The linguistic characteristics and functions of hashtags: #Is it a new language?

Author: Iman Mahfouz

Keywords: Arabic language, Callefi’s taxonomy, computer-mediated communication (CMC), hashtags, Instagram, pragmatic functions, social media


Defined as a form of tagging that allows social media users to embed metadata in their posts, hashtags initially served to categorize topics and make them searchable online. Originating first on Twitter in 2007, hashtags have spread to other platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. In addition to functioning as topic markers, hashtags have developed more complex linguistic functions. The ubiquity of this feature in the online medium, which now occupies a significant portion of our everyday communication is thus worthy of investigation. Although this topic has been researched in different disciplines, such as information diffusion, marketing, as well as sociology and public opinion, hashtags have not yet received enough attention from linguistic research. Using a sample of hashtags from a corpus of Instagram posts by Egyptian and Arab participants, this research thus aims to examine the characteristics of hashtags from a linguistic perspective, with particular focus on hashtags in the Arabic language. The study primarily seeks to determine the morpho-syntactic features of these recently emerging linguistic items according to the taxonomy proposed by Caleffi (2015). It also explores the pragmatic functions of hashtags based on Zappavigna’s (2015) view of hashtags as technologically discursive tools. The analysis points out that most of the hashtags in the data serve the experiential function and come as suffixes. The findings reveal both similarities and differences between English andN Arabic hashtags.