Computer-Mediated Discourse

Not included in my diagrammatic summary, but nevertheless important, is the analysis of Computer-Mediated Discourse (CMD). I do not regard CMD analysis as either a tool or a perspective for the analysis of written text, but hold rather that the digital medium is a context for discourse analytical work, and in this I differ from some other scholars. Nevertheless, it is an increasingly important context.

CMD has as its unifying feature the digital medium, and computer- mediated text can be accessed on a wide range of devices (computers, tablets, smartphones and so on). Beyond this commonality of channel, CMD has become so ubiquitous as to defy description as a distinctive language variant (Androutsopoulos, 2006). Crystal’s (2001) early project to define such (a) language variant(s) resulted in a tentative outlining of what he called “Netspeak”, which he proposed as a hybrid of spoken and written language. The work was swiftly overtaken from two main perspectives—firstly, the exponential increase in the use of the Internet in almost every aspect of life made it almost impossible to isolate commonalities of a broad Internet language variant, and secondly, Crystal’s work at that time focused primarily on linguistic form rather than function in context. Other early work focused on the speech-like qualities of written asynchronous or quasi-synchronous computer conversation, often using

Conversation Analysis to study turn-taking, interruptions and other conversational strategies. Such work has now been placed within the broader study of online communities (del Teso-Craviotto, 2006; Herring & Paolillo, 2006; Siebenhaar, 2006).

Although research work now tends to focus on social practices of CMD, the affordances of the digital medium can still be said to foster certain characteristics of language. Properties such as potential anonymity, global reach, virtual community and new linguistic freedoms all have considerable impact on language usage. However, the use of digital devices for such diverse social purposes as trade, advertising, education, social networking and personal finance, to name only a few, entails that language usages are extremely varied. Just as there is no single “newspaper register” or language variant, there is no single “computer register” or language variant. All of the tools and approaches mentioned in Fig. 2.1 have been used for the analysis of computer-mediated language. In addition, some tools and approaches have been developed and adapted for the particular context of CMC, for example Androutsopoulos’ Discourse- Centred Online Ethnography (2008), which uses mixed-methods ethnographic approaches for the study of discursive identities on the Internet.

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