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The Concise Encyclopedia of Communication by Wolfgang Donsbach

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Language and the Internet

Susan C. Herring

Indiana University

Language and (or ‘on’) the Internet refers to human language produced and displayed through computer-mediated communication (CMC) systems that are mostly text-based, such as email, chat, text messaging, web forums, blogs, microblogs, and wikis. Increasingly, ‘Internet language’ is mediated by mobile technologies.

Research on language and the Internet may be grouped into five major areas. ‘Classification research’ characterizes computer-mediated language in relation to the traditional modalities of writing and speech; as modes or genres (→ Genre); or in terms of features, such as synchronicity, that cut across modes. Research on the structural features of Internet language focuses mainly on typography, orthography, and new word formations. The use of abbreviations (e.g., ‘ms’ for ‘message’), acronyms (e.g., ‘LOL’ for ‘laughing out loud’), number homophones (e.g., ‘l8r’ for ‘later’), and emoticons (combinations of keyboard symbols that represent facial expressions) have been claimed to characterize Internet language.

A third area of research, discourse patterns, addresses pragmatic phenomena such as politeness (and rudeness, including ‘flaming’), relevance, and speech acts (→ Linguistic Pragmatics); interactional phenomena such as turn-taking, repairs, topic establishment, maintenance, and drift (→ Conversation Analysis); and register phenomena such as gender styles, regional dialects, and ingroup language practices ...

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