Digital literacy and language

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Is IM a form of spoken interaction?


Is Instant Messaging a type of spoken interaction

Is Instant Messaging a type of spoken interaction?Introduction

This project examines how we communicate across Instant Messaging and whether these conversations class as a form of spoken interaction, by studying data collected by interactions conducted across Facebook Chat and, to a lesser extent, Skype. This project's answer to the topic question are relevant to the broader study of digital literacy because it will contribute to the argument over 'technological determinism'. This term is used to argue that technological change is the cause of social change, but this is much debated as one of its assumptions is that online interactions are of less quality than face-to-face interactions (Page 2014).

In light of my data, collected by interviewing four people, three girls and a boy all of my age, this project will answer the question by studying unique factors associated with IM. Firstly, the amount of overlapping will be analysed and compared to an authentic spoken interaction, but also how it still allows considerable time for a person to respond in a way that suits them, leading to an IM conversation taking a lot more time than a face-to-face interaction. Secondly, emoticons and acronyms will be studied and how we may use these in IM, with age playing a big part in how often we use them and that this usage has not transferred itself into spoken interactions, leading the project to answer that Instant Messaging is not a form of spoken interaction.

Literature ReviewResearch into face-to-face interactions over the last forty years have seen, as Graddol, Cheshire & Swann (1994) observe, that there are certain mechanisms that are needed in order to achieve smooth turn-taking. Sacks et al. (1974) used the phrase projectability to describe how listeners can identify the type of turn being taken, enabling them to estimate when the turn will end and promptly start talking. What Sacks (1974) lack however is describing how this projection is achieved, and whilst they go on to say that the very existence of interruptions and overlaps show that this projectability is being used, other research has identified interruptions as a category of overlapping speech that indicates conversational dominance (Graddol 1994. p. 169). Zimmerman and West (1975) categorise interruptions as places where we have simultaneous speech. Graddol et al. (1994) counteract this by motioning that certain simultaneous talk is systematically understood by the speakers, some is not. Whilst these theories have great relevance in asking if Instant Messaging is a form of spoken interaction, this research does not specifically study online language and its factors. Other research on face-to-face interaction, such as Duncan (1972) has identified other signals between speakers such as gaze, intonation and loudness, and information about these factors is not relevant, however we can take into account that these factors cannot be achieved through Instant Messaging so this does hinder its case for being a form of spoken interaction.

Overlapping in Instant Messaging research has found a broad range of research including Crystal (2001), who says turn-taking is asymmetrical and unpredictable which leads to many overlaps, typical of synchronous communication. Crystal goes on to say (2001) that its inconceivable that both people can maintain a complete mutual understanding that they would be able to in face-to-face interaction. Garcia & Jacobs (1999) identified that a key difference in IM is that a message can only be seen after its been composed rather than during, so overlaps in production are effectively hidden from view since turns are always organised sequentially (Gillen 2014, p.99). Herring (2010) adds to this by saying that while overlaps in production may be hidden, there is no moment-by-moment feedback so turn-taking is comparatively disrupted and overlaps increase. In IM, it can feel like a race for whoever can finish their message first. Research on emoticons has found that, as Crystal says (2001), that whilst emoticons can be helpful in replicating facial expressions, their semantic role is very limited. They can be risky as the addressee may misinterpret what is meant by the emoticon, and regular users of the emoticon can find unmarked speech misunderstood because they havent used any smileys to accompany what theyve said. Crystal also says (2001) that written language has always been ambiguous, and in contrast to traditional writing where phrases can make attitudes clear, emoticons can make attitudes clear in more informal writing such as IM. In Barons study (2008), she found, from original data, that the amount of different emoticons used were very small. Only 3 people accounted for 33 of the emoticons, meaning we can say that the use of emoticons and their significance in IM can easily be overstated. Barons study (2008) showed that 31 out of 49 peoples favourite emoticon to use was the smiley, while Barton & Lee (2013) note that emoticons mark the writers tone and intention, and because of semiotic modes that are perceived, they can convey many different meanings to different addressees. One of the faults in this research is that this study is based largely on Flickr, a photo-sharing website whereas my study looks at Facebook Chat, a website where a lot more talk is created between people.Barton & Lee (2013) state that abbreviations are gradually being accepted as normal in society and not just confined to online contexts. One of the reasons for this is because the online language has been given marketable and economic value, with some words such as LOL being given entry into the Oxford English Dictionary. Barton & Lee (2013) also briefly refer to the fact that abbreviations had to be used because of technological constraints on a mobile phone. While these restraints do not exist anymore, we can relate this in the modern day to only having 140 characters on Twitter, so the theory of restraints in technology enhancing the use of abbreviations should not be discounted. Boyd (2006) suggests that a person can be considered modern and up to date with cultural trends when using abbreviations which suggests that abbreviations would most likely be used in the younger demographic of society and this is backed up in the data. Research has also discovered that internet-based abbreviations have further social meanings in foreign countries who see these English expressions, showing that vernacular linguistics are valued in media settings and backgrounds (Barton & Lee 2013).Data Analysis

Brief overlaps between speakers occur quite commonly in conversation (Graddol 1994, p.169), however, the data does not show evidence of any overlaps with the interviewees. The dialogue is ordered in a well-structured way with no clear interruptions across the IM platform, however, there are times during responses where the interviewer responds to one small part of a large response by the interviewee, for example, nor do I! haha! If in face-to-face interaction, this could have been said in response to the prompting remark which would form an interruption, whereas in IM it cannot if the prompting remark forms part of a larger piece of dialogue. If this interruption had taken place in face-to-face interaction, the course of the dialogue may have taken a different path. This backs up previous theories that overlaps are hidden due to sequential turns (Garcia & Jacobs 1999; Gillen 2014). In the second interview, there are some examples of utterance breaks where the answer is broken down into two or three chunks. The majority were utterance pairs although there are two examples of a set of three utterances in a row. These chunks could indicate a pause if we were to compare it to face-to-face interaction, but analysis shows that the most frequent grammatical type used to begin the second utterance in an utterance pair was independent clauses (for example, its usually one per message). Of the ten utterances that form an utterance pair or a set of three utterances, 80% of them were independent, while the other 20% started the utterance with the coordinating conjunction but. The independent clause pattern is more commonly found in writing (Baron p.68, 2008), and a reason why the interviewee felt the need for utterance breaks could be because he felt the need to be clear and concise in what he was saying. Baron (2008) also states that males were more likely to use utterance breaks than women, and this is reflected in my data also. Time lag does not make IM a form of spoken interaction, as like Crystal says (2001), a whole of a message has to be typed and sent before it can be read, and typing is slower than talking to somebody. In my interviews, there is at least one minute between having seen the message and being able to see the response, and at most there is a break of seven minutes between correspondences. Naturally in spoken interaction, we would not see this happen as we anticipate precisely the point at which the turn will finish (Graddol 1994, p.163), and because we have heard the content while its being spoken, we have had time to formulate what we are going to say back. Some other reasons behind why IM takes longer is to do with multitasking where my interviewees could be spreading their attention to other Facebook Chats or different forms of communication (Jones & Hafner 2012), or they could have been doing other things around the house. This indicates that the informality of IM means that people perceive IM as not requiring their full attention, so a considerable time delay emerges. In contrast, spoken interaction does require the full attention of the speakers, and the speed of speech combined with our perception of politeness meaning we answer back straight away shows spoken interaction to be a much more authentic and quicker way of communicating. This is backed up by the fact that the interviews conducted over Skype took 8 and 10 minutes, whereas interviews on Facebook Chat took 21 and 28 minutes, more than double the time. Delays in a conversation between two people are annoying and ambiguous (Crystal 2001, p.32), but in IM we accept this a lot more, showing IM is not considered formal enough to be a form of spoken interaction. According to Jones & Hafner (2012), emoticons are unique features used simply as substitutes for cues found in face-to-face interactions. Whilst they are able to convey certain readings, such as happiness, sadness or anger, emoticons can forestall a gross misperception of a speakers intent (Crystal 2001, p.36), hence the addressee misinterprets what is being said to them, which could lead to potential damage in relations further down the conversation. In my data, there are no emoticons used at all and there is no evidence of misunderstanding the mood or concept of what has been said. In contrast, facial expressions could be seen at all times during the Skype interviews, giving a much clearer and genuine message regarding the mood and tone of what the addressee was really feeling. The reason behind the lack of emoticons in the IM data is because of the formal setting of a question followed by an answer, instead of the informality and playfulness (Jones & Hafner 2012, p.71) that can be associated with IM. Gee (2008) uses the phrase social languages (Jones & Hafner 2012, p.71) to describe different writing styles that are associated with different people, and with the data discovered from talking to friends of my age, emoticons are not part of our social language as we are of a more mature age. Another point to note in emoticons is that, whilst they have been around for a long time, they have not appeared in other contexts, such as print media, formal education (Page 2014, p.37). This suggests that they are considered by society as far too informal and should be restricted to social media platforms, and despite their enhanced use on these platforms, not every person uses them so this indicates that emoticons are not a form of spoken interaction. When acronyms first appeared, it was considered a new linguistic code that only the young seemed to know (Baron 2008, p.46). It is used partly because of technological constraints, firstly on mobile phones but more recently on Twitter with its 140 characters. Once again, there is no evidence of acronym use in my data, and this is because of similar reasons to the lack of emoticons, however, acronyms have survived in the world due to its indexing of modernity in the world today (Boyd 2006). Unlike emoticons, acronyms can be expressed in spoken interaction and throughout the world market as even foreign tongues can recognise what an English acronym means. While acronyms have crept into spoken interaction society more than emoticons, its indexing of modernity means its more specific to younger generations. The data confirms this with no use of them in Instant Messaging, or the Skype data which features spoken interaction. There are too many age groups from 21 and above who do not understand the range of acronyms in order for us all to be on an equal platform when using these acronyms, so its ability to become common with younger people isnt enough to call it spoken interaction. ConclusionIn conclusion, my data has shown that Instant Messaging is not a form of spoken interaction. In my data, there were responses to a small part of the overall text, which if they occurred in spoken interaction, could have taken the direction of the dialogue down a different path, as the response would form an interruption. In IM there are more sequential turns, and more utterance breaks which we would not find in spoken interaction. The time delay in writing on IM is much more than in spoken interaction, and this is due to people perceiving IM to be much more informal and not requiring as much attention as if we were talking face to face. Both emoticons and acronyms have a high level of usage on IM, but emoticons can easily be misinterpreted online whereas in spoken interaction we can judge the persons mood much more clearly. Acronyms can be used in spoken interaction, but they, like emoticons, are not known well enough by the spoken society to be considered as part of the universal language that makes up spoken interaction.Baron, N.S. 2008. Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Barton, D. & Lee, C. 2013. Language Online. Investigating Digital Texts and Practices. Abingdon: Routledge.

Boyd, D. 2006. A Bloggers Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium. Reconstruction 6(4). S.l. s.n.

Crystal, D. 2001. Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Duncan, S. 1972. Some signals and rules for taking speaking turns in conversations. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (23) pp. 283-292. S.l. sn.

Garcia, A.C. & Jacobs, J.B. 1999. The eyes of the beholder: understanding the turn-taking system in quasi-synchronous computer-mediated communication. In: Research on Language and Social Interaction 32 (4), pp. 337-367. S.l. s.n.

Gee, J.P. 2008. Social linguistics and literacies. Ideology in discourse. 3rd edition. London: Routledge. Gillen, J. 2014. Digital Literacies. Abingdon: Routledge.

Graddol, D., Cheshire, J. & Swann, J. 1994. Describing Language. 2nd edition. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Herring, S.C. 2010. Computer-mediated Conversation: Introduction and Overview. Language @ Internet, 7. Available online: Accessed 31st December 2014.

Jones, R.H. & Hafner, C.A. 2012. Understanding Digital Literacies. A Pracical Introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Page, R., Barton, D., Unger, J.W. & Zappavigna, M. 2014. Researching Language and Social Media. A Student Guide. Abingdon: Routledge.Sacks, H., Schegloff, E.A. & Jefferson, G. 1974. A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. In: Language (50) pp. 696-735. s.l. s.n.Zimmerman, D.H. & West, C. 1975. Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation. In: B. Thorne & N. Henley ed. 1975. Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance. Michigan: Newbury House Publishers.


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