Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The medium of Netspeak 35

hey!!!!!!!!!,see what you started??????????????????), and the following
range of emphatic conventions:

all capitals for ‘shouting’: I SAID NO
letter spacing for ‘loud and clear’: W H Y N O T, w h y n o t
word/phrase emphasis by asterisks: the∗real∗answer

(Underbars are also sometimes used for emphasis, as in ‘the real
answer’, but are less widespread, as they have other functions, such
as their use as space-fillers in addresses to ensure that a compound
name is a single electronic string (DavidCrystal).) These features
are indeed capable of a certain expressiveness, but the range of
meanings they signal is small, and restricted to gross notions such
as extra emphasis, surprise, and puzzlement. Less exaggerated nu-
ances are not capable of being handled in this way, and there is no
system in the use of the marks – it seems likely that the number of
question-marks or exclamation-marks reflects only the length of
time the relevant key is held down. There are signs of other char-
acters or character combinations being used in order to express
shades of meaning (e.g.sure/,\so), but in the absence of agreed
conventions it is difficult to know how to read such symbols, or
what the user means by them. As a result, it is no surprise to find
participants in chatgroups falling back on literary expressions in
an attempt to capture the range of effects and emotions involved,
using a graphic convention to distinguish the text from the rest of
the conversation, as in these examples:^16

<Hoppy giggles quietly to himself>
<Jake squeals insistently>
<Henry eyes Jane warily>

In virtual worlds, there are commands which allow people to ex-
press textually the emotion they feel, often with the addition of
synthesized sounds and visual effects. Despite these innovations,
users are aware of the ever-present ambiguity when the prosody

(^16) Angle brackets have several other functions in Netspeak: they identify commands in
HTML, surround e-mail addresses, and indicate speaker responses in e-mail dialogues.

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