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Conversational Writing: A Multidimensional Study of Synchronous and Supersynchronous Computer-Mediated Communication
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of English.
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study is a linguistic investigation of two genres of computer-mediated communication (CMC), namely two modes of conversational writing: ‘Internet relay chat’ (synchronous CMC) and ‘split-window ICQ chat’ (supersynchronous CMC). The study employs Douglas Biber’s multifeature multidimensional methodology, taking into account the six dimensions of textual variation in English identified in his 1988 book Variation across speech and writing (i.e. Informational vs. Involved Production, Narrative vs. Non-Narrative Concerns, Explicit/Elaborated vs. Situation-Dependent Reference, etc.).

The procedure of positioning the two CMC genres on Biber’s (1988) dimensions enables the systematic lexico-grammatical description of the genres relative to other genres of writing and speech. Out of Biber’s 67 linguistic features, the study identifies first and second person pronouns, direct WH-questions, analytic negation, demonstrative and indefinite pronouns, present tense verbs, predicative adjectives, contractions and prepositional phrases as the most salient features in the chats (prepositional phrases are conspicuous by their relative rarity).

Although none of Biber’s (1988) dimensions constitutes a dichotomous distinction between writing and speech, they all differentiate among literate and oral genres in various respects. Among the genres studied by Biber are face-to-face and telephone conversations. By relating the CMC genres to the oral conversational genres on the dimensions, it is possible to assess the degree of orality in computer-mediated conversational writing, another undertaking of the study. The results support previous assumptions that synchronously mediated texts display more speech-like properties than asynchronous texts, but lend little support to an initial hypothesis that supersynchronously mediated conversational writing texts should be more speech-like than synchronously mediated ones.

The study further employs M. A. K. Halliday’s model of semiotics, among other things to explain differences in the outcome of subtly divergent communicative settings, and argues for the inclusion of Halliday’s measure of lexical density in studies of linguistic variation involving conversational writing.

Finally, two features not included in Biber’s (1988) methodology are found to be particularly indicative of conversational writing texts: inserts, specified in Biber et al.’s (1999) Longman grammar of spoken and written English, and emotives, a feature introduced in the study. Emotives comprise emoticons and sentiment initialisms.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Engelska institutionen , 2013. , 304 p.
Keyword [en]
CMC, computer-mediated communication, conversational writing, chat, computer chat, ICQ, IRC, Internet relay chat, multidimensional, Biber’s dimensions, synchronous CMC, supersynchronous CMC
National Category
Languages and Literature General Language Studies and Linguistics Specific Languages
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-205653ISBN: 978-91-506-2365-9OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-205653DiVA: diva2:642406
Public defence
2013-10-05, Ihresalen, Engelska parken, Humanistiskt centrum, Thunbergsvägen 3L, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2013-09-12 Created: 2013-08-21 Last updated: 2016-04-05

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