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  • 1. Language Variation The Web of Words: Language and TechnologyA brief overview of computer mediatedcommunicationIt is very hard to imagine now, but fewer than 20 years ago most forms of computermediated communication that we now take for granted either did not exist or wereonly available in very specialist situations. Home computers were a developingproduct, but had nothing like the power, sophistication or range of software andhardware that are now available. To give an example, the home computer had to beplugged into a TV screen to be used, and data or programs saved to cassette tape.Since then, however, there has been an incredible growth in the use and ubiquity ofcomputers in all areas of our lives and most of us cannot imagine life withoutcomputer mediated communication. Although the forms and conventions are stillevolving, there are some identifiable features of electronic texts which can make themquite different to other texts.In his useful book, Language and ICT, Tim Shortis identifies the properties ofelectronic texts as follows: • plasticity: opposite of fixity; screen text is not permanent but subject to alteration, remodelling or combination. • links: texts can be combined with every other type of ICT text and image; allows the creation of infinitely malleable systems of information with multimedia animated combinations of visual, auditory, graphical and verbal information. • tagging: texts can be tagged so that particular sequences of information are associated with other types of information e.g. a word in a computer language corpus can be tagged with its part of speech. This is the organisational basis of web pages and allows complex searches of linked information.© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 1 of 7
  • 2. Language Variation • searches: computers can be programmed to match up patterns of code, allowing very rapid searches of complex info e.g. on CD-ROMs or web browsers. Different responses can be triggered e.g. unrecognised word in spellchecker brings up a dialog box. • templates: many IT texts simulate human interaction by using a template simulating the norms of human-human interaction e.g. word processing Wizard. • footprints: many IT texts make electronic ‘footprints’ which can be traced and used later e.g. ISP logs of customer use patterns. • virtuality: IT texts can create a parallel world simulating the real one without being tied to geography e.g. IRC.Either individually or in groups, collect two or three examples of the electronic textand discourse types listed below, which have developed during the last twenty yearsas a result of technological development in computer mediated communication. 1. word-processed letter 2. e-mail communication between known correspondents 3. spam 4. web pages 5. internet chat between friends 6. chatroom dialogue 7. helpline on a computer program 8. a post from a blog 9. online discussion forum 10. one other type of your choice, which differs from the above, eg e-newsletter, live online game playing discussion, etcConsider each of your choices carefully and evaluate its application of the featuresidentified above. How important is that feature to that text or discourse type? Presentyour findings in an appropriate format of your choice.© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 2 of 7
  • 3. Language VariationContextual factors shaping thelanguage useConsider the key contextual factors which influence the use of specific types ofregister and patterns of discourse in the two types of text you could be asked toconsider in the exam. Record your ideas in the table below. Web pages EmailSettingsRemember toconsider the extentcommunication isplace-bound andtime-boundParticipantsRemember toconsider the numberand theirrelationship, andboth interpersonaland masscommunicationActivitiesConsider thepossible socialfunctions of thistype ofcommunicationThe range of variations you identify here should be the basis of your own widerreading and investigation during the course of our work on this topic. Aim to collectexamples of as many different types of email and web page as you can find.© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 3 of 7
  • 4. Language VariationHow the social context and thetechnology shape the language useNow look more closely at the language use in two types of email and two types ofwebpage. Use the collection of texts you created in the first activity, and select pairsof texts to work on which have interesting differences in their contexts. For example,a webpage written to help UK students pass their AS/A2 English Language exams hasa different context to a webpage written to promote the sale of books and DVDs; anemail exchange between you and a cousin who lives overseas has a different contextto a spam email in which someone purporting to be a foreign prince invites you toearn £50,000 just by looking after some of his money for a while. These differenceswill have a big influence on the way that language works. 1. Carefully consider the nature of the context shaping each of these specific examples: the settings, the participants, and the activities. 2. Analyse how specific features of language are shaped by both the social context and the use of the technology. 3. Record both your observations and examples in a copy of the table below. Note that not all frameworks will necessarily apply to each set of data. Text 1 Text 2LexisGrammarSemantics© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 4 of 7
  • 5. Language VariationPragmaticsGraphologyPhonology /features ofspokennessDiscoursepatterns andstructuresWhat conclusions can you draw from this analysis?© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 5 of 7
  • 6. Language VariationRepresentations of computer mediatedcommunicationBelow is a short extract from Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. If you haveaccess to the internet, you can read a longer excerpt, including all of the entry forThursday 5 January, athttp://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm?book_number=326.In this fictional diary entry, Bridget Jones takes part in a flirtatious email exchangewith her boss Daniel Cleaver. Read either the short version below, or the whole entryfor Thursday 5 January, and consider these questions: • What issues does this fictional situation raise about language and technology? • What other issues does it raise about language use in society, such as language and gender, language and power, and language in the workplace? • How realistic is this situation? What evidence can you provide to substantiate your answer?11 a.m. Office. Oh my God. Daniel Cleaver just sent me a message. Was trying towork on CV without Perpetua noticing (in preparation for improving career) whenMessage Pending suddenly flashed up on top of screen. Delighted by, well, anything- as always am if is not work - I quickly pressed RMS Execute and nearly jumped outof my skin when I saw Cleave at the bottom of the message. I instantly thought hehad been able to tap into the computer and see that I was not getting on with mywork. But then I read the message:Message JonesYou appear to have forgotten your skirt. As I think is made perfectly clear in yourcontract of employment, staff are expected to be fully dressed at all times.CleaveHah! Undeniably flirtatious. Thought for a little while whilst pretending to studytedious-beyond-belief manuscript from lunatic. Have never messaged Daniel Cleaverbefore but brilliant thing about messaging system is you can be really quite cheekyand informal, even to your boss. Also can spend ages practising. This is what sent.Message CleaveSir, am appalled by message. Whilst skirt could reasonably be described as a little onthe skimpy side (thrift being ever our watchword in editorial), consider it grossmisrepresentation to describe said skirt as absent, and considering contacting union.JonesWaited in frenzy of excitement for reply.Bridget Jones’s Diary copyright © Helen Fielding / Picador© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 6 of 7
  • 7. Language VariationThe debate about language and theinternetGo to http://assets.cambridge.org/052180/2121/sample/0521802121ws.pdf and readthe chapter from David Crystal’s Language and the Internet. Summarise the keypoints using these questions to guide you: • What anxieties have been expressed in public discourse about language and the internet? • How does Crystal use the history of communication to counter these anxieties? • How has the internet developed? • What is a “netizen” and how do they spend their days? • What are the two key tasks Crystal says must be undertaken in order to gain an understanding of language and the internet? • What is a language variety? • What are the distinguishing features of a language variety? • What is the initial question he identifies for people interested in internet linguistics? • What are the five internet situations he identifies? Summarise the key features of each one. • What is the “learning situation” for users of the internet that Crystal describes? • What problems are caused by this “learning situation”? • What research has been conducted into internet communication? • Ingenuity, idiosyncrasy and intelligibility. What connections does Crystal see between these key concepts of internet communication? • What is Netspeak? List all of the features identified and give examples.Now use this information, and as much other evidence as you can find, to discuss thisquestion:Crystal’s book, Language and the Internet, was published in2001. To what extent would you agree that it is already outof date?© 2005 www.teachit.co.uk 4597.doc Page 7 of 7