Textuality on the Web: A Focus on Argumentative Text Types

Textuality on the Web: A Focus on Argumentative Text Types

Chiara Degano (Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4426-7.ch019
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This chapter focuses on computer mediated communication from a linguistic perspective, exploring aspects of textuality which have been impacted by the pervasive spread of the hypertext. Central features in the construction of texts are the notions of cohesion and coherence, originally tailored on linear time-based modes of communication, where both the elements and their sequentiality – fully controlled by the author – contribute to meaning making. In light of the disruption of linear sequentiality brought by the space-based logic of the hypertext, this chapter aims to understand how cohesion and coherence work in the website environment, with specific regard to genres characterised by an argumentative drive, which potentially suffer more than other text types from the loss of the author’s control on the linear dispositio of arguments. The analysis identifies different patterns for the construction of cohesion and coherence in argumentative websites, which accommodate traditional standards of textuality into the new environment.
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The impact of the hypertextual/web environment on textuality has been investigated both from a linguistic (Fritz, 1998; Tosca, 2000; Bolter, 2001; Askehave & Ellerup Nielsen, 2005; Garzone, 1997; Garzone, Catenaccio, & Poncini, 2007) and a computer-science perspective (for a review of the literature, see Carter, 2000), even though only rarely has the focus been specifically on argumentative discourse (Carter, 2000; 2003; Shauf, 2001; Degano, 2012; Catenaccio, 2012). Salient factors affecting textuality on the web, as emerged from previous research, include multimodality, hypertextuality, co-articulation and interactivity, multiple reading modes and granularity (Garzone, 2007, pp. 20 and ff).1

Multimodality refers to the possibility of combining different modes of communication in the same communicative event and is strictly dependent on multi-medianess (Askehave & Ellerup-Nielsen, 2004, pp. 12-13) i.e. the integration of different media into a single environment, which is an inherent characteristic of the Web. The ease with which visual and written semiotic resources, both in their static and dynamic forms, can be combined on a website has certainly contributed to accelerating the process of ‘dethronization’ of written discourse – which had been dominating western cultures since the seventeenth century (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 18) – started with the spread of TV. From the viewpoint of discourse analysis, this has raised the issue of the (in)adequacy of purely linguistic models to grasp the complexity of contemporary discourses.

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