Monday, October 10, 2005

another lauren-referential post

so ms. squires was kind enough to share the paper she presented at this past weekend's aoir conference with a few of the early group members, and now i'm going to talk shit about it. in a good way.

-- the introduction to language, gender, and variation was really great. it referenced all the right people and illuminated the lack of variationist research in the field of internet discourse. i wept at its beauty.

-- i keep seeing references to chats and instant messages as near-synchronous mediums, and as they are functionally different from fully-synchronous forms, especially in terms of sequencing and turn taking, i'm calling them quasi-synchronous from here on out. the term is stolen from, i think, garcia and jacobs.

-- so there. i'm calling it QS-CMC.

-- the use of abbreviations and shortcuts within CMC gets its mention here. i've heard two arguments for this, both of which imply a desire for rapid speech. one is the classical conversation-analytic approach to turn-taking, that the turn structure of speech is competitive: given the quasi-synchronous nature of the mediums of chat and IM, the first speaker to submit their text to the application is going to get the floor. the other argument is for attempted synchronicity, essentially providing less lag between statements to appear more like face-to-face speech.

-- so is the purpose of zero-apostrophe to gain this speed? statistically speaking, does it save that much time? and do the speakers perceive it to save time? is zero-apostrophe a feature that's active on the conscious level of the speaker?

-- and are there any opinions or research regarding the two arguments about speaker speed above? i see the CA approach as potentially more relevant, especially considering that traditional non-verbal or extralinguistic forms of speaker selection (eye gaze, pointing, intonation) are absent from the medium, which i think would bring a type-quicker/get-floor kind of mentality.

-- i see zero-apostrophe more as a representation of style, and i'm agreeing with the analysis that use of the feature is more a way to 'do' informality than a matter of synchronous-aspiring speed. i'm also thinking about the comparison between apostrophe to zero and ng to n in speech - it's a cool thought. when the nasal switch happens in CMC, though, it harkens back to an informal speech feature that both parties are absolutlely likely to be aware of, and is therefore reminiscent of any number of popular language ideologies. the zero-apostrophe doesn't function that way, though. and ... now i've forgotten where i was going with all of this. hell.

-- i'd like to know the demographic backgrounds of the guys and gals in this study, how these are functioning alongside gender in this analysis. i think the paper is right in that taking age and ethnicity and the rest into account alongside the gender factor would be a good area for future work.

-- has this variable been looked at in asynchronous CMC? this would a be a nice follow-up maybe.

again, mazel tov to the author for starting the hot new trend of punctuation as variation. anyone with a mind for sending around abstracts or working papers to the list should feel free to do so!

Thanks for the comments Joshua - hell, thanks for actually reading it.

On synchronicity: I had this discussion last week with someone, about the growing quandaries I have about referring to IM as "synchronous," when it's clearly not used that way a lot of times, even if there is potential to do so. But, I think it depends on whether you're viewing these applications (IM, chat) as a smaller part of CMC, where they are synchronous relative to other formats; or as a smaller part of C in general, where yeah, they aren't synchronous relative to F2F or even phone (usually -- good ol' local landline, I'm talking about here).

On gaining speed: I'm willing to bet that not using apostrophes does almost nothing to decrease the speed it takes to compose messages (this is an important thing to start looking at and doing research on - if we're going to talk about strategies people use to get around some medium-induced limitations or qualities of their writing, we need to understand whether those strategies actually work or not, or are even intended to address the problem we think is the problem). What it may do, though, is to create a perception of speeded-up-ness. Though whether or not that's people's desire in CMC is highly debatable - this is Baron's increasing focus, that in fact people aren't using the media synchronously even if they afford synchronicity (or QS, whatever). So I agree about the fact that it's likely more a matter of style than of speed.

And as for consciousness: I'm guessing that what happens in a lot of people's online writing is that decisions to use apostrophes (and other punctuation) or not go through periods of conscious deliberation when people first start navigating the application and the styles of their interlocutors. But eventually this period of fluctuation will settle down into a style; once it does, it's no longer a conscious move (usually).

Another problem that needs to be addressed is the apostrophe-using ability of people in the first place, in offline writing, if this is to be taken further with arguments about style, etc. With this study I basically assumed that American undergrads at a high-caliber university know the conventional uses of apostrophes (and this is sort of suggested by the fact that only for a few subjects is there variation within whether they use them or not; usually it's almost all or almost nothing) in contractions and possessives, in the basic uses. But assuming that something is stylistic, or at least assuming that it begins as conscious, also assumes knowledge of it being "right" or "wrong," and you can't really legitimately claim that without some kind of basis for claiming facility or knowledge - you're only free to make choices about style if you know your options, right?

Wow. Too much writing in two days. Exciting though!
If we expect other people to join in the discussion, we should probably add a link to the article...

- I'm not clear about why IM would not be considered synchronous. Is the bandwidth lag significant enough to warrant the introduction of terms like "quasi-synchronous" or "near-synchronous". Would we consider telephone interaction over old lines to be "quasi-synchronous"? (I'm thinking specifically of the second lag i experience when talking to in-laws in Peru).

- Style and apostrophies v. speed: i agree that speed is not the issue here. same with capitalization. people don't capitalize online in order to be more efficient. i think we're hypothsizing that they do it stylistically, hence making some covert statement of identity and affiliation.

- Thanks for letting me read the paper. I think it serves as a good model for attempting to operationalize traditioanl sociolinguistic variables in an online context. As Joshua said, I especially found the introduction and background sections to be particularly well thought out because they explicitly refer to the relationship we're trying to establish between what has been done and what we see a need to do.


Now some comments about the paper:

1) In your introduction, you refer to the uniqueness of IM in relation to other modes of CMC as pertaining to the fact that IM is "one-to-one". IM can be "one-to-many". Is this distinction important for your results, and if so, how would it change your hypothesis?

2) "Messages are typed and read, physically like writing..." (3).

I think this is a point that needs to be investigated more rigorously. Are we certain that people would read an IM like they would read a play, or a novel? How would people "pronounce" LOL? (would they physically laugh, or would they read "el oh el"?) Would they make a distinction between LMAO and ROTFLMAO in the way they "performed" the speech act?

3) "Textual 'shortcuts' such as abbreviations, acronyms, and omissions of punctuation can be used in CMC to decrease typing and transmission time- thereby eliminating some typical features of writing in order to bolster features of speech, such as synchronicity" (4).

I would argue, that in addition to aligning the modality of IM more with speaking, it leads us to question whether or not writing and speech belong on a continuum. Traditionally, they were seen as two different modalities, but with the import of CMC , speaking and writing may be thought of as two ends of a continuum, with different modalities within CMC (message board, IM, list) positioned in diferent places on the continuum.

I'd also say that these "shortcuts" are used by speakers as a way to define their speech communities.
Hi Lauren et al....
Interesting blog!
My comment on the grammar in IM would be this - there is no grammar in IM! Though i dont have any empirical evidence to support this (other than my own experiences of my own conversation and the people i IM with), IM for me is a totally different written text, with few rules for grammar.
One thing i have noticed is how emails from students have changed. this is partially because of SMS and IM - i get sent emails in 'text' language that are not only short hand, but also come across as rude and far too familiar. when i called a student on it, she was surprised not only at her own actions, but mortified by how annoyed i was at the situation. i dont think they get it.
those are my comments

(note my lack of CAPs and lack of grammar...interesting)
The paper is available here in html and here in pdf. That should work.

Wow, I went away to put the paper online, in response to Josh's suggestion (truthfully, I JUST figured out how easy it is to upload files to the site I run the other blog from) and more comments popped up! Now to read them!
Tracy - thanks for stopping by! I am fascinated by the lack of "respectful" language forms students will use with professors. When people cry out about the "ruin of English" due to CMC, they usually refer to students' abilities to write papers in school, speak coherently, etc. No one talks about the "ruin of English" in the sense of "obliteration of communicative competence when talking to elders either in person or F2F." What I mean is, your students probably know how to "styleshift" between writing a paper and writing an IM - so why don't they know how to "styleshift" between writing an email to their friends and writing an email to their teachers? Is there really no perceived need to do so? Why? Is it because technology has given us such lower-pressure means of communicating than F2F, or is it because the power divide was already lessening? PS - Please send me your paper.

Josh - you bring up some really good points. I am hearting this discussion (though I am looking forward to not talking about my work anymore, someday soon...).

The point about synchronicity is well-taken, and that's why I question whether one wants to consider that it's synchronous because it's potentially synchronous-feeling despite a teeny weeny lag, or whether it's asynchronous because often that's how people use it. I think we have to go by the first criterion when we talk about media, because if we start talking about how users USE them, we'll never have a standard terminology. I was talking to Hillary Bays, another linguist whose project I'll get around to writing about sometime this week, and she has this whole system for determining what's synchronous and what's not, based on the time it takes to send, process, and receive a message for a user - and IM and chat definitely come out as synchronous.

Re one-to-one: Yes, IM can be one-to-many, but it is by and large still used for one-to-one conversations. This of course is anecdotally claimed by me, since to my knowledge we don't have user statistics on this point. It actually IS relevant, I think: for one, as I said, it distinguishes IM from other forms like chat - part of the tendency in CMC research has been to lump all these applications into one thing, "CMC." But IM is SO different from chat is SO different from email is SO different from BBS, etc., that I think it's worth reiterating the differences. Especially since most CMC work has been done on one-to-many forms (ie message boards, MUDs, listservs).

Would it change my hypothesis if I considered it one-to-many, or if I had triadic conversations involved? In a way, yes. If another interlocutor is introduced, it's another person to self-present for, another person whose style you might need to take into consideration. For the purposes of looking at gender differences especially, I like the idea that it's almost a "pure" dyadic relationship. It's not in the AoIR paper, but in my data the men also use less apostrophes when talking to women than when talking to men. IF there's a projection of masculinity there, it's significant that there's only one other person in the channel to pick up that projection.

It seems like one-to-many IM conversations also become more like chat (insert uptalk question mark here)?

I totally agree about investigating how people "read" online texts. Part of this will be looking at how people represent their spoken dialects, or not, in the text. Wouldn't it be fun to sit people down and have them read IM convos out loud? OMG. New dissertation topic. (Yet another one)

Re spkng/wrtng continuum: I agree, and for me at least, this is part of why all this is so damn interesting. In earlier versions of this paper, I actually had created this neat little diagram thing that crossed the continuua of speech/writing and standard/nonstandard. I was trying to conceptualize it so you could actually plot any given feature (like an omitted apostrophe) w/r/t how standard/nonstandard it was and how paradigmatic it was of speech or writing. So using the apostrophe is up at the high intersection of both "standard" and "writing," whereas omitting it is on the "nonstd" line but closer on the continuum to "speech" (bc I was thinking it increased synchronicity). I did away with the matrix thingy bc I realized that you can't compare them when so many typographical features (like apostrophes!) have no spoken analogue, so there's no basis for saying that it's "nonstandard with regard to writing but standard with regard to speech." It's not standard with regard to speech; it doesn't exist in speech, you can't tell whether someone envisions an apostrophe each time they say a contraction. But this was part of the difficult of doing this paper, dealing with standards of speech v. standards of writing, what constitutes both, how can they be related. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts about this - it's the part I struggled most with.
i'm going to go down in the field as that fucker who wouldn't shut up about synchronicity.

i don't think i want to even touch lag here - i used dial-up waaaay too much over the past decade to do that - i'm more concerned with the message construction process and how it differs in traditional online text and offline speech. when speaking face-to-face, we can interrupt and overlap and misfire and offer back-channel cues and we can cough and go 'uh' all while the other person is speaking. it's synchronous in that we can both speak at the exact same moment. the point of labelling IMs as quasi-synchronic is because the medium doesn't allow for this - speaker A must wait until speaker B has typed and inputted text until speaker A can do any of those.

that's not to say that you can't have synchronous text. did anyone else use that chat program 'blackboard' back in the day? as speaker A typed, it showed up on the screen so both speaker A and speaker B could see the message as it was being constructed. speaker B could react to the message as it was being 'spoken' - and that's what i would consider fully synchronous-cmc. with's AIM (slightly) new "your buddy is typing" feature, i think the medium actually took a leap towards synchronic text, but i wouldn't argue that it's there just yet. that little feature's got interesting implications all its own.


i JUST surveyed my undergrads during recitation last week about whether they 'hear' LOL and BRB as actual letters or if they're pronounced as words. i got a really large response for actually hearing "laugh out loud" and "be right back" in their heads while reading - 70 percent or so. the rest read them as "el oh el" just like i do, except for that one kid who read it as [lal]. so there's variation there, for sure. i'd guess it just has to do with the frequency of actually seeing LOL and BRB on the screen.

oh, oh, and this is exciting. a kid from boston had this up as his away message:

"at the baah - call the cell"

i'm SO into how regional dialects get dropped into CMC.
@ Joshua

So i'm starting to see a bit better why IM isn't exactly synchronous. i'll complicate things a bit.

with the little 'so and so is typing' thing, people can interrupt, and sometimes the person 'who is typing' will delete their response if they see that the conversation has moved away from the relevennce of the point they were originally responding to. Also, some people's IM style is much more synchronous than others. Some people type entire thoughts as sentences or groups of sentences before they hit the enter key. these would be more asynchronous. other people type little bits of thought and rapidly hit the enter key after each "fragment". these would seem to be more synchronous. have any of yall ovserved this?
@ netwoman

"i get sent emails in 'text' language that are not only short hand, but also come across as rude and far too familiar."

i think what this points to is that there's an incongruity in expectation about the "tone" of the email. you expect your students to use formal grammar/punctuation/etc. because you percieve those constructions as being more polite. the students may see those as being fake or stiff. i'm sure that they're not intentionally trying to be rude to you, which means that they don't see anything wrong with what they're typing.

this harkens back to the same kinds of judgments that people make about the kinds of regional varieties of english that people speak. people from the north think "southerners sound slow and stupid" while people from the south think that northerners sound "rude and impatient'. people are making judgments about how other people sound in the face to face case, and they are making judgments about the style of writing in the online case.

this is precisely what my current research project is looking at.

yessss. those are the interesting implications i was talking about.

you see the same thing happening even without that feature, where speaker A will delete what they've been typing because of something in speaker B's just-inputted text. because that doesn't make itself conversationally-relevant from an intersubjective standpoint, i've never thought it all that interesting (although, if anyone does, garcia and jacobs wrote a paper in 1999 called 'eyes of the beholder' and a follow-up which is currently in press where they videotape actual speakers involved in the same group chat session to see just how often these responses are erased before they're actually entered into the chat room). when something like this occurs with the new AIM, though, the message will go from "your buddy is typing" to nothing, so the phenomenon does become intersubjective, and it totally affects the sequencing of things.

i have noticed the tendency to submit text as little fragments of text - the conversation-analyst in me adores it. they're constructing multi-unit turns there, and i think they're totally doing it as a method of maintaining and expanding their current turn (though i'm sure it's multi-indexical to a degree). i actually have a bunch of data with just those occurences singled out, and i've got an abstract floating around on my hard drive addressing it too.
@netwoman and josh. but not lauren.

conflicting language ideologies - i love it. it's like we're going to see oakland all over again.

i've actually found the exact opposite happening to me, netwoman. my relationship with my students is very casual and informal, and this is reflected in my own emails to them. a number of my freshman still have trouble with this relationship, and these are the ones that had to work hard not to call me 'professor raclaw' at the beginning of the semester. these same students are the ones who write emails that are many degrees more formal than what i send to them, though i've noticed a general shift away from this as the semester has progressed. i'm sure they have their own ideologies of what i should sound like, as a recitation instructor, and i was kind of surprised to see just how much this carried over into email.
Baron has a book chapter coming out about the "fragmenting" issue: "Discourse Structures in Instant Messaging: the Case of Utterance Breaks," in Herring's forthcoming Computer Mediated Conversation. I can email it to you if you want, but it's not published yet so I think that makes it kind of hush hush due to copyright issues. It makes a ton of sense that I'm writing this on the internets, in that case.

Must. Stop. Writing. On blog. For now.

BTW y'all should turn some of this discussion into a brand new post! It's gone far beyond discussion of my paper and deserves its own space.
hi there,
I'm Pante'a, an MA student in ESL. I'm doing a contrastive work on weblogs and I came through this weblog by searching "sociolinguistics, style of writing".
I'm looking for a contrastive work model, or a resource which helps me in this field. if you could help me in anyway or show my any related website or article please send me an email to ""

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?