Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


writer, as in the last example above. Even when contributions do
not start in this way, the body of the message contains a significant
re-use of salient individual lexical items. The termdemocrat, used
in (1), resurfaced in several succeeding messages from different
participants, until the conversation moved on. Extensive lexical
repetition (in words and phrases) was found to be a major feature
that a useful way of identifying thematic threads (or topic shifts)
in this kind of data will be to trace the use of individual lexical
items and their sense relations (synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms,
From a pragmatic (as opposed to a semantic) point of view, what
is interesting about a quotation is that it performs two roles. First,
it conveys the illusion of adjacency, and thus makes the interaction
more like the real conversational world. Second, it is another way of
acknowledging group membership. In some respects, the explicit
harking back to previous content performs some of the function of
a greeting. Indeed, the strategy is common enough in face-to-face
conversation, where we may hear people beginning a conversation
by quoting something from their previous communicative encoun-
ters. An arrival at Holyhead railway station was met by someone
whose opening remark was ‘Who’s never going to travel on Sun-
days ever again, then?’ – the point being that it was a Sunday, and
the person being met had evidently vowed, in those words, never
to undergo that experience again. Then there was the following
exchange, based on the participants’ shared knowledge:

Colleague [introducing me]: This is David Crystal
New contact: Ah, Language Death.

The reference was to my narrative not causative role in this topic,
I am pleased to say, my book on that subject having recently ap-
peared. In such a circumstance, the quotation acted exactly as a
greeting, and I replied with a perfectly ordinary ‘Pleased to meet

(^23) For sense relations in semantics, see Crystal (1997a: 104ff.). Textual links in an in-
troductory statement were a ‘prototypical’ feature of the corpus studied by Herring
(1996b: 88).

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