About General American and Blank Spaces for Idiots

How it started

My experience as a Wikipedia contributor was very eventful.

At this semester’s beginning I did a presentation on the General American dialect for a different course, so I first checked Wikipedia for information. I realized that there was no German page about that topic, so, this is the reason why I picked “Standardamerikanisch” as my personal Wikipedia project.

The Writing Process

The first two problems that I encountered were the references and sources. I had to rely on the English Wikipedia article on General American and its sources, because that was all I had at the beginning. I went to the institute’s library at our University, and spent hours and hours there to find German books on the topic, which turned out to be a quest. After all, I managed to end up with two German references, while the other four sources were in English. I hoped for my article to be relevant enough for the German Wikipedia, although there were mainly English sources available.

After finishing up my article, I directly edited it on Wikipedia after some detailed changes, such as commas and word order. Honestly, I thought the writing and the reference part would not take as much time as it actually took. Contrary to that the editing of the final version on Wikipedia went faster than I believed first.

Since I did not copy the English version of the Wikipedia article on General American, I left out the linguistic part concerning the dialect’s phonology. This made it easier for me to end up with an informative article about Standard American English that mostly focused on the media and its regional home. For the topic being purely scientific without any personal opinion on it, I did not have any problems with sticking to the core principles of Wikipedia, which I was very lucky about. Besides, the article is completely based on scientific facts, which makes it impossible for theory constructions to interfere in the topic.

Publishing and Feedback

Not even four hours after I posted my article, the most important changes have been made by other users. Categories were added, my references were ordered and several typos that I must have overlooked were corrected as well. The only thing that intimidated me was a users comment on my lemma “Standard Amerikanisch”. He claimed it was a “Deppenleerzeichen”, which is German and means “blank character for idiots”. This comment literally made me feel like an idiot.

The reason why I put that blank space in between was that it would make it easier to read and immediately understand the article’s topic. On this account I went to the user’s page who made the rude comment, and learned that he is a mentor for Wikipedia newbies. This fact encouraged me to post on his discussion site and tell him about my experience.

A few hours later, I received two answers: one from a different user, and the other one from the criticizing user himself. Both told me that it was a general term used on Wikipedia and had no bad connotation sticking to it. It was not meant to hurt or libel me, therefore I should not feel intimidated or demotivated by it.

Final Thoughts on the Course Project

I can say that the Wikipedia project was definitely worth the effort, mostly because I am very happy about the fact that my article is still online. Secretly, I assumed that it would be deleted within minutes, but as I learned now, it’s relevant enough to be kept online. The thought of my article being immediately deleted haunted me throughout the course project – mostly, because our lecturer believed that my sources would not be sufficient enough to please the Wikipedia community.

Now that I have a deeper insight into Wikipedia’s system and the community, I have more respect for the articles. They have to be well researched and the sources must be accordingly. However, since Wikipedia is not favored at University as a primary source, it is important to check the reference list and get more information on a topic through them.

My academic attitude towards Wikipedia has changed in so far that I can say one might actually trust what is written in Wikipedia, but it is still not welcomed in scientific research papers by the lecturers.

The project on Wikipedia that we did in this course was very interesting. I learned a lot about Wikipedia’s inside, the community and how much effort there is put in each article by many different users. What would have made the course even better, is a clearer introduction into Wikipedia’s system and how you edit an article correctly. Meaning that I have still no idea how to add categories to my article.

After all, I can say that this course was very eventful for me and I learned many facts about Wikipedia. Besides, it was fun to concentrate on a topic that is not too welcomed at University, and to focus on Wikipedia’s internal system. I can warmly recommend this course to any student.


Julia Widera

Majoring in English Studies at University of Stuttgart.

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