Date of Award

January 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English and Theatre

First Advisor

Dominic Ashby

Department Affiliation


Second Advisor

Jill Parrott

Department Affiliation


Third Advisor

Sarah Tsiang

Department Affiliation



The use of non-standard language on the internet has long been a topic of controversy, as some believe its prevalence indicates carelessness or a lack of intelligence in the (mostly) younger generations who use it. Non-standard language can refer to spelling or grammar that deviates from preferred language conventions, and is popular in what are called internet “memes.” Though the definition of a “meme” can vary, the term can be used to refer to pieces of culture that are remixed and disseminated by internet users. This thesis identifies patterns of non-standard language in memes to demonstrate that these changes are not accidental, but follow their own set of conventions. Examples of these patterns were collected and documented by the types of change that standard language undergoes. They were then matched to existing rhetorical figures, or figures of speech, that have historically been used by authors and orators to create a desired rhetorical effect. These rhetorical figures could include changing the length of a vowel sound, or adding or cutting a syllable. It was found that for each pattern of change, there was a rhetorical figure that matched in both pattern and effect. This illustrates that the presence of non-standard language in memes is intentional, and that it is often used where text, rather than tone of voice or body language, is all that the user has at their disposal. The use of rhetorical figures in memes can also textually represent paralanguage, which includes pitch and tone of voice, in order to express a more nuanced message than could be conveyed through standard text alone.