Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of chatgroups 169

be a more accurate description for most of what goes on in a chat-
group situation. And gossip, as in the real world, is of immense
social value.^68
The second reason follows from this. It would seem that, when
the social advantages are so great, people make enormous seman-
tic allowances. Several authors make the point that the presence of
linguistic confusion and incoherence could be inherently attrac-
tive, because the social and personal gains – of participating in
an anonymous, dynamic, transient, experimental, unpredictable
world – are so great. The situation ‘is both dysfunctionally and
advantageously incoherent’, according to Herring.^69 Participating
in the most radical synchronous chatgroups must be like playing
in an enormous, never-ending, crazy game, or attending a perpet-
ual linguistic party, where you bring your language, not a bottle.
The shared linguistic behaviour, precisely because it is so unusual,
fosters a new form of community. The point is made by Davis and

The repetitive, rambling, discursive, recursive features of
electronic conference writing may actually, then, serve the
purpose of creating community among its writers, even though
that community is short-lived.

The type of community has been described as ‘hyperpersonal’
rather than ‘interpersonal’,^71 and there is some merit in this. Com-
munication does seem to transcend the individual exchange, being
more focused on the group, or its textual record.
People interpret the chatgroup experience in many ways. Patricia
plications in social psychological terms.^72 From a linguistic point of
view, I find chatgroup language fascinating, for two reasons. First, it

(^68) Forthesocialfunctionsofgossip,seeGoodmanandBenZe’ev(1994).Foranevolutionary
69 perspective, see Dunbar (1996).
Herring (1999: 2). In her view, it is ‘the availability of a persistent textual record of the
70 conversation [which] renders the interaction cognitively manageable’.
72 Davis and Brewer (1999: 34).^71 See Walther (1996).
Wallace (1999). The fact that romantic attachments can arise out of chatgroup interac-
tions (being followed up by e-mails, Website photos, and so on) is strong evidence of the
social power inherent in the medium.

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