Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


of these other mediums do, and must accordingly be seen as a new
species theme, calls it an ‘emerging language centaur – part speech,
part writing’.^30 I would have to adopt an aliens metaphor to cap-
ture my own vision of Netspeak as something genuinely different
in kind−‘speech+writing+electronically mediated properties’.^31
It is more than just a hybrid of speech and writing, or the result
of contact between two long-standing mediums.^32 Electronic texts,
of whatever kind, are simply not the same as other kinds of texts.
According to Marilyn Deegan,^33 they display fluidity, simultaneity
(being available on an indefinite number of machines), and non-
degradability in copying; they transcend the traditional limitations
on textual dissemination; and they have permeable boundaries
(because of the way one text may be integrated within othersor
display links to others). Several of these properties have conse-
speech and writing to make Netspeak a genuine ‘third medium’.

Netspeak maxims

How should we further characterize Netspeak, viewed as a novel
medium combining spoken, written, and electronic properties?
One method is to continue with the comparative approach used
above. Several linguists and philosophers of language have investi-
gated what counts as a ‘normal’ kind of conversation. The philoso-
pher H. P. Grice is one, well known in pragmatics research for his

(^30) Baron (2000: 248), and see below, p. 128. Baron also sees the relationship between speech
and writing as continuum-like, though she makes a different set of distinctions. From
one extreme, which she labels ‘writing (as product)’, she recognizes ‘joint composition>
anonymous dialogue>1–many dialogue (not anonymous)>1–1 dialogue (not anony-
31 mous)’ before arriving at ‘speech (as process)’ (p. 158).
Sociolinguist Celso Alvarez-Caccamo (in Cumming, 1995: 6) also seems to sense a
uniqueness in the nature of computer-mediated communication, when he talks of an
observing alien characterizing it in terms of ‘its fundamental “weirdness”’ – by which he
means the speed, invisibility, distribution, and anonymity of electronic interaction (in
32 which the choice of a particular language is incidental).
33 The view of e-mail as a contact language is argued by Baron (2000: ch. 9).
Deegan (2000).

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