Scholarly article on topic 'Typographic Alteration in Formal Computer-mediated Communication'

Typographic Alteration in Formal Computer-mediated Communication Academic research paper on "Law"

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Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Carmen Maíz-Arévalo

Abstract Computer-mediated communication (CMC henceforth) is a typical example of multimodal communication inasmuch as it usually makes use of the textual channel in combination with the visual one –e.g. layout, colour, emoticons, typographic alterations of the textual code, etc. These multimodal elements have traditionally been linked to more informal computer-mediated exchanges and hence studied in genres such as informal emails, chats, social networking sites, etc. The question rises whether more formal exchanges make a similar use of typographic alterations or whether it is indeed limited to informal CMC. In order to answer this question, the present study focuses on analysing these multimodal elements in a corpus of pedagogical e-forums, where the transactional function surpasses the interactional one (Brown and Yule, 1983) and formality seems to be expected.

Academic research paper on topic "Typographic Alteration in Formal Computer-mediated Communication"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 212 (2015) 140 - 145

MULTIMODAL COMMUNICATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY: PROFESSIONAL AND ACADEMIC CHALLENGES. 33rd Conference of the Spanish Association of Applied Linguistics (AESLA), XXXIII AESLA CONFERENCE, 16-18 April 2015, Madrid, Spain

Typographic Alteration in Formal Computer-mediated

Communication

Carmen Maíz-Arévaloa

aUniversity Complutense of Madrid, Faculty of Philology, Madrid 28040, Spain

Abstract

Computer-mediated communication (CMC henceforth) is a typical example of multimodal communication inasmuch as it usually makes use of the textual channel in combination with the visual one -e.g. layout, colour, emoticons, typographic alterations of the textual code, etc. These multimodal elements have traditionally been linked to more informal computer-mediated exchanges and hence studied in genres such as informal emails, chats, social networking sites, etc. The question rises whether more formal exchanges make a similar use of typographic alterations or whether it is indeed limited to informal CMC. In order to answer this question, the present study focuses on analysing these multimodal elements in a corpus of pedagogical e-forums, where the transactional function surpasses the interactional one (Brown and Yule, 1983) and formality seems to be expected.

© 2015 The Authors. Published by ElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of the XXXIII AESLA CONFERENCE

Keywords: computer-mediated communication, multimodality, typographic alteration, pedagogical e-forums, emoticons.

1. Introduction

Computer-mediated communication (CMC henceforth) is a typical example of multimodal communication inasmuch as it usually makes use of the textual channel in combination with the visual one -e.g. layout, colour, typographic alterations of the textual code, etc. Intentional typographic alteration (e.g. emoticons, repetition of letters, capitalization, acronyms, abbreviations, etc.) have been described as oralisation marks aimed at substituting for key elements of face-to-face communication like intonation or kinesics (Yus, 2011). In addition, typographic

Corresponding author: cmaizare@ucm.es

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of the XXXIII AESLA CONFERENCE doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.311

variation can also play a central pragmatic role in the realization of speech acts and politeness -e.g. adding a smiley might help to mark as a joke what might seem a serious comment or minimise imposition in a request.

Quite frequently, these multimodal elements have been linked to more informal computer-mediated exchanges and hence studied in genres such as informal emails, chats, social networking sites, etc. The question rises whether more formal exchanges make a similar use of typographic alterations or whether it is indeed limited to informal CMC. To answer this question, the present study focuses on analysing these multimodal elements in a corpus of pedagogical e-forums, where the transactional function surpasses the interactional one (Brown and Yule, 1983). In such a context, formality seems to be expected for three reasons: participating students vaguely know one another; they are aware of the constant -albeit not conspicuous -presence of the teacher, and they are not expected to simply interact but to carry out a common task which will be formally assessed.

Focusing on intentional typographic variation, the current analysis combines a quantitative and qualitative approach. More specifically, attention will be paid to the frequency of use and pragmatic functions of emoticons, emphatic repetition of letters or punctuation signs and paraverbal cues (e.g. haha). The departing hypothesis is that these items will be scarcely present given the expected formality of the exchanges. Besides, it is also argued that -precisely given their predictable rarity -their use will be pragmatically marked and functionally employed as, for example, face work strategies (e.g. face-saving, face-repairing, rapport boosting, etc.).

2. Methodology

The gathered dataset consists of the interaction between classmates in e-forums targeted to discuss and negotiate their views whilst carrying out two common textual analyses demanded by the lecturer. Students were asked to discuss their different opinions exclusively online. To this purpose, three e-forums were randomly created (with 3 or 4 students each) in the Moodle platform provided by the university for each of the activities. Students were given two weeks to complete the task, having to upload a collaboratively written report at the end of each period. The corpus thus gathered comprises six e-forums, rendering a total of 25,354 words.

The study involved eleven master students taking the elective subject "Seminar of English Linguistics" and whose level of English spanned from B2 to C2 according to the Common European Framework of Reference (2001). All of them were female students from an international background who used English as a Lingua Franca. As for the participants' age, it ranged from their late twenties to their early thirties. It is also important to mention that, in order to prevent the data from being biased, students were not informed a priori that their interaction would be subject to analysis. Once the data was gathered, they were dutifully informed and asked for their written consent, which all of them provided. Finally, and in order to preserve the participants' anonymity, all the names used throughout the paper are pseudonyms.

3. Data analysis

CMC (except when using a web-cam) is mostly disembodied for our interlocutors. In other words, language remains mostly textual and non-verbal elements like intonation, body language, etc. are absent. However, users may employ other means like emoticons, repetition of letters, onomatopoeia, etc. to include paralinguistic information. Interestingly enough, the analysis reveals that some typographic variations are never or scarcely employed in the present corpus. Thus, there are no examples of capitalization (e.g. GREAT) or acronyms (e.g. LOL, BTW), which are pervasive in informal CMC. This could be due to the fact that participants are aware of the relatively formal nature of the forum but also (especially in the case of acronyms and abbreviations) to its asynchronic character, which does not need fast typing as synchronic channels do (Crystal, 2001). For the sake of space, I shall focus on the three most recurrent typographic alterations used in this corpus: emoticons, repetition and onomatopoeia.

3.1. Emoticons

Emoticons have received a great deal of scholarly attention (Crystal 2001; Derks et al. 2004, 2008; Dresner and Herring 2010; Hancock, 2004; Lo, 2008; Maíz-Arévalo and Santamaría, 2013; Walther and D'Addario 2001; among many others). Still, "little is known about the functional range of emoticons" (Vandergriff, 2013: 1). Previous research has pointed out to their functions as boosters of group rapport (Golato and Taleghani-Nikazm, 2006; Walther and D'Addario, 2001), expressions of politeness (Darics, 2010) or markers of illocutionary force (Dresner and Herring, 2010). In this corpus, emoticons are also the typographic variation most frequently employed (270 occurrences). Table 1 shows the different types as well as their frequency of use:

Table 1. Type and frequency of emoticons.

Type of emoticon Ratio

Smiley [©] 27%

Wink [;-)] 14.6%

Laughter [:-D] 41.5%

Tongue out [:-p] 2.2%

Emoji [AA] 12.3%

Thinking emoticon [:A)] 1.2%

Tired emoticon ([=_=)] 1.2%

TOTAL 100%

Emoticons can perform three major functions: boosting rapport among interlocutors, as face-saving strategies and as expression of emotions. In the corpus at hand, and given that the participants did not know one another well enough, a good rapport was indeed advisable to succeed in their collaborative task (cf. Carretero et al., 2014). More specifically, emoticons seem to accompany speech acts targeted to the addressee's positive face (Brown & Levinson, 1987) such as compliments, thanking, agreement, greetings, etc., as illustrated by examples (1) to (3):

(1) Yes, I agree :D

(2) Excellent analysis, Anat1! :-)

(3) Kasia, good job with the colours, I really like it. ;-)

Boosting rapport is usually expressed by means of laughter (1) or smileys (2) but also by winks (3) and emoji2. Quite curiously, emoji -or the Japanese smileys -seem to be restricted to greetings, farewells and expression of thanks, as illustrated by examples (4) and (5). Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine why these participants employ emoji exclusively with these acts, which opens an avenue for further research.

(4) See youAA

(5) thanks a lotAA

As for face-saving strategies, the data reveal that participants employ them whenever they feel the need to safeguard the addressee's face. Thus, participants frequently use emoticons to accompany speech acts like directives (Searle, 1969) so as to mitigate the face-threat, as in (6) or (7):

(6) Please let me know what you think about these issues and then maybe we could go on with the other images.

(7) Again, this is just a suggestion. ;-)

When it is the speaker's face that is threatened, emoticons perform the same mitigating strategy. This is the case of apologies -which are face-threatening not only for the speaker (who admits a prior mistake), but also for the addressee (who may be badly affected by such a mistake), as in (8):

(8) Yes, I haven't included in the first two set of images any of the things we mentioned in Task 3 :-)

Besides apologies, the expression of concern (9) may also be accompanied by an apparently contradictory emoticon:

(9) I'm just a bit worried because the document is 10 pages (though it includes many tables) :-)...

Closer inspection, however, reveals that these participants favour the use of emoticons to save their interlocutor's face rather than their own (62% vs. 38% of the cases, respectively). This might be due to the relative lack of closeness amongst the participants, who might lead them to act more cautiously towards their partners so as to endanger neither the success of the collaborative task at hand nor the possibility of a closer relationship (Wolfson, 1989).

Finally, and unsurprisingly, the use of emoticons to express the speaker's emotion was very scarce albeit not totally absent. In fact, it seemed to be employed at the very end of the forum, once rapport had already been built, as in (10):

(10) This is why my favourite cartoon is Mulan hehe :D

3.2. Repetition of letters and/or punctuation signs

Despite the apparent 'informality' rendered by the use of emoticons, these participants tend to avoid the repetition of letters -e.g. as expressions of emphasis -with rare examples like (11), towards the end of the forum, where a closer relationship has already been developed, allowing for a higher degree of informality:

(11) AH, and it's snowing :D:D It's sooo beautiful:D

However, they repeated punctuation signs like the exclamation mark (!) on 53 occasions (often accompanying greetings, farewells and compliments). Extreme repetitions (five or more exclamation marks, so common in informal CMC) are also avoided or relegated to the final stages of the task, as in (12), where the relationship amongst the participants has become more solid, which allows them for a higher degree of informality.

(12) Hi!!!!!

I have added the bibliography that I used and our names... Have a look!!!

Participants also employ repetition of the question mark (?) whenever they are emphatically asking for the other members' active collaboration and opinion on a possible interpretation they are unsure of, as in (13) and (14):

(13) This is the transitivity analysis, tell me what do you think???

(14) And, How can we make the final version???

3.3. Paralinguistic cues: onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is defined as the formation of words whose sound is imitative of the sound of the noise or action designated. In CMC, some of the most frequently employed ones are laughter -e.g. haha, etc., surprise -e.g. ooooh; sympathy -e.g. aw, etc., among others.

In this corpus, however, the use of onomatopoeia seems rather restricted. Employed on 17 occasions, it can be divided into two categories: laughter (13 occurrences) and exclamation (4 tokens). Laughter -which can appear together with an emoticon- can accompany different speech acts: agreement, joking, commissives, self-centred expressives and apologies, as illustrated by (15) to (19) respectively:

(15) I agree with your final comment haha :D:D

(16) Did he dye his hair? Hahahhha

(17) hahaha ok I'm taking the file Chin uploaded and adding colours and putting Rocío's transitivity.

(18) This is why my favourite cartoon is Mulan hehe :D

(19) Thank you Rocío and yes I meant Snow white hahahaha

Exclamations, however, are much more restricted (only 4 occurrences) but also versatile, since they can accompany representatives, pre-requests, acknowledgement and expressives:

(20) Oh, and there's also another vector in the 1985 image

(21) Oh, I've also included an answer for question 3 (pragmatic failure). Please have a look at it.

(22) Ah, ok. Now I have seen it in the draft.

(23) AH, and it's snowing :D:D It's sooo beautiful:D

4. Conclusions

This paper has focused on intentional typographic variation -e.g. emoticons, repetitions and onomatopoeia -in a forum where formality and transaction prevail over informality and interaction. Results show that variation is less versatile than in informal CMC (e.g. chats) where other types of variation like capitalization, abbreviations, acronyms or imitations of register (e.g. kinda) are pervasive. However, participants often resort to these three types (especially emoticons) much more than initially expected to boost rapport, face save and occasionally express their emotions.

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