Concluding Discussion

Concluding Discussion

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2142-6.ch006

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The Main Conclusions

I have analysed two sets of textchat data from advanced users of English on a net-based MA in English Linguistics. The specific issue I have focused on is how the learners have built and sustained a community through the use of a reduced type of language, specifically through the use of reduced forms and ellipsis. We saw in the Background that languages in general, as well as communities in particular, have been described as locally created constructs. This means that communities of language users develop their own linguistic norms through using language.

The specific way of viewing community that I have used is the communities of practice model of Lave and Wenger (1991) and Wenger (1998). Communities have a joint enterprise that they are engaged in, and develop their own repertoire to discuss that enterprise. I argued that this was a particularly appropriate model to use, compared to for example Gee’s (2004) affinity spaces, because this is an academic community with clear goals for studying.

Locality of norms within language was seen to be a big issue thanks to the debates about World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca. These movements have led to a move away from native speaker norms, and towards an acceptance of locally created norms. Also, norms within computer-mediated communication have been described as fluid and not fixed (cf. Warschauer, 1997; Savas, 2010). This is an environment that has been shown to allow non-dominant social groups to find a voice, even though hierarchies still exist (Herring, 2004a; Helm, Guth, & Farrah, 2012).

Much research has been published on the effect of computer-mediated communication on language learning. Most researchers have argued that there are positive effects of net-based environments for developing language proficiency, although sometimes the effect is unclear. In particular, it has been argued that net-based language learning may be highly conducive for developing learner autonomy. Autonomy for individual learners is dependent on there being a social environment or community for learning to take place in. Evidence for communities has been identified in the literature, for example, through interaction in general (Warschauer, 1997), and also knowledge-building and socio-affective communication (Potts, 2005; Lapadat, 2007).

When it comes to my analysis of reduced forms, we saw a difference in their frequency of use. I argued that this was due to the organisation of the courses for the two Cohorts. Cohort 1 had few pre-seminars without the teachers being present, and they came towards to the end of the course. Therefore, there were fewer reduced forms, and there was little difference in the frequency of reduction between the pre-seminars and seminars. For Cohort 2, there were more pre-seminars, and they came mainly at the beginning. This led to there being far more reduced forms overall, and in particular far more in the pre-seminars. Thus, the effect of pre-seminars at the beginning created the opportunity for a greater amount of this stereotypically CMC language.

I argued that the pre-seminar groups negotiated their own norms for using reduced forms. The leaders for these groups were generally the ones leading the process, but others with experience of computer-mediated communication were also accepted as leaders of norm-setting. Crucially, the native English-speaking teachers were not norm-setters, and were probably outside of the community of practice.

Turning to ellipsis, we saw that it was used in many different interactive functions. We found examples of Directing Discourse, Negotiating Understanding, as well as Social Support. These have been identified in the literature as clear evidence of community-building. More Social Support functions appeared early in the courses, which is to be expected when a community is being built. They did not disappear, since the community still needed to be sustained.

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