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11/18/2019 Sociolinguistics and Computer-Mediated Communication/Discourse (Blog Post)

With the rise of technology and social media comes the increase in Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and Computer-Mediated Discourse (CMD). As technologies evolve, so do the languages used to engage in CMC. The research in this week’s readings all point to the similar conclusion that internet language does not fall into the pre-existing categories of what makes a language. Thus, sociolinguists set out to find what exactly makes CMC ‘different’ from traditional, non-computer-based forms of communication, and what CMC can teach us about the current expectations of what constitutes language.  

In the first article, “English on the internet and a ‘post‐varieties’ approach to language” by Seargeant and Tagg, they initially establish that “key categories that are used to describe linguistic behaviour … are not scientifically ‘real’ so much as historically determined, and thus their unproblematised use in modern sociolinguistics or applied linguistics can be an impediment to or complicating factor in the development of a nuanced theoretical description of the actuality of people’s everyday language practices” (Seargeant & Tagg, p. 497). They explain that the current thinking of what constitutes language is driven by historical and political motivations, thus preventing a modern approach to understanding how people actually use language as means of communication. By the conclusion of their article, they state “an analysis of the components of its meaning … can yet help illuminate how we understand language use, even in contexts where the actual phenomena appear to be diverging, due to the influence of new technologies and changing forms of social organisation” (p. 512). As societies evolve, so does technology and evidently, the languages used for communication follow. With such constant evolutions, it is only practical that the parameters for categorizing language also be fluid, allowing for better understanding, acceptance, and incorporation of CMC into people’s linguistic repertoires on a more socially accepted level. I think the idea that ‘internet speak’ is lazy or catastrophic to language is inaccurate and does a disservice to those who use it by discouraging change and growth. In this technologically advanced world, people are writing more than ever before because technology offers so many platforms and mediums for ideas to be shared. Internet language, while wildly variant in nature, allows for a level of linguistic experimentation that has never been observed before because of the lack of boundaries and rules, and this experimentation should be embraced as an opportunity to learn more about what is required in an effective mode of communication.  

The next article, “Computer-mediated discourse 2.0” by Herring and Androutsopoulos, explores the inherent makings of CMD. The article is broken down into 6 sections, with each section focusing on a different aspect of CMD research to date.  The first section lays out the historical context of what constitutes CMD and how it is classified. Section two deals with discourse structure, and the large variation in the ‘properness’ of the grammar used in internet language. Section three, meaning, looks into how users’ intentions are accurately conveyed for optimal perceptions through emphasis or CMC-specific tools. The fourth section interaction management, discusses how CMC has many opportunities for miscommunications but users have found ways to circumvent this by developing methods to accurately interpret messages, despite overlaps or pauses in message timing. Section five, social practice, goes into the relationship between CMC and users’ social lives, namely how the accessibility of modern technology leads to changes in what determines social identity and availability for users. The final section covers multimodal CMD, discussing the growth and incorporation of non-text methods into CMC, and how this growth means continued evolution for CMC as a whole. This CMD ‘handbook’ works to dispel ideas of internet language possibly being one homogenous language and promotes the concept of internet language being a mold, built by the user to fit their exact needs for all their different applications and usages. As with spoken and written language, internet language is also not cookie-cutter and cannot be defined in a single definition. Attempts to do so will lead to frustrations and the hindering of further development.  

The last article, “Enregistering internet language” by Squires, attempts to explain that while internet language was derived from existing languages outside of/prior to the emergence of CMC, internet language does not necessarily get governed by the same rules as its ancestors. In fact, research suggests that the rules governing pre-existing languages only rarely occur in internet language, and Squires suggests that this leaves room for researchers to use internet language as a research pool for finding out how aspects of language are determined to have precedence over others. Through careful examination and analysis of internet languages used in various data samples, Squires finds that “this enregisterment process does not completely mirror the processes of enregisterment of regional varieties discussed elsewhere, primarily because the enregisterment of internet language does not proceed from linguistic features that bear a ‘first-order index’ of either a sociodemographic category or pragmatic function” (Squires, 481). Squires also suggests that a lack of research and analysis of internet language has led to misunderstandings about what exactly ‘goes on’ during CMC. There exist many stereotypes about how internet language ‘works’ but it takes avid users and participants of CMC to decipher and accurately use the language.  

As a frequent user of online communication, I can agree that internet language is much more complex than its stereotypes. While it may appear lazy and dismissive to some, there are many levels of CMC that are yet to be explored. Any individual user’s use of internet language is deeply tied into their identity and a simple text message can reveal a lot more than what the surface level may appear to be. I believe much work needs to be done before CMC can be fully understood from an outsider’s perspective. From an insider’s point of view, many of the things discussed in the articles seem to be common sense and do not feel as though they should have been mentioned. However, considering current noted gaps in research on CMC, these ‘common sense’ ideas must be explicitly stated at least once in order to establish grounds for further niche research in CMC. While I think some of the researchers’ findings were redundant, I also value their scholarly inputs, as they set to put internet language on the linguistic map as more than just ‘lazy internet talk’. With the prevalence and domination of technology in the modern world, it is important for internet language to be recognized as an adequate means of communication.