7 May 2009

Discourse analysis of social networking sites

Today's Guardian Technology outlines Professor Mike Thelwall's research into comments on myspace that show "emotion is key when it comes to understanding each other." While this might not be a huge surprise, it is the first analysis of social networking corpora that I have seen. I hope to see more.

When I started getting into web2.0, I knew I was on to something - as I am sure most efl/e-learning/edtech people are. You can just feel new modes or genres of communication opening up before your eyes.

My most recent/decent blog post began to question the relevancy of the concept of 'communicative competence' in web2.0 mediated communciation that is thick with phatic communication. I hope research on web2.0 communication can shift the emphasis in applied linguistics from instrumental models of communication (see objections to the conduit metaphor of language) towards more sociocultural models. Now I can feel somewhat vindicated.

Among Prof Thelwall's finding are strings of stats showing typographic slang (e.g. omg, lol, rofl), pictograms, interjections (e.g. meh!) and an abundance of non-standard vocab, punctuation and grammar. I assume this 'non-standard English' would be even greater when using English as a lingua franca. (More info on Prof Thelwall university dept here. Research paper available too.)

For me, this points towards the much greater importance of sociocultural meaning over instrumental meaning, the figural over the literal. In addition, the culture(s) defining the genre of communciation are becoming more idiosyncratic; you could say the genres are becoming micro-genres.

Unfortunately, as ever, the hard head of science wants to ruin promising ground for theorising on the nature of language and communication. Prof Thelwall hopes his "research will result in the building of useful tools with emotion detection". Why do these guys always want to monitor and measure us? Great, some device will concordance my blog and tell me how unhappy I am? No thanks.

Sticking to the remit of this blog, let's get back to the implications for language. Could it be that web2.0 is hurrying the death of English and ushering in Globish? Or do we require an entirely new superordinate category of languages: dialect, lanaguage, global web language? Of course that would be presenting the new global English as a new 'English' when it is actually a plethora of 'Englishes'. (That should really be 'englishes' with a small 'e' to avoid any kind of nationalistic tendencies - 'english' isn't a proper noun anymore, more of an adjective.)

These 'microlanguages' really encapsulate all that is cultural about communication. Forums, groups, wikis, followers, are all communities that use their own little curious abbreviations, slang and emoticons. Maybe the real future of English is not as an all conquering, overarching, global language afterall (a la David Crystal), but as simply dissolving into fragmented cliques and mutually unintelligible subcultures, leaving behind the 'native speaker' as a historic relic. I think eventually we will stop adding neologisms to the English dictionary and just say, whatever, from now on, anything goes!

English: a postmodern language for the 21st century? Owned by none, created by all, with no absolute definitions of meaning, no rules of grammar, and no universal pragmatics?

I wonder...

1 comment:

Sputnik said...

Yes, it seems to work now - cheers. What struck me here is how much English always-already had been a postmodern language in the sense of being a de-centred, negotiated language, but only now do we recognise it as such.