the texting short and to be able to react to a joke almost in real-time.

Finally, the two following examples of European supervernaculars illustrate nicely how supervernaculars are localized.

The first example shows elements of a supervernacular used by Flemish-Belgian, Dutch-speaking young people. They demonstrate how aspects of the global supervernacular (shortening, combining letters with other signs) are being adapted to the local vernacular.

Code symbolVernacular speechStandard DutchEnglish
W817Wacht eens even


Wacht eens evenWait a minute
Kga´k gaIk gaI´m going

In addition, they also make use of code-switching, combining English and Dutch.

The message “U R my 3M” (You are my dream) is mainly in English but inserts a Dutch element with the number 3, which is pronounced ‘drie’ in Dutch.


The second, Finnish example depicts how users write their messages in English adjusted to the Finnish orthographic convention, which creates playful, ironizing messages mocking the Finnish accent in spoken English.

Lavli! Til tomorou ten!Loveley! Till tomorrow then!
Sii juu!See you!


If you want to know more about supervernaculars, check your text messages, any Facebook conversation or the scientific papers listed below



  • Blommaert, J. (2012). Supervernaculars and their dialects. Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics, 1(1), pp. 1-14.
  • Blommaert, J., & Velghe, F. (2014). Learning a Supervernacular: Textspeak in a South African Township. In A. Blackledge, A. Creese, & (eds.), Heteroglossia as Practice and Pedagogy (pp. 137-154). Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Velghe, F. (2014). Lessons in Textspeak from Sexy Chick: Supervernacular Literacy in South African Instant and Text Messaging. In K. Juffermans, Y. Mesfun Asfaha, A. Abdelhay, & (eds), African Literacies. Ideaologies, scripts, Education (p. 63). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


Written by Vera Rosa Seitz
Study visitor at TermCoord

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