Chat Discourse

Chat Discourse

Cláudia Silva (University of Porto, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch017
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In this chapter, the author characterizes the language that appears in one form of computer mediated communication: real-time casual chats. It is also shown that the new writing that occurs in chats in general, filled with deviations from standard writing, does not merely imply the creation of a new language but is rather the unconscious recreation of pre-existing features both from early writing systems and learning to spell. Chatters even recreate characteristics present in language acquisition. The deviations generally affect the syllable, an intuitive prosodic unit that influences changes in spelling. Chat discourse involves the use of cohesion mechanisms present in other texts, as well as new devices that allow chatters to compensate for the absence of physical clues. Thus, real-time casual chats are a medium in which language is being changed and (re)created.
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Nowadays we get more and more information for a much lower price, thanks to the progress of technology. The technological advances of the Information Age have brought about the possibility of communicating through the computer, which creates new challenges concerning language and behaviour.

Computer-mediated communication, based on a written message that circulates through computers, can be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the time the receiver gets the message: immediately (in real time) or instead minutes, hours or days afterwards.

This chapter will focus on real-time communication in chat programmes since we consider that it involves the necessary conditions for language (re)creation. In fact, real-time communication requires writing fast, without previous planning and posterior revision, and with limited editing possibilities, as Veronis & Neef (2006) stress. Moreover, as a large number of people try to communicate simultaneously in multi-participant chats, they have to employ some strategies to make their discourse expressive and attractive to others. Consequently, language is transformed due to the need for economy, on the one hand, and the need to be expressive and convey one’s feelings, on the other. Changes are proudly made to create the sense of belonging to a new group – a virtual community in which people can communicate online and share their interests and beliefs. This can be seen in languages which have an online presence, such as French (cf. Anis, 1998), English (Crystal, 2001/2004), Spanish (Rúa, 2005) and Portuguese (Benedito, 2002).

While some linguists refer to the possible reinvention of writing on the Internet (such as Pedras, 2002), others mention that the features used in this type of communication have already been seen in other types of texts, such as cartoons, advertisements and poetry (Veronis & Neef, 2006): what is new, though, is their simultaneous and worldwide usage.

In this chapter, we intend to characterize the language that appears in public informal chats. It is our purpose to show that the new writing participants use does not merely imply the creation of a new language but is rather the reactivation of pre-existing features. Thus, the objectives of this chapter are:

  • to characterize one type of chat discourse and the context in which it appears;

  • to confirm if cohesion and coherence devices are used in this type of chat;

  • to see what transformations are occurring in chat abbreviations and their relation to the speakers’ knowledge of the syllable;

  • to verify the possible recreation of features from early writing systems;

  • to check if the deletions of graphemes conform to the unmarked structures present in the early stages of language acquisition;

  • to test whether writing in chats can recreate phases of learning how to spell.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Language acquisition: – the process of naturally learning the principles and units of a language by being exposed to it. Unmarked structures and sounds are acquired first.

Intuitive knowledge: –a set of interiorized principles/notions about one’s native language. They are part of one’s internalized grammar and they make up one’s linguistic competence (according to Chomsky, 1986). This knowledge is related to phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

Chat: – form of computer-mediated communication that occurs in real time or synchronously. Communication develops by sending a message online to another person connected to a computer at that precise moment. There may be many divergences in different types of chat (in terms of formality, anonymity, message construction, topic, amongst others).

Markedness: – describes the languages’ trend to create certain structures and avoid others. Unmarked structures are more common cross-linguistically and they are the ones that infants acquire first. The syllable format CV (Consonant and Vowel) is the most unmarked one and is present in all languages.

Writing system: – a set of signs used to represent units of language. If morphemes or words are represented, this writing system is called logographic/morphographic; if the sounds or phonemes are represented, it is an alphabetic/phonographic writing system.

Spelling rules –: a set of conventional norms to represent a language in written form. Spelling rules are formally learnt in schools.

“Errors” or deviations from standard writing -: language items that do not follow the norms of standard writing. These norms include spelling rules as well as typography conventions, such as capital letters and punctuation marks.

Cohesion and coherence: – they both contribute to text articulation. Cohesion is related to the grammatical and lexical elements that link the parts of a text. Coherence can be thought of as how meanings and ideas are organized and sequenced.

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