Reviewd 04 May 2014 Dalian China: Technology Coordinator @ Dalian American International School.


Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.  THESIS COMPLETE .pdf  / or

THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf~ 2.html/pdf~ 3.html/pdf~  4.html/pdf~ 5.html/pdf~  6.html/pdf~  7.html/pdf~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html~ postscipt.html/pdf~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf~ Bibliography.html/pdf~  911~ thesis-complete.htm/~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  DATA ~ Case Study   1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ These links are from early notes and not the final edits which are in the published version available at the University of South Australia only. Not all links are active due to changing domains. Home page see


17,656 words

Thursday, 5 June 2003 1:30 PM

2. Literature Review.. 1

2.0 Abstract 1

2.1 Introduction. 2

2.2 Technology of conversation. 4

2.2.1 The World Wide Web. 4

Online communities. 5

Gender issues. 5

Discussion Groups. 6

The literature of CMC.. 7

CMC and online talk-texting. 7

Analysing electronic textual data. 9

Online writings on CMC.. 9

Online relationships. 10

Universal language. 10

E-mail 10

Role playing chat sites. 11

2.3 Analysing online conversation. 12

2.3.1 The Reader 12

The Reader as interpreter 12

The assumed or implied reader 13

The background of the reader (‘mosaic of multiple texts’) 14

The role of the reader. 15

2.3.2  Rules of chat. 16

2.3.4       Symbolic activity in chatroom... 16

2.3.5 The language/action approach. 17

2.3.6 Conversational Analysis. 18

2.5            Conclusion. 21


2. Literature Review

2.0 Abstract

In examining the literature of conversational analysis and related techniques for describing language in use, it is my intention to discover what these techniques can tell us of how chatroom ‘talk’ works. In what ways is chatroom ‘talk’ similar to or different from natural conversation? Is it, even within its short history, one or many communicative forms? Are there common, “core” elements, present on all web-based chat sites? Are there specialist elements on specialist sites – and if so, is this limited to lexis, or does it extend to other elements of “texted talk”? Firstly I will explore the research on electronic chatrooms that is available, seeking existing insights into how texted talk works, and whether these can be extended by a fuller deployment of any of the language in use theories I have examined. Secondly I will draw on the current theories of conversational analysis to see whether it is possible, and useful, to establish a theoretical framework and methodological focus for examining how dialogue in electronic talk operates as a system of social meaning making within cyberculture.

I will critique books and articles by researchers in linguistics and social anthropology which pertain to the special features of chatroom discourse, including, in the field of Reading-Response theory: Wolfgang Iser (1978, 1989, 2000), Stanley Fish (1980, 1990), Umberto Eco (1979, 1986, 1995) Mikhail Bakhtin (1981, 1997) and J. Kristeva (1980); Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Charles Ess (1996, 2000), Mark Poster (1988, 1990, 1995) and Michael Stubbs (1996, 1998); Semiotics: Roland Barthes (1970, 1975, 1977, 1981), Ferdinand de Saussure (1916), M. A. K. Halliday (1978, 1994), Robert Nofsinger (1991) and Chandler (1999, 2001); Speech Act Theory: John Austin (1962), John Rogers Searle (1965, 1969) and Deborah Schiffrin (1987); Discourse Analysis: Deborah Tannen (1989, 1998) and N. L. Fairclough (1982, 1989, 1993, 1995) and Conversational Analysis (CA): Paul ten Have (1999), Suzanne Eggins & Diana Slade(1997), Donald Allen and Rebecca Guy (1974), Erving Goffman (1959, 1971, 1974, 1981), G. H. Mead (1934) and Sacks, Jefferson and Schegloff (1974).  Theorists are not strictly always in one ‘camp’.  For example, Eco I discuss both in Case Study 1, where I use Reading-Response theory to analyse the chatroom dialogue, and in Case Study   3, where I use Semiotics in looking at my data.  Here I aim to construct a both a general theory of how the interactivity of chatroom talk-texting relates it to both the “readerly” or the “lisible” elements of dialogism, emergent in mid-twentieth-century reading theory; and an account of how far the socio-linguistic theories of post-Saussurian language studies (including especially “speech act” theory, Halliday’s “Systemic and Functional Linguistics”, and Harvey Sacks’s “Conversation Analysis”) can provide explanations of the communicative strategies observable in  a chatroom’s (quasi) synchronous talk-texting.

In the more specific area of direct or primary research into chatroom discourse, I have located and systematised more than three-hundred articles online on chatroom communication, seventy-one of them discussed in this literature review.  In particular, I wish to re-focus the direction of many of these studies, from the specifics of their research goal – most often to “explain” a particular chatroom “culture” – to the more generalised and methodological goals of this study. For example, though much has been written about forms of person-to-person communication in the areas of cybersex, cyber-communities, and gender online, (Cicognani, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000; Rheingold, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000; Turkle, 1982, 1984, 1995, 1996 and Bays, 2000), very few researchers have applied those conversational analysis  theories which are used to examine real-life social interactions to chatroom conversation itself. While chatroom analysis is a rapidly growing area of academic research and more is available online daily, most studies are directed away from general studies of this type [1] .

2.1 Introduction

This literature review is an overview of the literature found both in print and accessed online. The nature of my research, and the nature of rapidly changing technology have meant that the majority of sources have been found online, and furthermore, that some of these sources are no longer available. I have included copies of all e-journal articles in my appendix for this reason.

To establish means for rigorous analysis, I  "export" my investigation of chatroom talk into the established linguistic methodologies of work on offline analytical linguistics. There is a growing body of print material on hypertext, the Internet and the World-Wide-Web but there has been little work done on analysis of interactive online texted talk, which is as seemingly borderless as other on-line texted realms.  My field literature borrows from previous research into MUDs [2] ,  (Multi User Dimensions) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which I have discussed in the introduction to this thesis (1.3.5 MUDs vs. IRC).

Overall, work in this new area of study postulates two major features of the field:

1. That new ways of thinking about conversation will emerge with the growing widespread use of computers as a form of communication. (Charles Ess, 1996; Michael Stubbs, 1996).

2. That chatrooms involve exchange more hastily done than in any other form of electronic talk-texting, and so therefore more likely to respond to and reflect back the particular pressures and influences of on-line communication (Spender, 1995).

But how might such new forms of communication be captured, or new ways of thinking about communication itself be constructed? E-scholarship itself has provided one possible answer, in what is becoming known as the “re-mediation hypothesis” (Bolter & Grusin, 2000). Working to find ways to describe the evolution of the graphic design and textual navigation pathways of websites as they resolve into convention, Bolter and Grusin draw on earlier hypotheses concerning the establishment of new literary genres. Watt (1957) famously demonstrated that the novel, a comparatively new form of literary production accompanying the rise of extended literacy and a largely unclassically educated leisure readership in the eighteenth century, was built over a base of related textual forms: the essay, the sermon, the drama, the political pamphlet, the scientific report, the romance.  Bolter and Grusin demonstrate how similar forces operate to produce website conventions, from magazine and press layout for the ”self-directed” reader, to the “windows” formats of familiar software applications, to the screen conventions of television: “fenestration”, the “talking head”, image fades and dissolves.

If users of the new web-based chatrooms and related “docu-verse” sites are able to establish meaningful communication within these new realms, some degree of “re-mediated” familiarity must operate. Further, we can anticipate that this will arise only in part from the “production” work of technology designers and programmers. As with work from Watt to Bolter and Grusin, users extend and innovate within the frameworks provided, finding new ways to “use” the product in an active reception. Such a view is a truism of electronic textual theory, Landow for instance suggesting an unparalleled compliance between CMC designers and avant-garde literary theorists in the last four decades of the twentieth century:

But this is to suggest that to “license ”the on-line chat user’s practices into a full developmental role in producing new communicative forms, we will need to examine the highly regulated field of literary theory. Landow indeed shows clear convergence between online practice – at least as directed by technical innovations – and high-cultural literary theories of text production (authorship) and reception (reading). But Landow was, and is, involved in constructing online hypertextual aids to the study of conventional high-culture texts. His work focused on intertetxual and contextual studies into nineteenth century literature


While it may seem curious to deal first with text, in a study which aims to show the relative fluidity of on-line chat as a form of talk, it does seem necessary to consider the degree to which comparatively recent moves to acknowledge the active role of readers as opposed to writers of literary texts have established legitimacy for views of language itself as made meaningful as much in reception as in production. Given the distantiation of online text, as noted in the Introduction above, the “talk” relations of online chat rest more securely on text reception than those of their real-life equivalents. Active interpretation in reception is as central to chat practice as Landow has established it is for contemporary literary theorists.

There are many literary theories; so many that theorist Joseph Natoli has labeled the field a “theory carnival”, (Natoli, 1987, p. 5, 8, 13, 22). Literary theories overall have become more scientific and specialist, according to theorist Terry Eagleton, “… as North American society developed over the 1950s, growing more rigidly scientific and managerial in its modes of thought, a more ambitious form of critical technocracy seemed demanded.” (1983, p. 91). By the 1980s what emerged is what were called “the theory wars” – a period of theory debate which raged across all Western academic fields in the humanities and social sciences, but established only a loose consensus on a paradigm shift to poststructuralist or “postmodern” theories, without establishing a common set of epistemologies or investigative methodologies. Indeed, the position taken up within poststructuralist theory is in itself opposed to any possibility of stable or universal epistemology: see Foucault (1994). Even within specific fields of study, such as linguistics, there is no agreement over study goals or tools.

One aspect of this period of conceptual turmoil centrally relevant to the current study has been the focus on what has been termed “the reader’s liberation movement” (Ian Reid, 1996). Co-terminous with the rise of hypertextual logic and CMC technologies has been a move to replace interpretive focus on “authors” as agents of meaning, with consideration of the “active reader” (see Foucault, 1969 and Landow, 1992). Arising first through literary theory (Norman Holland (1975), Wolfgang Iser (1978), Umberto Eco (1979, 1986, 1995), J. Kristeva (1980), Stanley Fish  (1990), See Case Study 1 and later extending to the concept of the “active audience” in media studies [3] (Ang, 1996; Nightingale, 1996; Tulloch, 2001) this theorises the act of “reception” as richly interpretive, and as firmly central to any communicative act as the “production” of that text in the act of writing or media construction.

This active interpretation has been extended to contemporary understandings of the role of the online “reader”.


"In a hypertext environment a lack of linearity does not destroy narrative. In fact, since readers always, but particularly in this environment, fabricate their own structures, sequences or meanings, they have surprisingly little trouble reading a story or reading for a story"

"As readers we find ourselves forced to fabricate a whole story out of separate parts… It forces us to recognize that the active author-reader fabricates text and meaning from 'another's' text in the same way that each speaker constructs individual sentences and entire discourses from "another's" grammar, vocabulary, and syntax" (1997).


This helps us to position a review of active reception of print based texts alongside subsequent examination of the interactivity of conversation, the two uniting as joint influences on e-texted chat, in unprecedented ways. But before either strand of review can be implemented, it is necessary to examine those studies of web-based communication which have already been undertaken, and to isolate the sorts of theorisation which have dominated web studies to date.

2.2 Technology of conversation

Initially, studies into web communication focused on the innovations introduced by the new technologies themselves (see Blommaert 1991; Crystal, 1991; Featherstone,1996). Case Study two introduces technology into consideration of the on-line texted communicative act. However, a survey by WorldLingo [4] in April 2001 showed that as much as "91% of Fortune 500 and Forbes international 800 companies cannot respond correctly to a foreign language email," showing that Computer-Mediated communication is very much in its infancy, and that even technologies which have been available for some time have not necessarily been assimilated into the everyday repertoire even of professional communications practice. It seems that take-up of CMC technologies has been selective, and that actual practice must be examined to establish the influences of these new technologies on communication. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) has itself evolved to permit the analysis of any number of aspects of the use of computers in communication fields, such as education or language learning, as well as in its own distinctive interactive communicative acts such as e-mail, bulletin boards and chatrooms. Within CMC studies, methods such as Computational Linguistics [5] and Text and Corpus Analysis make archives of texts and use computer programs to read and analyse large pieces of data. To this extent CMC technologies can be shown to have impacted directly on communications use – and even on communications research. But while many claims have been made for the transformative qualities of CMC, there has been far less certainty, consensus, and even in many cases, methodological rigour in the collection or analysis of research data on CMC uses.

2.2.1 The World Wide Web

My initial search of literature spanned the period between July 1998 and November 2000, though I have added to this search somewhat during the remaining years of writing this thesis. The proportions of articles that I have accessed that are available on online interactions are in themselves interesting (see appendix Fifty-six are directly about online interaction.

Of these 62 percent are research articles about relationships online and related issues. Thirty-one percent are about cyber community and MUDs. Three percent are about the development of the online self. Twenty-three percent are about MUDS and only 4 percent are looking at online discourse from a linguistic point of view. So by the year 2000 we had a marked lack of studies in this last area, with a heavy emphasis instead on discussion of interactivity and community establishment – for the most part without any methodological techniques for establishing or illustrating either of these qualities or practices, beyond the assertion that they exist. As the Internet has become more widely used, especially at the academic level, the number of available researched articles continues to grow. In the current studies on the World Wide Web, I have found research done on online-communities, gender issues,  discussion groups and cyber sex.

Online communities

Many academics have explored the online communicational milieu, including Anna Cicognani [6] , who built her Ph.D. around the design of text-based virtual worlds (1998b) and Dr. Sherry Turkle [7] (1995) who looks at computer "talk" from a clinical psychologist's perspective. The field literature is growing, with several people a month e-mailing me to inform me that they are doing post-graduate study into computer-mediated communication. I have networked with these people and have included a report on this in this study. There are several unpublished theses and papers that explore on-line environments such as MUDs and MOOs as well as many discussion groups, but once again these discussion groups look at the topic mainly from a sociological or psychological perspective. Cicognani develops an analysis of the architecture of MUDs (1998).  Other writers who are working in an academic milieu are Bechar-Israeli (1999), Camballo (1998) [8] , Cicognani (1996, 97, 98, 99), Cyberrdewd (1998) [9] , Hamman (1996, 97, 98, 99) [10] , Turkle (1996, 97, 98, 99), Paul ten Have (1999) [11] and Murphy & Collins (1999) [12] . There is a growing body of on-line journals (e-zines) which contribute to cyberculture and I have reviewed these further down in this literature review (

Howard Rheingold (1985, 1991, 1994), according to his homepage is the acknowledged authority on virtual community. In his book, The Virtual Community, he tours the "virtual community" of online networking and questions whether a distinction between "virtual" communities and "real-life" communities is entirely valid. The Virtual Community argues that real relationships happen and real communities develop when people communicate upon virtual common ground. He describes a community that is as real as any physical community. Rheingold gives examples of virtual communities where people talk, argue, seek information, organize politically and fall in love. At the same time he tells moving stories about people who have received online emotional support during devastating illnesses, yet  acknowledges a darker side to people's behavior in cyberspace. Rheingold goes as far as to argue that people relate to each other online much the same as they do in physical communities. It is this relating to each other that I explore in my case studies as I attempt to determine how meaning is exchanged between chatters.

P. Anders in his online article, MUDS: Cyberspace Communities (1999), explores many forms of MUDs, such as ‘AberMUDs, MOOs (Multi-user Object Oriented), MUSHes (Mult-User Shared Hallucination), MUSEs (Multi-User Shared Environment) and MUCK (Multi-User Collective Kingdom). Like Rheingold, Anders found parallels between real-life and MUDs and concluded that people behave similarly to how they do offline. This is in contrast with other writers on the topic of MUDs who say that people behave differently in MUDs from how  they would in person-to-person real-life situations (Turkle, 1996, pp. 50-57).

A first look at this collection of room names suggests two broad classes

of categorisation: first a local/national/cultural/ethnic class, and

second one oriented to topics, with a large dose of sexual ones. For the

first class, different kinds of indicators are available, such as naming

as in Australia_Sydney_Chat_Room, and the use of a local language as in

hayatherseyeragmensürüyor, or in combination: german_deutsch_rollenspiele. (Paul ten Have, 2000)


Gender issues 

Identity concealment on-line confuses issues such as gender, age, social background and race. (see, Turkle, 1995, 1996; Mantovani, 1996a; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Spears & Lea, 1992).These articles make the assumption however  that male and females are definable in cyberspace, again, through language use, itself now largely considered to be gender marked and distinguishable (see for instance the collection of articles by Coates, 1998). Gender is not always discernable in person-to-person offline interactions. Online, it becomes impossible to tell whether a person is male or female, even if the person claims to be one or the other. For example, Cherny in Gender Differences in Text-Based Virtual Reality (1994) speculates that ‘women's use of physically aggressive emotes with male characters is an example of women adapting to the different discourse style in male-dominated groups (cf. Goodwin 1990)’. Women on the whole seem to prefer using less violent imagery than men’ is a wide sweeping speculation and cannot be verified online. Every article below follows this line of reasoning, suggesting  that it is the male or the male-persona in a chatroom or MUD that actualises violence.  Not scholarship: just conjecture. You must redo this section, perhaps outlining the recent work on language as gender perfomance – see Coates and Butler – and then suggesting that since online identity is especially fluid, gender performativity there is especially interesting and it may be acting as a space for social experimentation. This would help your claims for chat as an important space for research into identity work through language, and for a space indicating early signs of social change. As for disclaiming gender as a focus, I suggest that you go only as far as stating that it is not a primary focus, but since it is so central to social identity, it will recur and be picked up from time to time in your analysis.  Examples of research on gender issues that I have saved (see include:

M C Morgan’s “A First Look at Conversational Maintenance by Men and Women in Computer Discussions: The Maintenance and the Meaning. This study was done in a classroom setting and the gender was known. However, people may behave differently when they know they are being observed. The researcher uses Pamela Fishman’s argument that the “responsibility for maintaining oral conversation between men and women falls disproportionately to the women. (1978; 1980)”. Daphne Desser’s “Gender Morphing in Cyberspace” is another well researched paper with a lot of data. However, like the others Desser does not address whether the person is clearly who they say they are and concludes that “It is clear to me that the ability to mask one's off-line gendered identity and to ‘morph’ among various gender instructions does not necessarily empower women or create safer spaces for them. Rather, these on-line experiments present a bewildering array of possibilities to learn more about how the power of sexism, racism, and homophobia persist despite even our most conscious attempts to eradicate them.”  

Lara Whelan has experimented with giving her students gendered names such as Duck, Drake, Hen, Rooster, Doe, Buck to try and discover whether the male or female students chose which animal for their username. In “Using On-Line Environments to Explore Connections Between Gender and Language. Whelan did not come up with a definitive answer, and found that there was a problem with students firstly not wanting to say which they chose, and secondly with some of the animals not being known by the students as female or male animals, i.e. some of the students did not know what a drake was so they did not know whether they were behaving as a female or male.

Discussion Groups  

Another source of useful information was the online discussion groups which can be found in great numbers on the Internet, many of which I joined. I have been an active participant in one of these, called ‘the Languse Internet Discussion List’ [13] . This discussion list is described as being

‘dedicated to issues relevant to the study and analysis of discourse, conversation, talk-in-interaction, and social action in general. As of April, 2002, over 1,700 people, worldwide, have subscribed to Languse.’

While working on Case Study 6 in which I drew upon the theory of Conversational Analysis I posed the question to this discussion group, In chatrooms would a person signing in and lurking be considered a TCU? (Turn-Constructional-Unit, the name for the units out of which turns are constructed.) As lurking is an important feature of chatroom ‘talk’ I have used a selection of responses from others who are actively doing work in this area of conversational analysis (Paul ten Have [14] , Valentina Noblia [15] ,  Rhyll Vallis [16] , Hillary Bays [17] , Sean Rintel [18] and Gene Lerner [19] ) I have discussed these responses in Case Study 6 where the theory of Conversational Analysis contributes to the development of my ODAM theory. For example in this discussion group, I was involved in an interesting and informative discussion on the question of  lurking (See appendix at or on CD, lurking.htm for the complete transcripts) showing  intertextuality in a chatroom.

‘…I think the expression 'notable absence' fits very well here. That's from the early papers on adjacency pairs, prob. Schegloff & Sacks, 1973, or Schegloff 1968…’ (ten Have)


‘…when I was doing my thesis on chat rooms I wondered about the same thing and in the end I decided to go with treating 'lurking' as members oriented to it. That is, the members in the chat rooms I studied seemed to treat 'lurking' as 'presence' rather than a 'turn' in conversation…’  (rhyll vallis)

‘…a lurker prefers to remain "silent" at least in the public arena, because we don't know really if he or she is pursuing a private conversation on a different level…’  (Hillary Bays)

‘…Whether 'turn-taking' 'exists' in chatrooms is a difficult question. I agree with Rhyll Vallis's answer (glib generalization: 'it depends on how members orient to it') and Hillary Bay's answer (glib generalization: 'the system's technical structure makes turn-taking very different from FTF interaction turn-taking, so it needs to be evaluated on its own merits'), but think that a more interesting question is what work (for academics, for users, for designers) would proving that it 'does' or 'does not' exist (and  'is' or 'is not' similar to FTF turn-taking) do? What do we gain from the  answer (explanatory power, political power, etc) Afterall, almost ALL of the interaction is visual and cannot be spoken, contrary to the definition given by SSJ and by Paul ten Have, more recently, have expressed…’ (Sean Rintel)

There was little agreement on whether lurking in a chatroom is a form of ‘speech’, and Rintel’s response in particular alerts us to the ongoing difficulties of linguistic analysis in chat spaces, where so much of contemporary linguistic analysis encounters just such problematic differences. Any analytical study of online communications, such as that proposed here, must return to examine CMC practices with all their specific qualities, before attempting to apply research techniques transferred from the otherwise rich resources of sociolinguistic – or any other – study.  

The literature of CMC

There is an ever growing mass of literature (Rheingold, 1985, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000; Stubbs, 1996, 1998; Herring, 1994, 2002; S. Jones, 1995,1997; Donath, 1998, 1999; Schiano, 1997) which addresses CMC techniques and compares them to other modes of communication.

The first issue addressed in contemporary CMC studies is the insistence that CMC is not in itself an isolated “driver” of communicative innovation. Most theorists are opposed to technological determinism, and consider rather that CMCs are in themselves driven by precisely the same processes which structure those e communicative acts, which they subsequently enable. Charles Ess (1996), in ‘Philosophical Perspectives on Computer-Mediated Communication’ may talk about how ‘Rhetorical Theories derive their basic orientation from the modes and technologies of communication that prevail in a given society, and new technologies and communication practices propel the evolution of new forms of consciousness and culture’ (Ess, p.237), but other theorists (see especially Landow, 1992) see only a simultaneity in the rise of new technologies and new cultural theories, while UK technology historian Brian Winston (1998) reminds us of the length of time new technologies – among which CMC technologies are prime examples – take to achieve cultural centrality. Without some “supervening social necessity” Winston suggests, many technological innovations remain inert. And when a technology achieves the centrality witnessed in recent CMC uptake, it must also demonstrate cultural sympathy to dominant conceptual paradigms – of the type uncovered by Landow. Whilst discussing Nelson, Derrida, Barthes and van Dam, Landow (1992) states:

"All four, like many others who write on hypertext and literary theory, argue that we must abandon conceptual systems founded upon ideas of centre, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them by ones of multi linearity, nodes, and networks." (1992: 63)


When technical writers and cultural or textual theoreticians speak in the same times in the same time frame, it is easier than usual, Landow suggests, to detect a dominant cultural paradigm in play. It is possible then to concede that online chat, one among many forms enabled by CMC technologies, may reveal equally dominant cultural formations within its otherwise distinctive meaning-making processing. But, as Landow recognises, meaning-making within the interactive paradigm enabled by CMC may permit and even participate in concepts of cultural dominance, but it does so from within a Gramscian view of ”hegemonic” or contestational cultural formation. Castells (1997) points out that central to CMCs is a strong shift away from “institutionalising” identity formation which he terms “legitimation”, and even beyond “resistance” identity, towards the “project” self of late consumer-led capitalist production, in which constantly shifting and multiple meaningful identity formations are made and remade daily, within variable and mobile locations. Within this intensified variability, CMCs themselves act as agents of intensification, providing not only so many more cultural “spaces” for meaning-making transactions, but marking those spaces with increased consciousness of the ‘virtual” or experimental basis of the activity. To this extent CMC technologies can be said to ‘legitimise” interpretive work: text production and reception – as a newly dominant cultural activity. And if so, then it becomes more urgent to consider the exchange relations in play within that activity: exchanges conducted in virtual space, with diminished social markers available to participants, and a commensurably enhanced focus on language use.

CMC and online talk-texting.

There are several prominent journals on CMC online, including the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication [20] from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, and from the School of Business Administration at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and The Electronic Journal of Communication based at the University at Albany, New York (Terrell Neuage, online editor). The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication however has only one article on text-based chatrooms, focusing mostly on topics not relative to text-based chat, such as Computer-Mediated Markets (5,3), Electronic Commerce and the Web (5,2), Searching for Cyberspace (5,1), Persistent Conversation (4,4),,CMC and Higher Education, 2 (4,3), Online Journalism  (4,1), Virtual Environments, Part 2  (3, 3), Designing Presence in Virtual Environments  (3, 2), Studying the Net  (3, 1), Electronic Commerce  (1, 3), Play and Performance in CMC  (1, 2), and Collaborative Universities  (1, 1). An article by Judith Donath, Karrie Karahalios and Fernanda Viégas at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is of interest to my work in chat. They have constructed a way to carry on chat online by having;

‘each person who is connected to the chat's server appear as a circle. When the user posts a message, their circle grows and accommodates the text inside it. Postings are displayed for a few seconds (the exact time varies depending on the length of each posting) after which they gradually fade into the background. This approach mimics real life conversations where at any given time the focus is on the words said by the person who spoke last. Over time, those words dissipate and  the conversation evolves. The sequence of growing and shrinking circles creates a pulsating rhythm on the screen that reflects the turn taking of regular conversations. By building visual interfaces to on-line conversations and their archives, our goal is to increase the ability of this medium - computer-mediated discussion - to carry subtler and more nuanced messages, both by giving people a richer environment in which to interact and by providing them with greater insight into the underlying social patterns of their virtual community.’ [21]

“The point of view is that of the red circle (shown saying "Hello I'm Kate"). As she moves from one location to another, different conversations are brought into focus.” From (05 July 2000)

I have not however found any chat site with this model of presentation, and the two models which are thriving in Internet communities, text-based chat and 3-D chat sites, continue with the limitations on “subtler and more nuanced messages” – suggesting, as I consider throughout this study, that there are in fact expressive and interpretive systems in play which can be picked up with careful analysis, and shown to satisfy existing users.

One of the world's first peer reviewed electronic journals, The Electronic Journal of Communication [22] is a part of the large online site, ‘Communication Institute of Online Scholarship’ with articles and links to many studies being carried on in the area of electronic communication. Several of the journals that have been useful in this thesis include: ‘Computer Mediated Communication’, Volume 3 (2) April 1993 (edited by Tom Benson); ‘Computer-mediated Discourse Analysis’, Volume 6 (3) 1996 (edited by Susan Herring); ‘The Future of the Internet’, Volume 8 (2) 1998 (edited by Peter White); ‘Community Networking: Mapping the Electronic Commons’, Volume 11 (2) 2001 (edited by Joseph Schmitz); and two issues of The Electronic Journal of Communication with the article, “A Digital Divide? Facts and Explanations” to be online early 2003: (edited by Jan van Dijk) and “Liberation in cyberspace…or computer-mediated colonization?” (Charles Ess and Fay Sudweeks). Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine [23] ran issues from May 1994 to January 1999, reporting about people, events, technology, public policy, culture, practices, study, and applications related to human communication and interaction in online environments. The only issue that is particularly useful for this study is Organizer Participation in an Computer Mediated Conference Volume 5, Number 6 / June 1, 1998, in which the author hypothesizes that there is a relationship between the number of messages posted to an online conference by the organizers of such a conference and the number of posts made by the participants. Organizers must continue to actively participate in their conference in order to insure that participants will also actively participate. I have found this to be true in moderated chatrooms (see Case Study 6) where the moderator, like the organizer in an online conference, needs to keep the ‘talk’ going by contributing, and answering each turn taking. The insight confirms the interactivity central to CMC and especially to chat, returning the active user to the core of the equation. The “computing” part of the CMC formula is useful for the analysis of CMC usage as the researcher is active during the collection phase of data by being in the research. Computing can be used to assist in the minute and detailed examination of the reams of chat  exchanges produced daily on an ever expanding list of sites by collecting a sorting the data instantly.

Analysing electronic textual data

Computational linguistics involves the use of computing and its powerful capacity for measurement and detection of recurrent patterns, in the analysis of complex networks of language construction. In Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing, Manning and Schütze, (1999) give an overview of one form of computer analysis of language: natural language processing (NLP). Their work presents all the theory and algorithms needed for building NLP tools. While such models may seem ideal for handling the vast numbers of talk-transactions within daily chat use, research into text-based conversational analysis is not yet encompassed in NLP.  At one level, I share Manning and Schutze’s concern with analysis of real language: language in use. Analysing patterns of words and grammar in chatrooms, Instant Messenger, and within discussion group environments will present challenges not faced in other forms of textual analysis. Linguistic researcher Michael Stubbs begins his book, ‘Text and Corpus Analysis’ (1996), with a question: "How can an analysis of the patterns of words and grammar in a text contribute to an understanding of the meaning of the text?" (p.3) Stubbs continues with an explanation of text, which will be the working definition of text I will use in my own research:

By text, I mean an instance of language in use, either spoken or written: a piece of language behaviour which has occurred naturally, without the intervention of the linguist. This excludes examples of language which have been invented by a linguist merely to illustrate a point in a linguistic theory. Examples of real instances of language in use might include: a conversation, a lecture, a sermon, an advert, a recipe..." (Stubbs, p.4)


Chatroom talk, despite its apparent artificiality in that it is constructed through CMC and represented in script, is such a form of “natural” language in use. And, since it is already transported by the complex algorithms of CMC, why not re-apply them to help explain its techniques? The problem with NLP is in its focus on “processing”, or the reconstruction of individual pathways of meaning-making. Without tracking individuals it is impossible to know how an individual is dealing with language – and chatrooms move too fast and are too enmeshed in cultures of anonymity and even active identity concealment and experimentation, to conduct ethnographic follow-up on meaning processing.  Such work is useful for people doing research into text-based chatrooms in areas such as education, where students can be accessed in person to find out how they process what is on the screen. But for online chat analysis, at least at this period of its history, study cannot depart from what is available on the screen. Further, with chat texting (and its mobile telephony variant SMS texting) having so rapidly and so recently developed an entirely new repertoire of linguistic abbreviations and codes, online chat must be described and codified, before it could be accessible to NLF structuring codes of analysis. In its current developmental phase, such work seems especially problematic – yet another illustration of the degree to which online chat seems to be producing qualities which defy easy application of existing communication theories or means of analysis. Are we then able to conceive of the current CMC literature as beginning the groundwork for establishing the specifics of CMC practice, and use at least the dominant threads of CMC scholarship to date, to focus the central dilemmas for analysis of online chat?

Online writings on CMC

There are already many articles on CMC and in recent years the literature online has been rapidly growing [24] . Search engines on the Internet result in the discovery of any number of articles one wants to review, many of them grounded in actual practice, and keen to extrapolate to overviews of how online communication “is”.  

That said, it is also important to realize that not every form of on-line talk provides equal access to productive techniques of analysis. For instance, Edward A. Mabry in Framing Flames: The structure of argumentative messages on the net [21] ‘hypothesizes that “framing strategies are related to the emotional tenor of a disputant's message, and that a speaker's emotional involvement with an issue should be curvilinearly related to the appropriation of framing as an argumentative discourse strategy.’  Mabry carried out an analysis of 3000 messages, obtained from a diverse sampling of computer-mediated discussion groups and forums.  He wanted to find a correlation between on-line argument and off-line person-to-person argument. The obvious conclusion was that without physical cues arguments online cannot be fully determined as effective. This work may seem immediately relevant to tracking meaning-making in chatroom talk – yet Mabry’s work was on online discussion groups, where long postings are common, and where topics are very clearly focused.  I found I could not translate his findings into a text-based chatroom as the feature of fleeting-text (see Case Study 5) and the constantly appearing and disappearing authorships (chatters coming and going and lurking – see Case Study 6) make it impossible to track  arguments. While argument clearly exists in online chat, the format restricts its full development.

In text-based chatrooms not only are the two categories of initiating messages and continuing messages present at all time but because of the nature of threads (see Case Study 4) the multilogue of chatters and the presence of lurkers (see Case Study 6) and the never ending chat (chatrooms can be going for years with no stoppage) it is difficult to determine the path of messages, especially whether they have “dead ends”. Mabry’s arguments do not hold up when one considers that the Internet never sleeps and neither do mailing lists; making it difficult to say that there is a beginning or an end to any online communication. Simple conceptual structures will not transfer from CMC application to application, and are eroded by the very conditions of CMC technologies themselves: their boundarilessness and incessant interactivity. 

Online relationships

Computer-Mediated Communication and Emotion: Developing Personal Relationships Via CMC [25] an online essay by Brittney G. Chenault, begins with the often-cited Michael Strangelove quote:; ‘The Internet is a community of chronic communicators’. There is no discussion or argument or data collection in this writing, however Chenault’s essay is a useful summary of what many others have written about online relationships (Turkle, Rheingold, etc.). Chenault undertakes no text analysis, and generalizes from generalization, rather than attempting to uncover how “personal relationships” are constructed – or imagined – through online talk-exchange. So why is this article here? What does it add to your argument???

Universal language

In the Volume 12 Number 2, 2002, issue of ‘The Electronic Journal of Communication’ several papers were published from those presented at the second biennial conference on Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication co-chaired by Fay Sudweeks and Charles Ess, and held in Perth, Australia, 13-16 July 2000.  The journal issue entitled,Liberation in Cyberspace … or Computer-mediated Colonization?’ raises the question whether CMC can be effective on a world-scale as there are severe cultural differences that make communication via computers on the Internet and the Web difficult to maintain and understand. [26] Though there is much written on CMC the effect between cultures has had little attention paid to it. I address how different languages are  to be auto-translated so as to be readable in any language in the discussion of this study (see. 5.2.3, ‘Will chatrooms as part of an online discourse become a universally understood language?’). But problems remain in relation to cultural contextualisation of communication systems and exchanges – a further indication of how far simple or reductive commentary on Net communication in its early phases, may prove inadequate as increasing numbers and increasingly diverse communicative “communities” come online. Analytical work of the detailed kind urged in my own study: linguistically rigorous, yet attentive to social and cultural contexts, must attend to inter-cultural and cross – cultural communications, rather than postulate “universalist” explanations of online practices.


Next to e-mail communication [27] , chatrooms are of primary CMC importance, in terms of both use rates and the complexities of communicative exchange – and yet even email services are only in their infancy, in terms of our understandings of what is actually achieved in this form of online communication. Kirk McElhearn’s Writing Conversation: An Analysis of Speech Events in E-mail Mailing Lists (2000) [28] expands on Gruber’s (1996) four possible types of message posted to a mailing list. Gruber outlined strategies such as; initiating messages which successfully stimulate a new discussion; initiating messages which fail to stimulate further discussion: continuing messages which cause further discussion and continuing messages which are "dead ends." This set of categories can be used to define chat-types as well (see 5.1.1 Features of chatrooms) – but even in the early phases of chat, is it a sufficient analytical categorization? As chat matures and especially as different social and cultural groups – real life or online developed – begin to assert identity, will these categories continue to be meaningful, or to convey all we need to understand of how chat works?

According to ‘Consumer Technographics Brief Online’, Chat has three times the users it had in 1999 [29] . With the use of the Internet, distance and time differences seem to play a more important role within chat practices – features unimportant for asynchronous  e-mail. An e-mail message can be read at a later time, however, for chatrooms people need to be physically present, although usually at different locations – and the complex interaction of these complex modes of “absent presence” is still not clearly described on analysed in communications terms.   

My research shows that in CMC literature the least discussed is the ‘real-time communication and this study undertakes to bring this form of CMC to the forefront.

Trevor Barr breaks down the different kinds of interaction on the Internet into six categories:

·        one-to-one asynchronous remote messaging (such as email);

·        one-to-many asynchronous remote messaging (such as 'listservs’);

·        distributed asynchronous remote message databases (such as USENET news groups);

·        real-time synchronous remote communication (such as 'Internet Relay Chat');

·        real-time synchronous remote computer utilisation (such as 'telnet'); and

·        remote information retrieval (such as 'ftp', 'gopher' and the World Wide Web') (Barr, 2000)

As more services evolve within each category, the need for descriptive and analytical techniques to capture and understand differences both between categories, and within categories as used by different populations, increases in urgency.

Role playing chat sites

“Your words are your deeds, your words are your body.” Turkle (95)

"Multiple-User Dimensions", also known as "Multi-user Dungeons" (MUDs) are  role-playing chatsites which have played a large part in the development of what has become the popular current text based chatrooms. There has also been more research on this area than any other area of the Internet, beginning a wave of research and discussion on Internet interaction at the end of the 1990s. MUDs are more behaviourally oriented than most chatrooms, and so have been studied extensively by sociological and psychological researchers, because they have more to do with gender, sex and role playing than simple text-based chatrooms.  Chatroom users may not even respond to someone else or indeed  be involved in any discussion (see Case Study 6 on lurking), however MUDers tend to display high levels of commitment and focus on their site activities . Most MUDs are text based, i.e. all activities online in this environment are based on keyboard commands. As technology advances more MUDs as well as chat rooms will have a more multimedia presence; people will add sound, graphics and animation to their interactions, but in the meantime such sites have much to offer researchers seeking to understand the innovations and practices arising within texted interactive communication. .

Online there are several academics and researchers who have written on MUDS [30] . Frank Schaap’s thesis for the of Master of Arts Social Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, March 2000, titled, "The Words That Took Us There: Not An Ethnography" is actually an ethnography, based on research in MUDs.  Schaap examines MUDs  and  gender roles, whether  real or imagined by  the players, and like many other researchers, e.g. Turkle, discusses the effects of words on identity creation, even  though there is no way to know who the ‘speakers’ are.

In chatrooms conversations are informal and often experimental with participants experimenting with various personae as virtual conversations can have little to no real life significance… (Turkle, 1995) 

 The popularity of MUDs and other role playing areas can be seen by going to some of the larger sites which list many MUDs available on the Internet, such as,, which provides a frequently updated list of text-based MUDs. On this site over 1400 MUDs were described and listed (as of 16 February 2001).  On 3000+ MUDs are described and listed (as of 16 February 2001). One of the many sites on offer, is Achaea, [31] which has many towns and cities through which people move using text. of the early writers on MUDs is Sociology professor Sherry Turkle who studied the way people interact in MUDs. There is a growing list of academics who have published books [32] which refer to MUDs to date with Sherry Turkle being the most often cited academic on MUDs. Sherry Turkle’s book, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit Life on the Screen is  not about computers, but about people and how computers are causing us to re-evaluate our identities in the age of the Internet. Therefore, though it is a useful book to examine the sociological aspects of online communication,  the chatroom ‘talk’ in which this identity work is conducted is not in itself a prime focus for study.  Turkle says of MUDs;

‘We are using life on the screen to engage in new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, politics, sex, and the self. When I began exploring the world of MUDs in 1992, the Internet was open to a limited group, chiefly academics and researchers in affiliated commercial enterprises. The MUDers were mostly middle-class college students. They chiefly spoke of using MUDs as places to play and escape, though some used MUDs to address personal difficulties. By late 1993, network access could easily be purchased commercially, and the number and diversity of people on the Internet had expanded dramatically. Conversations with MUDers began to touch on new themes. To some young people, "RL" (real life) was a place of economic insecurity where they had trouble finding meaningful work and holding on to middle-class status. Socially speaking, there was nowhere to go but down in RL, whereas MUDs offered a kind of virtual social mobility. [33]  

Her interpretations are psychological as well as sociological. Sherry Turkle’s book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, postulates that, ‘the personal computer is an "object-to-think-with" for understanding the changes computers are inducing in our minds.‘  And in Seeing Through Computers, Education in a Culture of Simulation, Turkle writes,

“RL is just one more window, and it's usually not my best one." These are the words of a college student who considers the worlds he inhabits through his computer as real as RL--real life. He's talking about the time he spends "being" four different characters in three different MUDs--multi-user domains--as well as the time he spends doing his homework on the computer. As he sees it, he splits his mind and "turns on one part" and then another as he cycles from window to window on his screen. The computer and the Internet allow him to explore different aspects of himself. As another user puts it, "You are who you pretend to be."

Such commentary, even when ethnographic, takes user understandings of and comments on their online activities at face value. If a user suggests that “You are who you pretend to be”, then it is so. But research at this level risks a form of universalisation or essentialising, which runs counter to the very diversities and self-directedness which CMC enables. If, as Turkle and her research subjects assert, CMC has opened a new realm for social play and psychological development of self/selves, then the innovations produced will in and of themselves be introducing new and unpredictable – even indescribable – behaviours and understandings. It is these which my own project sets out to detect, by applying more detailed forms of textual analysis to the actual CMC modalities as they evolve.

 2.3 Analysing online conversation

I next look at the literature of those varying methods used to capture and analyse language in use, with a special emphasis on conversational analysis, firstly in the narrowest sense of classic Sacksian CA, and then broadening it progressively, to include other text and socially based accounts of how CMC might be operating. By examining chatroom communication and adding the theories below in parentheses to a chat-analysis  lexicology, I will establish further dimensions for  an electronic theory of dialogue.

·         The reader (reader-response theory)

·         Computers’ role in communication (computer-mediated Communication, CMC)

·         Introduction of socially embedded elements (pragmatics)

·         What is the language “doing” (speech act theory)

·         The reasons people enter chatrooms (discourse analysis)

·         Details of communicative exchanges (conversational analysis)

2.3.1 The Reader

The most fundamental difference between face-to-face communication and chatroom communication is that is that in the latter, a reading of text is essential. I have therefore chosen to begin my search of the literature with contributions addressing reading.

The Reader as interpreter

What does the literature say about the role of the reader of a text and can this be applied to the reader in the chatroom milieu?  There are many researchers, writers and schools that concentrate on reader-response theory. One such researcher is Norman Holland [34] who is a scholar in English at the University of Florida, where he teaches and writes about psychoanalytic psychology, and cognitive science.  He uses Freudian psychoanalysis as the basis for his theories on reading, which he formulated in the 1970s. He asserts that the reading process is a transaction between the text and the reader. He believes that we develop an identity theme based on what we received from our mother at birth and through our life experiences we personalize this identity. We use this identity to view the world, including the mediated world, and textual interpretation becomes a matter of working our fears, desires, and needs to help maintain our psychological health (Holland, 1990, 1993). But the reader transforms the text into a private world where he/she works out his or her fantasies.

In Poems in Persons, An Introduction to the Psychoanalysis of Literature, (1973) Holland gauges student responses to poems by H.D., Swift, Keats, and Frank O'Hara. He reveals that each reader recreates the poems in accordance with his or her own central myth. In the analysis section of Case Study 1 I will discuss how this could be seen to work within the chatroom milieu, where the reader is similarly left alone to interpret what is written on the computer screen. 

Holland himself is still writing as a Freudian and NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today views the Internet as phallic [35] .  In his online article ‘The Internet Regression’, (2000) Holland says, “Talking on the Internet, people regress. It's that simple. It can be one-to-one talk on e-mail, or many-to-many talk on one of the LISTs or newsgroups. People regress, expressing sex and aggression as they never would face to face.” [36]   Holland talks about ‘flaming’, sexual harassment, yet also describes an openness and generosity, which seem to occur when people are online. Without wishing to take up his psychoanalytic concerns, the present study will – along with almost all other studies of on-line practice: see for instance Turkle (1996) – comments upon the very strong degrees of identity play evident in on-line talk texts. At minimum, Holland’s work shows us the ways in which text reception is as active a process of meaning-making as text production – and in the instant reciprocity enabled by CMC, that is a key insight.

The assumed or implied reader

What Holland’s work does reveal, is that when a person enters a chatroom, he or she brings his or her own experiences to the interaction. To move beyond Holland’s Freudian “fantasy enactment” view of text interpretation however, it is useful to examine the reception theory of Wolfgang Iser. Born in 1926, Iser is a German theorist and literary critic who later taught at the University of California at Irvine. Iser takes a phenomenological [37] approach to reading. Iser argues that the text in part controls the reader's responses, but contains "gaps" that the reader creatively fills. There is a tension between the actual reader and the  "the implied reader," who is established by the "response-inviting structures" of the text. This type of reader is assumed and created by the work itself.  In other words, rather than seeking the entire act of interpretive reception in the psyche of the individualized reader, Iser allows us to detect strategies inside the text itself which pre-dispose not only certain readINGS, but certain “preferred” readERS.

Iser reveals some of what we are looking for when we speak of ‘The Reader’. He begins by noting two broad categories of readers: real readers and hypothetical readers. Iser refers to real readers as those who have been documented; their responses  recorded in some way, while hypothetical readers are those “ideal” readers predicted within the text.  Interestingly for the present study, this is very much the case in chatrooms, where there is  “documentation” of the “real” reader’s response by noting their response-utterance, as well as textual recording of the “hypothetical” reader, presented in the initial text evoking response (and requiring it in “preferred” ways).   Iser however further subdivides the reader, saying that hypothetical readers can be broken down into two groups: the ideal reader and the contemporary reader.

"There is no escaping this process, for... the text cannot at any moment be grasped as a whole. But what may at first sight have seemed like a disadvantage, in comparison with our normal modes of perception, may now seem to offer distinct advantages, in so far as it permits a process through which the aesthetic object is constantly being structured and restructured." (Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading, 1978, p. 112).  

"By reading we uncover the unformulated part of the text, and this very indeterminacy is the force that drives us to work out a configurative meaning while at the same time giving us the necessary degree of freedom to do so" (Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader, 1974, p. 287).

...The significance of the work...does not lie in the meaning sealed within the text, but in the fact that the meaning brings out what had been previously sealed within us. Through gestalt-forming, we actually participate in the text, and this means that we are caught up in the very thing we are producing. This is why we often have the impression, as we read, that we are living another life (Iser, The Act of Reading, pp. 157, 132).why 2 page refs?

Not only then does Iser give text reception an active role within reading, but he sees that there are certain types of text strategy which optimize the chances of this “indeterminacy”, and so invite interpretation at a level of self-consciousness which reaches out to identity-formation:

The ability to perceive oneself during the process of participation is an essential quality of aesthetic experience; the observer finds himself in a strange, halfway position: he is involved, and he watches himself being involved. However, this position is not entirely nonprogrammatic, for it can only come about when existing codes are transcended or invalidated (Iser, The Act of Reading, p. 134).

Iser does not analyse actual readings of texts, but proceeds from an ideal "implied reader" to valorize readings both with and against the predispositions of the text. For Iser, the reader does not mine out an objective meaning hidden within the text. Rather, literature generates effects of meaning for an actual reader, in a shared virtual space created between reader and text. Although reader and text assume similar conventions from reality, texts leave great portions of that “reality” unexplained to the reader, whether as gaps in the narrative or as structural limits of the text’s representation of the world. This basic indeterminacy itself "implies" the reader and begs her participation in synthesizing, and indeed living, events of meaning throughout the process of reading.

Iser writes of the interaction between a published text and its  reader. If then we take this  phenomenological approach to the reading process in a chatroom, we see how an interaction between the text and the reader can occur, and how it focuses attention onto  the text. For meaning to occur [in a Chatroom] according to Iser, the underlying theory of a piece of work first consists of its author and an ‘aesthetic’ (reader) situated at equal poles, in equal measure, with meaning production situated somewhere in between, as a result of that interaction. The main motivation for the interaction between text and reader is for the ‘space’- the 'fundamental asymmetry’ that exists between them, to be filled. All texts (and this is very evident in a chatroom) are thus made up of numerous spaces (“gaps”) in the dialogue, which I refer to as “the chunk and chat segments”, and these spaces denote that a piece of information has been omitted or only made implicit. This has the resultant effect of making the reader (the witness of the chat event) find connections and implications in what has been written, and thus become in turn “the writer”.  It is this combination of what has been written and what has been left out, that permits the completion of  the whole picture, enabling the production of meaning. Moreover, this process is also dependant on certain terms set by the chatroom protocols [38] i.e. there is some structuring of the blanks and spaces, which the reader-witness-writer-witness has to follow. In other words, chatroom “texting”, by both “author” and “reader-as-author” , is as complex and as reciprocal as Iser suggests of the reading act – and as close to identity formation. Yet at the same time it is distinctively different, arising as it does within a CMC space, and influenced by the technological dictates of that space.    

Iser has further explored how literature functions in the human experience, saying that

… if the reader is to identify with a text, then he or she must combine the artistic, which is the author’s creation of the text, and the aesthetic, which is the realization that the reader brings to the text. Once the artistic and the aesthetic [39] are united then the reader will enhance the text, by allowing his or her intimate experiences to flow through the text. As the reader becomes more involved with the text, then meaning, which comes of experience, can be used to interpret the text (Iser, date, p.45).

Reading is thus an active and creative process (Iser 1974, Holland 1992, Kristeva 1989) with the imagination always the final interpreter.  Even with no knowledge of who the person is who is playing, in both the reader or the writer’s  role, one can find whether other writers and readers in a  chatroom share views by following responses to what is being written. A person will be enticed to enter or continue the dialogue in a chatroom based on how this person reads the text, bringing his or her own experiences to the reading. ‘The reading process is an interaction between the text and the reader's imagination’ . (Iser, 1972, p. 34).

The background of the reader (‘mosaic of multiple texts’) 

Kristeva (1980, 1986) in “Desire and Language; a Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art” (1980), and The Kristeva Reader (1986) builds on the works of Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Mikhail Bakhtin to examine the speaking subject and the signifying structures of social practice. It is Kristeva's work on intertextuality, which is useful in this study of Internet "conversations".

The concept of 'intertextuality' was first developed by Julia Kristeva, in connection with the numerous implicit references in each text to other texts. No text is written in complete isolation from other texts nor can it stand entirely by itself. Hypermedia technology can express such intertextuality by linking selected parts of a text, image, sound or other multimedia format with other texts, image, sound or other multimedia format (Bolter 1991; Landow and Delany 1991; Landow 1992; Nelson 1993).

Kristeva, like Holland (Holland being a Freudian and Kristeva, at least initially, a Freudian Feminist theorist) speaks of the child who must learn to differentiate  self from other  if it is to be come an individual.  I discuss Kristeva in more detail in Case Study 4, when I use a semiotic approach to reading the text in a chatroom and examine her idea of Intertextuality, developed in part from Bakhtin’s writings.  In her writings, Kristeva (1986) charts a three-dimensional textual space whose three "coordinates of dialogue” are the writing subject, the addressee (or ideal reader), and exterior texts. Kristeva describes this textual space in a Saussurian paradigmatic/syntagmatic way familiar in semiotics, as intersecting planes that have horizontal and vertical axes.

The word's status is thus defined horizontally (the word in the text belongs to both writing subject and addressee) as well as vertically (the word in the text is orientated towards an anterior or synchronic literary corpus) ... each word (text) is an intersection of words (texts) where at least one other word (text) can be read ... any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another (p. 37).

Essentially, every text is informed by other texts which the reader has read, and the reader's own cultural context. The simplest articulation of intertextuality can be seen in the footnotes that indicate source materials to which a given text is alluding, or which are known to have influenced the author. A constructive hypertext can make this notion of intertextuality an externally accessible "mosaic" of multiple texts, placing the internal connections about which Kristeva theorizes into a visible forum, which can be expanded by each subsequent reader.

My own work seeks to extend Kristeva's modelling of the layering of text, into the ever more complex and shifting systems of talk-texts. By combining her highly theorised models with the analysis of conversation and discourse linguistics, I establish both a theory-rich, and methodologically complex, means of analysing contemporary electronic talk-culture. And in particular, I demonstrate that the “syntagms” or text-to-text comment-response patterns which in Chat are fragmented across multiple postings, are similarly paradigmatically fractured – not always relating to shared cultural contexts, even if “coded” within the para-linguistic online markers of consensus, such as syntactic abbreviations and emoticon graphics.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1981) uses the term heteroglossia (Emerson and Holquist, 1981) to describe the inscription of multiple voices engaging in dialogue within the text. Paul Taylor (1992) points out that, "heteroglossia focuses on the production of meaning through dialogue except that heteroglossia avoids the emphasis on (narrowly defined) consensus and explicitly celebrates diversity" (p. 138). Baktin ’s is useful in this study to show how many varying meaning-makings intersect with the rapidly moving voices and constantly changing threads of the chatroom conversation.

The role of the reader

From Kristeva’s idea of a text as a “visible forum” occupied by cross-referencing textual elements pre-disposing the act of reception, we move to the work of Stanley Fish [40] , who suggests that if texts are crossed by multiple interpretive potential, so are “readerships” as “interpretive communities”.  Stanley Fish in “Doing What Comes Naturally: Change Rhetoric in the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies” (1990) extends Vandergrift’s belief that “interpretative communities are meanings internally experienced in the consciousness of the reader and not necessarily shared” (1987), mirroring what Fish says, "…interpretative communities are no more stable than texts, because interpretative strategies are not natural or universal, but learned" (Fish, 1990, p. 172). Immediately we become able to see that in chatrooms, unless prearranged meetings are agreed to, “communities” are actually instant gatherings of strangers, and only if the flow of turn-takings has a shared meaning, i.e. others in the chatroom know what is being said, can there be shared dialogue which will continue as conversation. Fish reminds us that for all the talk of “liberation”, play or individualizing interpretive reception, “reading” – on which chat depends – is a learned, acculturated behaviour. Not only can we expect to see such regulatory behaviours in action in online chat: without them no communication would occur. How then are those behaviours taught and learned? Which techniques and activities monitor them, control them, reproduce them? And since online chat is, potentially at least, non-proximous and even global, how overt must the regulation of its interpretive communities become?

Italian semiotician and cultural analyst Umberto Eco moves further, developing a somewhat complex formula to show how the reader engages in constructing meaning when reading a text. In The Role of the Reader (1995), Eco states that natural language (or any other semiotic system) is articulated at two levels: the expression-plane and the content-plane. On the expression-plane, 'natural languages consists of a lexicon, a phonology and a syntax'. These are the regulatory foundations from which we draw in any expressive act.  The concepts which we can express however are on a distinctive content-plane (Eco, 1995 pp 20-24). To explain the difference, Eco further subdivides these two planes into 'Form, Substance and Continuum'. How we think and express ourselves, according to Eco, is dependent on our 'content-form' – the distinctive ways we twine content into the expressive repertoires available in our language community. 

In chatrooms where the content and depth of content   are both fragmentary and extremely reduced, Content-form is more than usually reliant on the “expressive plane” established by an “interpretive community”. In Case Study One, I examine the role of the reader in a particular sample of chat discourse to discover  how users  must read a previous text in order to be able to express meaning.  Before meaning can be expressed; in Eco’s terms, before a Content-form can be established, an earlier turn in the chatroom must be interpreted.  Chat is establishing an “expressive plane” of possible talk-text strategies – or in Fish’s sense, delimiting its particular “interpretive community” of actively-receiving “readers”.  How far might such a specialised “interpretive community” be established through the sedimentation of daily acts of talk-texting; how far by technical limitations set up within the design of the “applications” software which enables internet chat to occur?

2.3.2  Rules of chat.

In theory, we can say anything we wish, however, in practice, we follow a large number of social rules (many of them unconscious) that constrain the way we speak (Crystal, 1987, p. 120-122). Pragmatics  is the study of linguistic communication, and so of actual language use in specific situations, and as such can assist in my research.  It studies the factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction and the effects of our choice on others (Levinson, 1983; Nofsinger, 1991). It offers the possibility of extension of its regulatory features into the new interactive or interpersonal speech formations of chatrooms – and the chance of discovering whether what occurs there constitutes new regulatory features.

Amongst the many areas of linguistic enquiry however, several main areas overlap. Pragmatics and semantics both take into account such notions as the intentions of a speaker, the effects of an utterance on listeners, the implications that follow from expressing something in a certain way, and the knowledge, beliefs, and presuppositions about the world upon which speakers and listeners rely when they interact. Pragmatics also overlaps with stylistics and sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics, as well as with discourse analysis. In attempting analysis of an extended field of language use, is one school of inquiry adequate – or does each have something to offer? To the degree at least that these are considered complementary rather than competing theories of language in use, this study will take the position offered in van Dijk’s monumental four-volume study of the foundations of the linguistic methods constituting discourse analysis: that each technique borrows from the others; that some, like discourse analysis itself, borrow from all in an otherwise-directed methodology (in the case of CDA, an ideological commitment to social reform) and that it is often in the areas of overlap that the most fruitful discoveries and insights occur. 

2.3.4       Symbolic activity in chatroom

It is just such moments of overlap or cross-disciplinary study which are most fruitful for CMC and especially chat study. Patrizia Violi in ‘Electronic dialogue between orality and literacy. A semiotic approach’ (1999) comes the closest to my research. Her research is on e-mail as a specific genre and she looks at it as a ‘rebirth ‘ of letter writing, but with some very different features. She talks about writing itself as a technology, as well as computers as a technology. This makes e-mail a ‘double technology’, which reveals practices drawn from both a fusion form, altering many of the accepted modes in other more conventional communicative practices. For instance, Violi discusses what she calls the ‘sloppiness’ of spelling in this genre, and the high tolerance for poor spelling. This is an issue which I explore further in case Study 7, suggesting that what at first appears a speed-impelled lapse in regulatory communicative behaviours is already evolving into something quite new.   She touches on the issue of emoticons, which I explore in Case Study 3, with mention of ‘smilies, a conventional form of communication, codified for the electronic medium, and displaying similar forms of innovation and creative renewal.

2.3.5 The language/action approach 

A return from texted to spoken communication reminds us that language is a dual form: expressive as well as representational. Speech is not just representing information or ideas. Speech is action. When we make an utterance we are performing an action. In chatrooms the chatter is trying to achieve goals, e.g., making a request, giving an instruction, asking a question. Even stating the obvious has a function. (Austin, 1962; Searle 1969). Speech act theory is based on Austin's (1962) work, How to do things with words. Austin showed that we use language to accomplish actions, and not just to make true or false statements. Austin attempted to prove the validity of statements by describing the characteristics of performative sentences, or utterances designed to carry out acts. Some of the distinctive ways that words and symbols are used in chatroms are  discussed in Case Study 4.

In MUD conversations there have evolved several conventions for expressing feelings, gestures and facial expressions verbally through writing. Language alone is used to create situational, real time events – actions and responses enacted only through the talk-texts generated by players.  But such interactive constructs also make the transference of a speaker's authority possible, dependent, of course, on the situation and relation between the interlocutors. Speech acts created in MUDS as current technology stands will never be physically  rendered, as in the real world. But by adding non-verbal signs like face-expression and feelings through emoticon commands chatters come close to signaling intent.  "Written discourse cannot be rescued by all the processes by which spoken discourse supports itself in order to be understood - intonation, delivery, mimicry, gestures." Ricoeur, (1981). But in MUDs players have learned not only to adapt new modalities of command, but to enact and acknowledge relations of power, respect for skills or status, and ways to represent levels of passion or intent which help assess other players’ moves and strategies. Deceit, duplicity, conspiracy, disguise have all become possible in this texted world, as players become more and more skilled in representing and interpreting “characterized” or properly motivated action.

Anna Cicognani’s PhD,A Linguistic Characterisation of Design in Text-Based Virtual (1998b)’ constructs the architecture structure for a MUD system. Her thesis considers the ‘organisation of the virtual environment, virtual space architecture, which defines the relationships between entities. The virtual environment organisation is approached with the view that language is the matter for its construction.’ As her primary work is on the technology of a MUD room I have not used her work in this thesis, other than to understand MUD constructs, and the ways in which they draw on texted language interaction. .

Anna Cicognani’s ‘Design Speech Acts. “How to do things with words” in virtual communities’  applies the theory of speech acts to text-based virtual communities, such as MOOs (MUDs Object Oriented). Cicognani (1996, 1997, 1998b, 2000) notes several performative verb forms  used in a virtual communities stating, “In a VC, I may be able to open the door simply by  typing the command "Open door." What subsequently “happens” is that co-players accept the instruction as having enacted the command; they apply to a world which “exists” in language only, the same performative relations as those experienced in the physical world, where real doors can be opened by really present persons. In a situation reminiscent of the professional actions represented in television dramas, where actors both carry out the physical processes of a medical emergency routine or move their spaceship to warp-drive, and “speak forth” these activities so that viewers can understand the procedures, MUDders and on-line chatters learn to “enact” through language.

In a virtual community verbs that are not considered to be performative verbs in face-to-face talk can act as performative verbs. For example in a text based chatroom verbs such as move, close, open, enter or leave all work to perform those actions that they represent. To  ‘enter’ another room means a chatter is accessing and activating software to represent themselves electronically as “present” in a new electronic screen-space, and to potentially at least participate in the activities and conversations of that space.  While the illusory term “enter” may originally have drawn its performative power from use of the “enter” key often used to activate a software command sequence, it has conventionalized as a new online performative verb, with the power to command response and adaptation from others “present”. Greetings sequences from existing MUDders or chatters have already evolved and are used to acknowledge newcomers. But the perfromative repertoire already extends well beyond this. Anna Cicognani and Mary Lou Maher use the following performative verbs in an experimental MOO (StudioMOO) that they are using as support for research activities and education, which derives from the LambdaCore:

·        communication (say, whisper, emote, page, think, etc.)

·        navigation (go, teleport, move, etc.)

·        manipulation (open, close, move, give, take, drop, lock, etc.)

·        design (create, dig, recycle)

These categories identify four different types of actions in a VC. The communication acts are developed to provide flexibility and expressiveness in text-based communication that mimics the gestures and body language that are used in speech-based communication. The navigation acts provide alternative ways and modes of moving around the VC environment. The manipulation acts allow the user to do things with (and on) the objects in the VC. The design acts are less developed than the other three categories, since so far the emphasis has been on effective interaction with other objects/people in the VC rather than in the design of the VC.

Already Cicognani and Maher have found categories of performativity which extend this speech act mode – and as the informational environments and the interactions around them evolve further, regardless of the technologies or formats used, usages will change too. What is emerging already though is an understanding that virtual communication as a field is directing out linguistic creativity into new areas which are extending our traditional categorisations of language use. For analysts of online communication, which existing theorisations and descriptive systems for language use offer the best means of capturing, describing and analysing these new ways of communicating?

Sociologist G. H Mead (1934) in ‘Mind, Self and Society’ together with philosophers John Austin (1962) and J. R. Searle (1969) carried out studies into verbal communication.  Whilst Mead looked at conversation from a sociological perspective, developing symbolic interaction theory as a means of examining how social roles are enacted and represented through social relational work, Austin and Searle, focusing on the performative or pragmatic and illocutionary element in meaning, drew attention to the many functions performed by utterances as part of interpersonal communication. From this base of work arose the detailed capacity to examine interactivity in language, most influentially developed in the work of Harvey Sacks and his followers.

2.3.6 Conversational Analysis

Current Conversational Analysis (CA) builds on the earlier works of the American sociological movement of the 1970s, most notably that derived from the works of Harvey Sacks (1972), in collaborations with Emmanuel Schegloff (1974) and Gail Jefferson (1974) in their work within ethnomethodology (1972, 1974, 1984, 1992). Sacks's major studies into CA were in the early 1970s whilst teaching at the Linguistic Institute, University of Michigan, his lectures (1974) still used NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today as his followers elaborate ever more complex analyses and applied studies of various conversational uses and contexts.

CA advocates Eggins’ and Slade’s work on how 'conversation consists of 'chat' and 'chunks' is particularly useful when talking about turn-taking in a chatroom setting. Their isolation of  'chat' segments focuses on  those where structure is managed 'locally', that is, turn by turn, which is essentially how text-based chatrooms during the period I examined them function. The 'chunks' are those aspects of conversation which have a global, or macro-structure, where the structure beyond the exchange is more predictable. 'Chat' equals move by move unfolding of talk. 'Chunk' segments need an analysis which can capture the predictable macro or global structure'. (Eggins, Slade, 1997. p.230). The distinction allows for both turn-by-turn examination of individual postings, and acknowledgement that there is already in existence a generic or consensual set of models by which such postings are constructed, received and interactively managed by chatters.

Eggins and Slade, working on “natural” or informal language use, provide a useful set of clues to the notoriously “unstructured”  features of online chat. While such analysis continues the work of the Conversational Analysis (CA) theorist Howard Sacks, it is more focused to revelation of the evolving and changing regulatory systems of specific speaking groups, and less to the establishment of CA as a theorized systematics for language analysis. Like my own study, CA for Eggins and Slade is a tool for discovery of how a given group communicates, and not – or at least not primarily – to promote a perfected and universalist means for language analysis.  I explore how Sacks's CA can detect change in the rules of engagement in chatrooms, where conversation is moved from an oral environment of physical presence to an on-line texted environment of virtuality. At the same time, Eggins’ and Slade’s work on ‘chunks’ takes us closer to DA or Discourse Analysis: a means of analyzing language as it relates to cultural paradigms and as it deploys certain favoured frames of explanation.  DA’s  driving focus is on establishing ideological positions for its (talk) texts. My study locates ‘chunking’ impulses within some – though by no means all – chatroom speech – but when it does, finds high variability in the directedness or selection of “global” or “macro” structuring repertoires. In other words, chat online is “global” only to the extent of accessing many varying “local” structuring references. A “global” or universal “chat speak” is not evident in online talk selections – for all the emergence of expressive repertoires in netiquette, emoticons or IRC/SMS abbreviation. I intend to suggest that what is evolving here is not – or not yet – separated from speech in the physical world, to the extent of disconnection from dominant discursive framings: that online texted talk “chunks” in familiar ways. But I am also suggesting that at the level of “chat” or interpersonal interactivity, new behaviours abound. CA, with its fine-focus analysis on relational talk, is an ideal tool for such inquiry into isolating new texted talk gambits and techniques in use.

Allen and Guy (1974), writing on conversational analysis before it became a widely-used technique, in ‘Converstaion Analysis: The Sociology of Talk’  define the verbal act "as a word or group of words which functions as a separate element in the verbal stream" (Allen & Guy, p. 162). What might such a separable  “element” involve? In particular, are there identifiably new structurings and usages for words or groups of words in online chat? CA has for instance observed that within “real life” speech, support for a statement, as agreement or disagreement, can vary in length from one to dozens of words. Within chatroom conversation fragmented conversation is the norm. Rarely are full sentences made – however “conversation”, argument, discussion, debate, all continue within an intensely abbreviated communicative interaction. My analysis aims at revealing the often complex issues dealt with through these elliptical talk-strategies, and hopefully to tease out how some of them are constructed. I In contrast to the behaviourists’ view that language and thoughts are identical, my examination of IRC’s condensed interactive speech formulae will suggest that “screened” communicative elements: visual codes added to text and working semiotically, as well as adapted linguistic modes operating at the “chat” level, are conveying thought and patterning social interaction, even (and perhaps especially) in the most reduced forms.  To behaviourists, there is no 'non-verbal thought'; all thought is seen as determined only by the language used (see for instance Watson 1930, Sapir 1929, Whorf, 1940, 1956). The problem of describing how verbalisation conveys thought rests in the complexities of measuring the techniques used.  Thought anchored in a complex phenomenon such as language can contain thousands of discreet elements within a short time span. Allen and Guy for instance have identified some twenty types of basic elements in the action matrix of relatively simple two-person conversation.  Yet since many of these elements are not available to current chatroom speech, as they rely on the physical cues of co-presence for interpretation.  As a result, those linguistic markers for social relations which ethnomethodologists and CA analysts have demonstrated as imposing  limits on conversation are not useful in chatroom analysis. In face-to-face conversation participants must be concerned with the impressions which they make on the others (Goffman, 1959, p. 33). The absence of such regulatory features in electronic talk is said by many to be marked by the emergence of the practice of "flaming", or intense escalations of abusive exchange (Deng, 1992; Turkle, 1996). Yet online chat can and does also produce daily and extended sequences of consensual discussion, with finely-tuned practices of inclusivity and mutual support – much of it increasing in complexity as a chatroom “community” establishes itself and asserts identity through patrolling the boundaries of “acceptable” linguistic relations – all carried in the abbreviated online codes. If it  is the fragmentation of chat that marks it out from “real life” conversation, then this must clearly not be conceived as regressive, primitive or unsophisticated.

In interactive Internet "speaking", especially through chatrooms and Instant Messenger, Bakhtin's concept of the utterance builds upon the work already done in Conversational Analysis. Bakhtin identifies "utterance" as the primary building block of dialogue; utterance is to dialogue what lexia is to hypertext. Without more than one utterance there can be no dialogue for, as Michael Holquist (1990) argues, every "utterance is always an answer to another utterance that precedes it, and is therefore always conditioned by, and in turn qualifies, the prior utterance to a greater or lesser degree (1986, p. 60)" [41] . It is this sense of multi-connectedness my work seeks in IRC/IM talk, where the “flattened” screening of postings renders the selection of response patterns difficult, and so directs chat towards the multi-threading structure of hypertext. How then does social relationality – that “politic of power” discovered within such CA categories as turn-taking – work in online chat? How is language oriented towards both self-assertion within a group, and the different behaviours and speech selections which act to structure speech relations?

Astri Wold in ‘De-coding oral language’ (1978) emphasizes the importance of whom we are speaking with. I In direct oral communication we have the cues of the other person, either from sight or from hearing their intonations, tonal variations, vocality and so on. . We then choose our words in a way which we perceive will suit (or occasionally not suit)  the other person. For example, if we know our listener is from a higher or a lower social background than us and we want to appear as of the same social grouping we will take on the air of their social background. This could include such utterance selections  as slang, accent (accent referring only to distinctive pronunciation, for example, sounding as if  from East London, Brooklyn, or Queensland) or speaking a particular dialect (dialect referring to grammar and vocabulary as well; for example saying 'He done it' or saying 'He did it").

Wold adopts an explicit social-psychological approach to language, similar to that of Ragnar and Rommetveit (1972a, b, 1974). This communicative perspective implies that as communicators we have to consider definite constraints on language selection, both with respect to the ways in which an individual expresses him/herself and to the information then interpreted. A chatroom social-psychological approach to language differs though in several ways from  Wold's view, since  the cues of the other person are not so readily available, and as participants we have to work in other ways to know “who” we are speaking with. The ways we choose to understand human behaviour have become  inextricably linked to the ways in which our understandings are linguistically represented (Garfinkel,1972) and in a text-based chatroom this can only be done through the interpretation of what appears on the computer screen.

Taking an existing methodology into a new area such as online chat creates an initial problem of project definition and data corpus management, in that since no other analyst has tackled the field, there is no established approach to follow. This is not however a problem without precedent. For instance, in the field of Conversation Analysis itself there is a similar dilemma, and a productive methodological solution. Ten Have (1999) suggests that with CA, what counts is the project’s selection from within the CA methodological repertoire – a selection which is entirely at the discretion of the analyst, and in the final accounting, a mark of their expertise in applying the most suitable elements of the method. There is no distinctive protocol to be applied; no guide to the extensiveness of the data to be sampled; no set rules about the order of procedure, or the ways to display findings.

My research design builds on this advice from Ten Have, using his ideas about ‘good CA’; and not following prescriptive protocol, but rather devising my own methodological practice from elements most useful to my forms of data and means of data collection.

In extending an existing method into a new field of text, CA thus offers a way of viewing online conversation. Conversational turn-taking is, for example, according to conversation analysis, integral to the formation of any interpersonal exchange (Boden, 1994, p. 66).  Boden compiles a succinct list of the “essential features of turn-taking” which also applies to chatroom talk: 

1)   one speaker speaks at a time

2)  number and order of speakers vary freely

3)  turn size varies

4)  turns are not allocated in advance but also vary

5)  turn transition is frequent and quick

6)  there are few gaps and few overlaps in turn transition.

When  Richard Parrish in “Conversation Analysis of Internet Chat Rooms” (2000) talks about chatrooms as having a role in the way people discuss politics, he is able to show turn-taking in IRC as influencing patterns of debate. IRC  gives people the opportunity, he says, to discuss issues without the usual constraints of  power relations exerted between authority and audience. He talks about the egalitarianism of chatrooms and how  people are able to construct their own personal and group perceptions of a situation. He writes a few paragraphs on conversational analysis, and lists some essential features of turn taking, analyzing a 15minute segment of chatroom talk . He makes the observation in his discussion (amongst other things) that chatroom conversation, unlike group conversation offline, is not dyadic; that is, the speaking does not tend to break down into two party talk.  Parrish concludes that this more open and hyper-linking system suits a consensual and cooperative model of political discussion – a proposition that my own research into more varied IRC settings and their equally variable language uses will test. His work however asserts one instance of an extrapolation from “chat” to “chunk” – from specific instances of talk relations, to their linking into broader forms and formats constituting recurrent chat behaviours – and it is at this point that IRC analysis moves from the micro-analysis of such techniques as CA, to the paradigmatic work undertaken in Discourse Analysis.


Current research please see appendix  - 5 “Current Research” (online at


2.5            Conclusion

As can be seen by my discussion of the literature, though there has been significant research done on aspects of chatroom and other forms of online discourse, I have not been able to find research using conversational analysis as a lens to examine the broad diversity of chatroom talk, nor the finer complexities of its structures and patterns of use.. I have used the next chapter to describe established linguistic methodologies on offline analytical linguistics and apply them to an online analytical linguistic study of the chatroom milieu.

[1] See which lists 135 current researchers doing academic work on online communication. Most of these researchers are presenting online work in the areas of psychology and sociology which are providing an on going source of literature on Internet activity. There are many university Internet research projects such as the University of London’s ‘Gender and the Internet’ project, University of Washington’s Center for Internet Studies; The Internet Studies Center at the University of Minnesota and etc. For example there are psychologists exploring options with using Internet chatrooms as well as many universities using chatrooms for distance learning (including the University of South Australia, sponsor of this thesis) and for classroom experiments (see Sociology and the Internet at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey).

[2] The virtual linguistic worlds of Moods; multi-player virtual worlds on the Internet have many sites catering to them. MUDS and MOOS are imaginative worlds that exist digitally only.  A text-based virtual world typically consists of a number of rooms and a number of players, all of which made up the world's database. Each room would have a description that is displayed to a player when they moved into a room. In a room, players would enter commands to tell the server how they wanted to act in the virtual world. ‘For example, if a player was in a room with a diamond, they could type take diamond in order to pick up the diamond. Unfortunately, only the commands recognized by the server would work; if a player was to type shine diamond, the server would become confused unless it was programmed to allow players to shine the diamond.’ Christopher J. VandenBussche in Introduction to Text-Based Virtual Worlds One of many sites which displays and explains a range of maps of the geographic structure of text-based virtual reality Multi-User Dimensions (MUDs) and graphical 3D virtual worlds is at,

[3] See Daniel Chandler’s list of ‘Active Interpretation Reader-Oriented Theory and Studies’ at viewed July 20, 2001.

[4] See

[5] Computational linguistics is the scientific study of language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists are interested in providing computational models of various kinds of linguistic phenomena. 

[6] Anna Cicognani’s “A Linguistic Characterisation of Design in Text-Based Virtual Worlds” focuses more on the design in a text-based virtual environment and its sense of interactions between users and the virtual environment, “and that these interactions for design can be approached using a linguistic perspective”. I have saved this to my university server online for a reference point as it may no longer be on the Internet.  Therefore, though the reference material is not available in hardcopy it is available as long as the University of South Australia preserves my web site and it is also on the CD which accompanies this thesis. On the World Wide Web I have saved it as: and on the CD it is in the appendix: Online essays: vc/30-design. 

[7] Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Sociology of Science at the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has published widely on topics of Online Interactions. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, is one of her major works. In 2000 she was named one of Time Magazine's Innovators of the Internet. Her Internet site links to many of her published articles.  Turkle’s current research is on Cyberpets and Children ( Her most current published work is “Cyborg Babies and Cy-Dough-Plasm: Ideas about Self and Life in the Culture of Simulation In Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots,”.  Robbie Davis-Floyd and Joseph Dumit (eds.). New York: Routledge, 1998.


[8] David Caraballo has one of the most comprehensive explaimations of IRC chat on the Internet at 

[9] Cyberrdewd was one of the earlier researchers into online behaviour.  His site begins with the academic and professional qualities most researchers bring to their Internet research during the early years of the World Wide Web and says: ‘My qualifications in this area are based on five months experience as an "internet junkie", this being the amount of time I have had my new computer and hence been on the Internet   ;-)    I focus specifically on IRC community on AustNet becuse this is the network I regularly access.  The essay concludes with a few imaginative speculations regarding the future of digital communities.’

[10] Robin Hamman covers topics such as online communities, internet access, and cybersex with his Cybersoc e-zine, which is a valuable online resource for social scientists interested in the study of the internet, cyberspace, computer mediated communication, and online., issue 6, is on ‘methodology of online research.

[11] Paul ten Have, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam, writes and researches on the concepts of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, medical interaction, technology and research practices. He currently heads an online discussion group on ETHNOMETHODOLOGY and CONVERSATION ANALYSIS ‘languse’.

[12] Dr. Karen L. Murphy  and Mauri P. Collins are two of the many researchers and academics who have written in the e-zine, ‘First Monday’, a peer-reviewed journal on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet. Since its start in May 1996, First Monday has published 336 papers in 68 issues; these papers were written by 399 different authors. To view hundreds of published articles  on everything and everything to do with the Internet go to their website at: I will review this ezine further on in this literature review.

[13] Languse Internet Discussion List

[14] Paul ten Have is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social  and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam. His work in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis is useful for a study on chatroom ‘talk’. ten Have has a large collection of sites on his web site ‘Information on ETHNOMETHODOLOGY and CONVERSATION ANALYSIS’

[16] Rhyll Vallis submitted her PhD thesis 'Sense and Sensibility in Chat Rooms' in August under the supervision of Carolyn Baker and Calvin Smith at the University of Queensland. Her Internet site is;

[17] Hillary Bays [Paris] Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris completed her PhD on Conversational Analysis in 2001. See

[18] Sean Rintel [State University of New York] See online as of 2-2002

[19] Gene Lerner is Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara. In the area of grammar and interaction. See online as of 3-2002

[20] Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is at University of Southern California  and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem I last accessed this journal online Wednesday, June 12, 2002

[21] See

[22] The Electronic Journal of Communication is a mega site of articles on every aspect of online research and has been online since 1993 and is active as of Wednesday, 12 June 2002 at

[23] Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine (ISSN 1076-027X) is online at as of Wednesday, June 12, 2002.

[24] See for example, ‘Synchronous Computer Mediated Communication Resource Site



[25] Available on the Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine website

[26]   See especially the paper, ‘How Cultural Differences Affect the Use of Information and Communication Technology in Dutch-American Mergers’ by Frits D. J. Grotenhuis in Volume 12 issue 2 of the CIOS journal at

[27] Email as an important part of online CMC is not the privilege of the original dominant creator of the technology. Messaging Online reports that for the first time ever, that there are more email accounts outside the US than within it. The total number of electronic mailboxes in the world at the end 2000 was a 891.1 million, up 67 percent from 1999. Over 451 million of the total for 2000 were outside the US. See

[28] This is available on the ‘Linguist List’

[29] Chat Gains Ground As A Service Channel, March 2002

[30] Beyond the psychological, linguistic and sociological effects of MUDS are those who have developed the soft ware for the environments to use textual based communications.  Several writers who have produced academic work on the client (architecture) of MUDs are:

Alex Stewart who designed the software for, ‘The Cup-O MUD Client’. The Cup-O MUD client is a fully functional client for Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs, aka MUDs, MU*s, MOOs, etc), and other line-based text communication systems, written in the Java programming language.

[31] On the frontpage to Achaea  it is advertised as,“In Achaea you will experience dreams of the Divine; a grandeur beyond mortal ken that will astonish and delight at every turn. It is a coherent world with a detailed history and mythology.
Join one of the influential Guilds and become a telepathic monk or a wily Serpent Lord. Become a member of the Church and fight the battle of the righteous to drive the Occultists, lovers of Chaos, from the land. Join us, and your fate and fame shall be an echo and a light unto Eternity.”

[32] Books on MUDs are rapidly growing in quantity. Four books which have been useful in this research to give me background into MUDs are;

1. Lars Qvortrup (Editor) (2000) Virtual Interaction : Interaction in Virtual Inhabited 3d Worlds by Text answers basic research questions about the logistics of interaction in virtual inhabited 3D worlds, examining the core activities of interfaces interaction. This book takes the reader from general theories all the way into specific design methodologies and suggestions for management in the multimedia industry.

2. Steven R. Holtzman (1995) Digital Mantras : The Languages of Abstract and Virtual Worlds. A commentary on the integration of computers into the creative process. Holtzman draws examples from ancient languages, the philosophy of a Buddhist monk, Ferdinand de Saussure, and the grammar of Noam Chomsky, to illustrate how the implementation of computers in recent creative work in language, music, art, and virtual reality, presents a new philosophy of creativity in the digital age.

3. Katherine Hayles, (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Hayles explains that ever since the invention of electronic computers five decades ago they have inspired a shift in how we define ourselves both as individuals and as a species. Though Hayles does not provide data on subjects her history of computers and the ideas of becoming part machine and part human in the future is interesting in light of the fact that MUDs are, though only by text, a medium to become something ‘other’ than ourselves.

4. Robins, Kevin. 1995. "Cyberspace and the world we live in," in Cyberspace, cyberbodies, cyberpunk: Cultures of technological embodiment. Featherstone, Michael, and Roger Burows, eds. London: SAGE Publications. p. 146.

[33] In Sherry Turkle’s, ‘Virtuality and Its Discontents, Searching for Community in Cyberspace’ Turkle describes a virtual place called, Dred's Bar, which she had visited with Tony, a persona she had met on another MUD. What is of interest to my research here is how the use of words online can create images to others which are similar to what they would experience in real life.

“After passing the bouncer, Tony and I encountered a man asking for a $5 cover charge, and once we paid it our hands were stamped. The crowd opens up momentarily to reveal one corner of the club. A couple is there, making out madly. Friendly place . . . You sit down at the table. The waitress sees you and indicates that she will be there in a minute.

[The waitress here is a bot--short for robot--that is, a computer program that presents itself as a personality.]

The waitress comes up to the table, "Can I get anyone anything from the bar?" she says as she puts down a few cocktail napkins.

Tony says, "When the waitress comes up, type order name of drink."

Abigail [a character at the bar] dries off a spot where some drink spilled on her dress.

The waitress nods to Tony and writes on her notepad.

[I type "order margarita," following Tony's directions.]

You order a margarita.

The waitress nods to ST and writes on her notepad.

Tony sprinkles some salt on the back of his hand.

Tony remembers he ordered a margarita, not tequila, and brushes the salt off.

You say, "I like salt on my margarita too."

The DJ makes a smooth transition from The Cure into a song by 10,000 Maniacs.

The drinks arrive. You say, "L'chaim."

Tony says, "Excuse me?"

After some explanations, Tony says, "Ah, . . ." smiles, and introduces me to several of his friends. Tony and I take briefly to the dance floor to try out some MUD features that allow us to waltz and tango, then we go to a private booth to continue our conversation.


[34] Currently Holland is active on the Internet and is the "listowner" of PSYART, a usergroup on the Internet (not available as of Friday, 22 February 2002) and he is the editor-in-chief of ‘PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychology of the Arts,’ started in 1997 and still available online (22/02/2002: Holland’s homepage is and on that site he publishes his views on ‘reader response’ in essays. In one article, which seems recent (there was no date on the page)

[35] He comments that men easily get into ‘mine-is-bigger- than-yours games. My hard disk, my chip, my screen is bigger or faster or newer or more powerful’. Sherry Turkle also discusses this in her book. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. And I refer to Turkle in several places in this thesis; Chapter 1, Introduction; Chapter 2, Literature Review, especially on the topic of MUDs.

[36]   Norman N. Holland “The Internet Regression” viewed, 22 February 2000.

[37] See Glossary for a standard definition.  Simply put, phenomenology is the study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness. It is a 20th-century philosophical movement dedicated to describing the structures of experience without turning to theory, deduction, or assumptions. The leaders in the field of phenomenology are, The founder of phenomenology, the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, introduced the term in his book Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (1913; trans. 1931), and the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, Husserl's colleague claimed that phenomenology should make manifest what is hidden in ordinary, everyday experience. In Being and Time (1927; trans. 1962) he describes the structure of everydayness, or being-in-the-world, which he found to be an interconnected system of equipment, social roles, and purposes. I discuss the role of chatrooms to define the self, which combines computers as ‘interconnected systems with the everyday experience of chatting to define our roles and purpose in our world, in the Discussion Chapter (chapter 5) of this thesis. In this way I borrow from Heidegger to demonstrate the value of chatrooms to enhance the self.


[38] Such as what is appropriate language in a particular chatroom, i.e. is it a sex or a religious chatroom?, and also whether there is shared interpretation of such chatroom linguistics as emoticons and abbreviations. For example, does the oft used abbreviation, LOL, mean ‘lots of laughs’, ‘lots of love’, ‘laughing out loud’ or does it have some other meaning?

[39] Iser’s theory of "aesthetic response" is developed in his major books, one critical (The Implied Reader, 1972) and one theoretical (The Act of Reading, 1976).

[40] Fish is a professor of English and law, and immediate past chair of the English department at Duke University, now executive director of the Duke University Press developed a reader-oriented perspective which he called an ‘affective stylistic’.

[41] (See