Gizoogle: Amusing tribute or racist caricature? – NSFW (part 1)

gizoogle-frontpage

Just as a warning: this post contains a number of examples from the website Gizoogle, which uses quite a bit of language not appropriate for many workplaces.

Gizoogle, as shown in the picture above, is a website that parodies the search format of Google by modifying the language of Google and its search results using language patterns reminiscent of the rapper widely known as Snoop Dogg (though he more recently has gone by the stage name Snoop Lion; I’ll use his earlier name Snoop Dogg, because I believe more people are familiar with it). According to the Huffington Post, the website has been online intermittently since 2005 but has recently resurfaced.

The language changes that Gizoogle makes to websites in order to represent Snoop Dogg’s speech include the introduction of profanity, hip-hop-inspired slang, izzle speak (as in the spelling of Dogg as “D-O-double gizzle”), as well as spelling variations meant to represent pronunciations often associated with African American English (such as pronunciation of “th” as “d”, for example, “dat” for “that”, which is actually quite common in other ‘nonstandard’ varieties of English). As an example of what this looks like, I searched for “Barack Obama” (or as Gizoogle calls him “Barack Obizzay”). Here is a screenshot of the resulting Wikipedia (“Wikipizzle”) page:

gizoogle-obizzay

The question that I’ve been pondering is how we should interpret the website, as an amusing tribute to Snoop Dogg or a racist caricature of African-American English (AAE)?

The question really isn’t that straightforward, and it’s going to take me several posts to arrive at a final opinion (so look out for more updates on this topic, and subscribe to the blog by clicking on the link to the right if you want to be alerted to the updates). However, the complexity of this question offers an opportunity to think about the complicated ways in which meaning is produced in discourse.

The most obvious source of meaning would probably be the discourse itself or what the language producer said or wrote. In the case of Gizoogle we’re talking about the language that the computer code produces such as what we see in the “Barack Obizzay” example above. We can go a long way toward understanding Gizoogle by looking at the language it produces. However, there are numerous problems with acting as though the meaning of discourse is self-evident. First, in order to understand discourse, we need to know more than just what the surface level language is. For example, if I have a small piece of discourse like “It’s hot in here”, I cannot really offer a clear interpretation of what this means because I’m missing some of the nonlinguistic information about the context like who the speaker is, who the addressee(s) is (are), and what the general atmosphere is. It could be that the speaker is just complaining to the addressee. It might be that the speaker is making an indirect request to the addressee. It could also be that it being “hot” in here is a good thing, for example, if we’re at a particularly lively dance club.

This takes us to another aspect of meaning, namely the speaker’s intentions. If we want to understand if Gizoogle is racist or just humorous, it would be good to think about the producer’s intentions. What do the people behind Gizoogle mean to say with their website? It’s helpful to consider the producers’ intentions, but there are problems. The most obvious is that many people are likely to present themselves as having positive intentions or at least likely to deny having negative intentions. This is particularly true when we’re talking about something as unattractive as being labelled racist, and researchers have long noted that in today’s ‘post-racial’ society people are really quick to deny racist intentions, as in statements that begin “I’m not racist but…”.

However, just because people insist their discourse is not intended to be racist does not mean that people (especially those who feel they are the target of it) do not view it that way nonetheless. This may stem from different understandings about what constitutes racism, or it may be that readers and listeners view the discourse as having a sort of clandestine motive that is not openly acknowledged but nonetheless is there. Thus, another important aspect of meaning in discourse is how different people interpret and respond to a piece of discourse.

In this and the next couple of posts, I’m going to take a look at Gizoogle more closely by looking at the different aspects of meaning making in the list below. Check back for updates or subscribe to the blog to receive them in your email.

  • The stated intentions of the website Gizoogle  (in the current post)
  • The degree to which the language in Gizoogle is an accurate representation of Snoop Dogg or African American English (AAE) more broadly (see part 2)
  • The degree to which the language in Gizoogle is representative of Snoop Dogg or AAE (see part 3)
  • The degree to which aspects of the language in Gizoogle can be attributed to the differences between spoken and written language more generally (see part 4)
  • The range of reader interpretations and responses Gizoogle has generated (see part 5)

The website’s stated intentions

According to both the website itself and various news outlets’ coverage of the website (for example, herehere, here, here, and here), Gizoogle began as a joke by the original creator John Beatty. Beatty was inspired by his friend’s use of Snoop Dogg-like slang in instant messaging as well as Snoop Dogg’s MTV show “Doggy Fizzle Televizzle“.

The current website administrators identify themselves as “huge fans of Snoop Dogg”. They also claim to want “to honor” Snoop Dogg. They explain their motivations for the language choices the search engine uses by stating that they have worked hard to make the “slanguage” accurate by deriving the language from Snoop Dogg’s own conversations, movies, and song lyrics (though I will explore the degree to which they have been successful at this in my next posts). They explicitly state that there “are no racist words used” in the search engine and, with that proclamation, don’t take up the issue of race and racism any further.

Thus, the past and present website designers claim their intentions are simultaneously humor and a respectful tribute to a rapper they appreciate. However, it’s useful to look more critically at what the designers claim their intentions to be. In particular, they present humor as a sort of innocent concept. However, anyone who has ever been bullied or teased knows that humor is often used as a weapon. Humor usually has someone as its target. If Gizoogle’s humor takes Snoop Dogg, or worse African-Americans in general, as its target, then we would certainly have good reason to call it racist.

As I’ve been looking at what the website designers have said about Gizoogle, I’ve found that there is some ambiguity as to who exactly the target of the humor in Gizoogle is intended to be. For example, Beatty is quoted in a 2005 Washington Post article as stating:

I was talking to my buddy on AOL Instant Messenger and he always talks in that izzle-speak, and I do it to my wife all the time and she hates it. I was thinking that it might be cool if there was a site that searched and all of the answers came up in that format.

Beatty’s wife’s apparent hatred of izzle-speak indicates that Beatty is not unaware of the existence of negative reactions to Snoop Dogg’s (and other hip-hop artists’ or African Americans’) speech. Indeed, the quote above suggests that he relished this aspect of his project, that is the annoyance it would bring many people like his wife. Beatty’s stated intentions then call into question the innocence of the humor in Gizoogle. It suggests that rather than laughing along with Snoop Dogg and AAE speakers, the original creator of Gizoogle was at least partially exploiting Snoop Dogg’s language to activate the negative attitudes he knew people had about Snoop Dogg’s language, hip-hop, and AAE, not to critique those attitudes but simply to get a rise out of people. I should point out that Beatty is no longer running the project. It appears that the people running the website in its current form are choosing to remain anonymous.

Overall then Gizoogle’s creators stated intentions are rather unsurprising. They claim that the website is not intended to be racist and is instead an innocent form of humor, perhaps even flattery for Snoop Dogg. Also importantly the creators make no explicit reference to other African American English speakers and instead intend their website as a representation of Snoop Dogg only. If we are more critical though we find that this innocent form of humor is suspicious. This humor becomes even more suspicious when I look at the language Gizoogle produces in my next post. Check back or subscribe to the blog.

UPDATE (26 SEPT 2013): I’ve posted part 2 of my analysis of Gizoogle, looking specifically at the accuracy of the language produced by Gizoogle. 

UPDATE (13 OCT 2013): I’ve posted part 3 of this series here. In it, I examine Snoop Dogg’s linguistic repertoire and the degree to which Gizoogle is fully representative of it.

UPDATE (27 OCT 2013): I’ve posted part 4 of this series. In it, I look at whether Gizoogle exaggerates the ‘uniqueness’ of Snoop Dogg’s speech (or AAE) by comparing the changes in Gizoogle to other varieties of English such as spoken ‘standard’ US English.

UPDATE (11 NOV 2013): I’ve posted part 5 of this series. In it, I look at the public response to Gizoogle and offer some final opinions on Gizoogle and racism.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Language and race, Language, ideology, and social change, Linguistic diversity, Technology and language
3 comments on “Gizoogle: Amusing tribute or racist caricature? – NSFW (part 1)
  1. Gizoogle 2.0 says:

    Hey, I really enjoyed part 5 and I said in the comment I made there that I’d try to read more of this series from the beginning, so here I am again. You’ve certainly done the most comprehensive analysis of Gizoogle I’ve seen recently, from what I’ve read so far, so you probably consider yourself done with this topic by now. I understand if you decide skip over this comment, but if you’re still open to reading more on this topic, I might be able to paint a more complete picture, considering the research I’ve done in remaking the original Gizoogle. Again, I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on this.

    You chose to analyze the intentions behind Gizoogle, but I feel your arguments could have benefited from being looked at in a broader context. Like I tried to point out in my previous comment, Gizoogle.net is a very different beast from its 2005-2009 counterpart, but in comparing their stated intentions, you’d notice that the stated intentions of Gizoogle.net are incongruously copied and pasted directly from the original site. People who aren’t so critical of Gizoogle will probably think the differences are irrelevant (it’s easy and probably smart to argue, “How different can two Snoop Dogg translators be?”), but someone like you whose gone more in depth could easily recognize that many of the similarities are only surface-deep, which is actually why I brought up the disparity in my last post and questioned if you could take a look and share any thoughts on it.

    Like I said at the beginning of this post, you can dismiss this entire comment if you want, but if you’re willing to consider that the original site was a significantly more authentic representation of Snoop Dogg compared to Gizoogle.net, and that by copying its intentions from the original site the creator contradicts his/her own site, you could form a very different opinion of whether or not the stated & actual intentions match up. So, I’ll clarify some of the differences and why I feel they’re important to determining the real intentions of the creator/s of Gizoogle.net.

    One specific instance of a statement which is untrue with regard to gizoogle.net, but was completely true for the original site: “The slanguage used in our algorithm has been quoted from Snoop Dogg himself [...].” For example, you’d be hardpressed to find a time when Snoop has called Benedict Cumberbatch or Pope Benedict by the name “Benzedrine.” Additionally, the phrase that Gizoogle commonly adds to sentences about “chicken and gravy” and most of the other lines it adds, were as far as I know, never uttered by him, whereas the original site deliberately used only direct song lyrics and actual quotes (This is possibly why it was shut down, and something the new site creator might have been concerned about, but nevertheless important if trying to create an authentic tribute to Snoop Dogg).

    A more subtle clue (admittedly sort of nitpicky) is that a few months ago the previously mentioned statement used to say “has all been quoted from Snoop Dogg” instead of “has been quoted from Snoop Dogg,” and now adds a lighthearted “It’s mad libs meets gangsta rap y’all,” as though to absolve the creator for giving the translator language that doesn’t match Snoop Dogg’s actual vocabulary. The original site was more deliberate, and every single translation was a real Snoop Dogg quote of some sort.

    Personally, and I’m mainly venting here, but I find it hard to trust the integrity of the stated intentions of someone who, in addition to the previous inaccuracies, tries to accurately portray Snoop Dogg by specifically adding translations (excuse the NSFW language here, it’s only to support my point) for changing the words “movies” to “pornos,” “politics” to “ballistics,” “education” to “ejaculation,” or “direction” to “erection.” These translations weren’t in the original site, for which the stated intentions were written.

    My biggest complaint with this part of your series is you pointed out the original creator isn’t involved with the new site, but you also undercut this with, “the past and present website designers claim their intentions are simultaneously humor and a respectful tribute to a rapper they appreciate,” as though their intentions line up. This seems contradictory if you consider that the new site inaccurately uses the same disclaimer as the original site. In effect the creator/s misrepresent themselves and sidestep actually stating their real intentions at all. In my opinion, this is where the stated intentions of gizoogle.net fall apart, but I’ll let you come up with your own conclusion.

    Other than that, my only noteable complaint is that you seem to take the quote by the original creator of Gizoogle about using “izzle-speak” with his wife all the time and how she hated it too literally, as indicating that he “relished” in annoying people. The way it was written strongly suggests it was all in good fun with his wife… Anyway, I highly suspect that you got the jocular tone of the sentence, so I’ll just chalk this one up to your reading the quote from a more “linguistic” perspective. Either way, I wouldn’t disagree with that interpretation if you were basing it solely on the gizoogle.net translations, and not the original site’s. What you accurately described as “at least partially exploiting Snoop Dogg’s language to activate the negative attitudes, not to critique those attitudes but simply to get a rise out of people,” was gizoogle.net, not the original site or its creator.

    Great series. I have a feeling you addressed some of what I brought up in parts 2 or 3, but I’ll have to read those another time.

  2. gizoogle says:

    (Reposting my comment without the NSFW quoted words) Hey, I really enjoyed part 5 and I said in the comment I made there that I’d try to read more of this series from the beginning, so here I am again. You’ve certainly done the most comprehensive analysis of Gizoogle I’ve seen recently, from what I’ve read so far, so you probably consider yourself done with this topic by now. I understand if you decide skip over this comment, but if you’re still open to reading more on this topic, I might be able to paint a more complete picture, considering the research I’ve done in remaking the original Gizoogle. Again, I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on this.

    You chose to analyze the intentions behind Gizoogle, but I feel your arguments could have benefited from being looked at in a broader context. Like I tried to point out in my previous comment, Gizoogle.net is a very different beast from its 2005-2009 counterpart, but in comparing their stated intentions, you’d notice that the stated intentions of Gizoogle.net are incongruously copied and pasted directly from the original site. People who aren’t so critical of Gizoogle will probably think the differences are irrelevant (it’s easy and probably smart to argue, “How different can two Snoop Dogg translators be?”), but someone like you whose gone more in depth could easily recognize that many of the similarities are only surface-deep, which is actually why I brought up the disparity in my last post and questioned if you could take a look and share any thoughts on it.

    Like I said at the beginning of this post, you can dismiss this entire comment if you want, but if you’re willing to consider that the original site was a significantly more authentic representation of Snoop Dogg compared to Gizoogle.net, and that by copying its intentions from the original site the creator contradicts his/her own site, you could form a very different opinion of whether or not the stated & actual intentions match up. So, I’ll clarify some of the differences and why I feel they’re important to determining the real intentions of the creator/s of Gizoogle.net.

    One specific instance of a statement which is untrue with regard to gizoogle.net, but was completely true for the original site: “The slanguage used in our algorithm has been quoted from Snoop Dogg himself [...].” For example, you’d be hardpressed to find a time when Snoop has called Benedict Cumberbatch or Pope Benedict by the name “Benzedrine.” Additionally, the phrase that Gizoogle commonly adds to sentences about “chicken and gravy” and most of the other lines it adds, were as far as I know, never uttered by him, whereas the original site deliberately used only direct song lyrics and actual quotes (This is possibly why it was shut down, and something the new site creator might have been concerned about, but nevertheless important if trying to create an authentic tribute to Snoop Dogg).

    A more subtle clue (admittedly sort of nitpicky) is that a few months ago the previously mentioned statement used to say “has all been quoted from Snoop Dogg” instead of “has been quoted from Snoop Dogg,” and now adds a lighthearted “It’s mad libs meets gangsta rap y’all,” as though to absolve the creator for giving the translator language that doesn’t match Snoop Dogg’s actual vocabulary. The original site was more deliberate, and every single translation was a real Snoop Dogg quote of some sort.

    My biggest complaint with this part of your series is you pointed out the original creator isn’t involved with the new site, but you also undercut this with, “the past and present website designers claim their intentions are simultaneously humor and a respectful tribute to a rapper they appreciate,” as though their intentions line up. This seems contradictory if you consider that the new site inaccurately uses the same disclaimer as the original site. In effect the creator/s misrepresent themselves and sidestep actually stating their real intentions at all. In my opinion, this is where the stated intentions of gizoogle.net fall apart, but I’ll let you come up with your own conclusion.

    Other than that, my only noteable complaint is that you seem to take the quote by the original creator of Gizoogle about using “izzle-speak” with his wife all the time and how she hated it too literally, as indicating that he “relished” in annoying people. The way it was written strongly suggests it was all in good fun with his wife… Anyway, I highly suspect that you got the jocular tone of the sentence, so I’ll just chalk this one up to your reading the quote specifically from a linguistic perspective. Either way, I wouldn’t disagree with that interpretation if you were basing it solely on the gizoogle.net translations, and not the original site’s. What you accurately described as “at least partially exploiting Snoop Dogg’s language to activate the negative attitudes, not to critique those attitudes but simply to get a rise out of people,” was gizoogle.net, not the original site or its creator.

    Great series. I have a feeling you addressed some of what I brought up in parts 2 or 3, but I’ll have to read those another time.

  3. Gizoogle 2.0 says:

    Follow up: For posterity’s sake, I got in touch with the original creator of Gizoogle, John Beatty recently, and his explanation of why the site was created is about as good as it gets.

    http://gizoogle2.tumblr.com/post/72015165832/gizoogles-original-creator-shares-insight-on-recent

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