Twitter today announced it will prompt users to post by asking "What's happening?" rather than the old "What are you doing?" We asked a prominent linguist if this means anything. Turns out it does: Twitterers are no longer such loners.

In short, Twitter's new slogan reflects the microblogging service's evolution from a venue for self expression into a forum for conversation, according to Welsh linguist David Crystal. Crystal seemed an ideal expert to consult on Twitter's new phrasing: he has written or contributed to more than 100 books on language, including on internet linguistics, and examined the text-messaging culture from which Twitter was born in his most recent work, the appropriately-titled Txtng: The Gr8 Db8.

Here is what Crystal emailed us about the significance of Twitter's change in phrasing:

I'm not surprised. Twitter has become steadily more discursive, with people maintaining threads and introducing a great deal more interaction, rather than posting isolated tweets. As a result the focus has shifted from the individual to the group, and a more open question is required to capture this emphasis. What-doing looks inward. What-happening looks outward. It's a natural development, it seems to me.

So Twitter's users have, at the very least, moved beyond mere navel gazing and into arguing. Way to go, narcissists!

(Pic: Crystal, via