Do they impoverish communication or complement it?

Memes –units of information created through images and texts for humorous purposes– have become a new form of communication between users of social networks: they provide new terms and affect the way we communicate.

According to linguist Mariana Barquin, young people are the ones who internalize the creation, use and proliferation of memes because they generate a lexical expansion that they consider elementary. “I think people make language changes based on their linguistic needs,” he assured Cromo.

Along these lines, the psychologist Roberto Balaguer said that memes condense information for which there is no word or gesture. Therefore, he believes that its use is unavoidable.

Does this mean that memes should be included in all conversations? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Each meme achieves significance and, later, resignification within certain groups that respond to certain sociocultural patterns. “If they are raised in the wrong areas, they don’t work,” Barquin stressed.

To exemplify, he raised the meme “fua Scooby you re vivís”, which shows Shaggy, a character from the Scooby Doo series but comes from a viral audio from the social network Tik Tok. He argued that only the users of this platform who have seen the videos created from the audio understand the reference to “how heavy you are” or “you are rambling.” If an adolescent uses this expression in a meeting with individuals of other age generations, the chances that it will not be understood are very high.

Shaggy drawing with the text “fua Scooby you live it again”

Also, memes change shape and meaning permanently. To exemplify Barquin, he used the expression “nashe” that comes from “Nazi”, created by the Argentine streamer Coscu and that currently works as a meme on social networks. He explained that there was a positive resignification of a negative concept: “When someone told you you are a Nazi it is because you were crazy, but crazy well.” However, the moral weight of the term and its significance for the rest of society caused the concept to be revealed and thus “nashe” arose, a term that only the person who experienced this process understands.

Then, memes don’t work universally, but rather they signify and resignify in a particular sociolinguistic community.

Memes in face-to-face conversations

Asked about the use of memes in face-to-face conversations, Barquin stated that it is not possible to make a complete translation to “real life” and added that these they have their connotation within the virtual world.

“I think that face to face does not work in the same way even if you evoke the meme at a specific moment,” he stressed. However, he clarified that pIt may be that for certain groups – mostly young people – the deformation of memes works in face-to-face conversations.

In this sense, he remarked that there is always “the germ of the linguistic” related to the social and cultural aspects of people. “Not all young people understand the same thing because they did not have the same cultural exposure throughout their lives and, therefore, they will not be able to make the same resignification of the meme,” he explained to Chrome.

For his part, the psychologist Balaguer argued that in certain face-to-face contexts, memes are referred to, they are even personified. He exemplified with the video of John Travolta looking sideways, in a scene of the American actor in Pulp Fiction in 1994: “I have seen great people do it because it is very graphic. It gives an account of a situation –in this case of perplexity– in a very simple way ”, he justified.

John Travolta in Pulp Fiction looking sideways

It also stated that This use by people helps communication because “there is more than just words; symbols are used ”.

Between gains and losses

There is a popular belief that the Spanish speaker uses fewer words than the language offers. This can be explained, according to Balaguer, because society resists using only words as forms of description of reality, then other elements appear, including memes, which are more iconic and are capable of expressing emotions and sensations.

The psychologist said that there are two schools facing this reality: “For some, the use of these resources in communication represents a reduction in the richness of language. However, others see it as a complementarity that adds to what already exists”.

Meanwhile, the linguist assured that “The language belongs to the speakers”, and it is the people who define their future. In addition, he added that the use of certain words and expressions are socially implanted and that, based on this, the academy is forced to incorporate them: “The ‘cultured norm’ tells you not to (incorporate it) but it should also add it because a lot of people use it ”, he stressed.

There are more radical positions. Barquin said that those who are purists of the language understand that incorporating the use of memes into everyday language is an attack on the language.

The impact of moving the virtual to the face-to-face

All users are exposed to memes on social media and anyone can use them in their link with their contacts without having too many instructions on how to send them. However, Balaguer said that, As much as memes can be used in face-to-face relationships, they do not have “enough strength” to affect these relationships. “That individual who includes a meme in conversations has the ability to add elements that illustrate his or her way of feeling. It does not seem to me that it impoverishes but that it complements ”, affirmed the psychologist.

Likewise, the linguist emphasized that there is no radical change in language. “You cannot even speak of a germ of change.” Asked about the future implications that the increase in the use of memes in social interaction may have, Barquin limited himself to saying that it is still not possible to know, it takes time to study it.

Memes as an object of study by researchers

In the article The meme as an evolution of the means of social expression of the University of Chile affirm that hememes are a source of social learning because they manage, through their immediate propagation, to transmit cultural factors of each country. They are, in short, a useful collective learning tool in the training of people.

In this sense, the report Internet memes as teaching tools of the University of Barcelona says that these images became a popular genre in the classroom because they allow dealing with very diverse topics with a high capacity for persuasion and dissemination.

Also, according to the study authors, reading and producing memes also allows us to work on digital skills, cognitive abilities, knowledge and attitudes. For a student to create a meme, they must choose a topic and look for the necessary information for its construction, which will also have to discern between what works for them and what doesn’t. For this, it is necessary that you have knowledge of the current situation of the society in which you are immersed, as well as the code that these complex signs use.

So, beyond appearing to be mere humorous content, memes also play an educational role.