ORCID Identifier(s)


Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics



First Advisor

Laurel S Stvan


This dissertation provides a descriptive account of the use of ‘artificial operators’ on Reddit. I adopt the term artificial operators to refer to written symbols (e.g., #, ™, ©, ®) with overlapping linguistic and metadiscursive properties that are leveraged for a pragmatic effect (e.g., I love her even though she’s problematic™). I employ a mixed-methods approach, using a combination of corpus, experimental, and machine learning methods. Using a 1.2 billion word diachronic corpus of comments from the popular forum website, Reddit, I demonstrate that these operators are used in a small percentage of Reddit communities. Operator usage is therefore often community-specific and provides a useful indicator of the shared repertoire that exists within online Communities of Practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger 1998). Operators often function as stance markers, contributing to all three components of stancetaking (evaluation, positioning, alignment). Operators also interact with adjectives by upscaling, or in some cases, downscaling the adjective meaning. Input from social media users indicate that there are perceivable differences between genuine and figurative uses of the operators but do not show perceivable differences between the meaning contributed by the four distinct operators under controlled conditions. Feature importance scores from machine learning models suggest that author-related features are more important than subreddit-related features in modeling operator use. Ultimately, this dissertation shows that artificial operators are a pragmatic resource that authors use to perform a variety of functions, including stance marking, upscaling, and indicating community membership. This work contributes to broader research around pragmatics in computer-mediated communication (CMC) which has shown that authors use CMC cues and other online textual resources not as a replacement for paralinguistic cues, but as new ways to create nuanced and sophisticated meaning.


Computer-mediated communication, Stance marking, Internet language, Reddit, Symbols, Hashtags, Trademark symbols, Copyright symbols, Registered trademark symbols


Linguistics | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

Included in

Linguistics Commons