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The Linguistic Phenomenon Behind Taylor Swift’s Superstardom

How familects build and strengthen communities.

How has Swift become one of the biggest pop stars in the world and cultivated such a passionate fan base?

Cynthia Gordon, a linguistics expert and associate professor in Georgetown’s College of Arts & Sciences thinks it’s a couple of things. “One is longevity. She’s young, but she’s had quite a long career, so her words have been out there. We also have music videos and social media that have spread her music. These lyrics have been everywhere, and they’re persistent. And that goes for Taylor but also for many other artists.”

During an Ask a Professor session at Georgetown University, Gordon explains, “At the same time, she has been identified as a particularly gifted lyricist. So people seem to listen very carefully to what she’s saying. She likes to drop Easter eggs into her songs with meanings that only her real fans can identify and uncover. So I think the role of language in her work is really highlighted, and that has made people pay especially close attention.”

With over 266 million followers in Instagram, Taylor Swift has amassed a loyal fan base of so-called Swifties devoted to every word the cultural icon speaks or sings.

Gordon researches how social groups use “lects” — informal private languages, such as a family’s “familect” — to build and strengthen communities. 

“All kinds of small groups, families, fandoms, social clubs and so on are bound together by language. So when we speak to people regularly, we develop certain patterns and routines that start to characterize our group,” Gordon said. “And when we use these patterns and routines, we reaffirm our group membership and set off the boundaries of our community.”

Read more here and learn about Gordon’s take on the future of the Swiftie fan base — as well as Gordon’s favorite Taylor Swift song.