Monday, February 13, 2006

presenting on CMC at berkeley (or: the boy who lived)

keeping alive the tradition of discussing academic conferences as maybe relevant to cyber linguists, i thought i would briefly post about presenting at the annual meeting of the berkelely linguistics society this past weekend.

my paper was on the use of the ellipsis in computer-mediated discourse. a good part of the paper was descriptive in nature, talking about traditional uses that have been adapted by speakers in CMD (e.g. representing silence or hesitation) and some innovative uses that have popped up (e.g. typing dot dot dots in place of periods, commas, semi-colons, lexical conjunctions, etc., and the different grammatical and social [both situational and metaphorical] contexts in which this feature is most likely to appear). a large portion of the paper also addressed the notion of whether CMC should be approached as more closely approximating standards of written text, spoken discourse, or as a mixed modality. rather than picking sides, i argued that this was not so much a constant designation for CMC, but more likely an ideology that speakers approached differently and which shaped their discourse appropriately, and that linguistic style in CMC could be dependent on this ideology. that's how i framed a majority of the variation of ellipsis use among the speakers from my corpus, anyway.

i wasn't sure how this paper would be received at the conference, which doesn't focus on sociolinguistics that strongly in the first place, and which surely hadn't been overrun by CMC studies in the past (though the 2003 meeting had a presentation on online communications in japanese which i'm going to try to get my hands on). i was thrown into the session on discourse and pragmatics, and due to being scheduled concurrently with a major parasession on argument structures, as well as in the later part of the last day of the conference, the audience was a bit sparse. it was also completely filled with graduate students rather than tenured scholars. that put me at ease some, since it was likely that all of them were at least somewhat familiar with talking on the internet.

the presentation was well-received considering what it was and where it was, and i actively engaged with three of the eighteen particpants. there wasn't nearly as much constructive criticism as there might have been at an internet-studies conference, or even one that focused solely on social interactions and more adored the notions of styleshifting and language ideologies, but it felt kind of validating for our subfield of a subfield to present on the language of CMC at a conference on linguistics. even if i did get some completely blank stares during the beginning of my talk.

Yay! Congrats. Too bad there weren't more people there, but at least you didn't get any hecklers. Can you email the paper?
i'd like to see it too please.
i like to think of it as an intimate crowd :). i can send the not-final-draft-but-you-still-get-the-gist-of-my-arguments draft in a minute - i wrote the nice-final-draft on a computer at berkeley, and that's where it sits now.
"whether CMC should be approached as more closely approximating standards of written text, spoken discourse, or as a mixed modality. rather than picking sides, i argued that this was not so much a constant designation for CMC, but more likely an ideology that speakers approached differently and which shaped their discourse appropriately, and that linguistic style in CMC could be dependent on this ideology."

I agree completely, although, coming from a communication/CA perspective, I tend to think of it more as to what modality participants are oriented. But I think we're talking about the same thing.

I would also love to see your paper. I have some interesting/perplexing uses of elipses in my dissertation data that perhaps you can shed some light on.
by modality, are you talking about specific CMC mediums, about synchronicity, or about something else entirely? i always hear that term used in different ways.

no problem. let me know a good email address and i'll send the paper your way.
I'm finding it difficult to define modality without using the term modality! But there are researchers in communication (and some in linguistics and other disciplines) currently interested in "multimodality," which usually involves studying how, for example, language, gesture, gaze, body movement/orientation, prosody, etc., are used as resources in particular communication contexts. So each one of those is a modality that is available for use. In a CMD context, I think we can look at modality both as text vs. spoken modality, but possibly also different channels could be conceived of as modalities? Originally I was thinking of this as people being oriented to conversation vs. formal writing modalities, but the idea just occured to me that IM, chat, SMS, might be modalities too? But maybe conflating channels with modality is not a helpful distinction? It's still a little early in the morning for deep thoughts like these!

Please send the paper to kmarkman at bridgew dot edu. Thanks!
Kris I think you're right - thinking about Kress & van Leeuwen's idea of "multimodal discourse," a mode is something like a semiotic resource that's available for communication - language, gesture, visual imagery, typography whereas a medium is something that facilitates the realization of expression by bringing together production of different modes - so email, IM, air waves, books, TV shows - are media. So i.e., to talk about even spoken language in this way necessitates talking about ALL the modalities activated when one speaks (gesture, gaze - all things Kris mentioned).

I've been asked why I was using the term "multimedia relationships," rather than "multimodal," and I think it's because of this kind of distinction. Though I still don't think it's the best term, and I know that before I've called email, IM, etc. different "modes of communication" - I think they're better considered either media or applications. Though it also depends on whether you're a linguist, a semiotician, a communication theorist, or a cultural studier.
this job that lets me sit online all day is way conducive to actually posting on here.

i'm familiar with mode in the paralinguistics sense from CA, so i'm wondering if, by extension, we'd consider discourse as a different modality than smileys, textual play and laughter, and things of that nature? they can certainly be used to express eye gaze (especially in considering the ordering of turns), body movement and orientation, and they can affect the tone of messages similarly to the ways that prosody can.

and if we do make that distinction, where does punctuation fall? in text-driven discourse, it can display concrete paralinguistic functions.
Semiotics! Thanks Lauren, that was what my morning brain couldn't come up with!

Right, so we have a good grasp of what modalities are in f2f discourse, but with text discourse...

I think Joshua is onto a very interesting line of thought, that smileys, etc., could be an emergent mode in CMD. It brings up all sorts of questions, like relationship to channel, variation among users, communication context, etc., etc. And are these modes in their own right, or do they simply "stand in" for f2f modes? And where does puncutation fit, because it doesn't always have a clear analog in spoken interaction? And as new channels open up and populations shift does this give the conventions enough time to fully emerge and evolve?

We certainly have plenty more topics for research projects!
Joshua, I'd love the paper too, in whatever for you've got. infintivesplit (at) gmail (dot) com. I swear, we need to all bond together and start throwing our own conferences, or take over the already established ones.
aw, rae's back.

i'll shoot an email of the paper your way, and for those of you who have glanced at the paper and said wtf?, i'm including a link to the powerpoint presentation that accompanied it. it has, like, data and stuff.
swweeeeeet. thank you.
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