Electronic Discourse

Linguistic Individuals in Virtual Space

By Boyd H. Davis & Jeutonne P. Brewer

Subjects: Communication
Series: SUNY series in Computer-Mediated Communication
Paperback : 9780791434765, 217 pages, October 1997
Hardcover : 9780791434758, 217 pages, October 1997

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Table of contents


1:// A first look at electronic discourse

On defining electronic discourse

Writing that reads like conversation

Speaking and writing: Biber's dimensions

Multidisciplinary perspectives

Selected approaches to discourse analysis

Description of the corpus

Using the concordance: An example

2:// Context and contact in electronic discourse

Repetition in electronic conference discourse

An emergent register

Electronic conferences as "Town meetings"

Changing contexts within a conference

Some purposes behind repetition in electronic discourse

3:// Entering the conferences: Challenges of time and space

Electronic writing: The "early" period

The subject of the conferences: What students brought as "given"

Setting and participants: A closer look

Accessing the conference: The challenge of spaces

Space and time in the arrangement of conference texts

The impact of realigned times and settings on monitor screens

The challenge of expectations about genre

Replies as new frames

4:// Titles: Form and function in electronic discourse

The impact of conference topography

Conventions of direct address in titles

Titles as suggestive of self-disclosure

The titling game and its impact

Managing community: Software and moderator impact

5:// Defining the territory

Individual views of the territory

Guarding the territory

Syntactic cues: Personal pronouns

It behaves differently

Genderin the territory

Brent's territorial moves

6:// Taking a stance: Text, self, and other

Aspects of modality

Modality: A range of definitions

The individual and the text

Verb classes

Contexts and modal verbs

A change in audience

7:// Aspects of emulation

Popularity and rhythm

Moving to reflexive writing

Emulation across distance and space in the Transparent Conference

Adjacency-pairs in the Transparent Conference

Frame and focus in Topic 2

Some features of audience in the Transparent Conference

Flocking behaviors in mainframe conferences

8:// Emulating a strategy: The rhetorical question

Features of rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions from the Stand-Alone Conference

Rhetorical questions in the Transparent Conference


Going across local boundaries

Reading the text after the conference

A notion of virtual community

A final comment




Investigates the new world of computer conferencing and details how writers use language when their social interaction is exclusively enacted through text on screens.


This book examines interactive electronic discourse, exposing use of language that has the immediacy characteristic of speech and the permanence characteristic of writing. The authors created an asynchronous mainframe conference for language and linguistics classes in which they presented students with the task of analyzing the language used in original newspaper reports of the 1960s Civil Rights Sit-Ins. The authors observed how students wrote to each other across a wide range of social and virtual settings, how they built a real, if short-lived community within and across campus boundaries, and how they handled conflict while avoiding confrontation on sensitive issues of race and power. The result is a study that details how people use language when their social interaction is exclusively enacted through text on screens, and how their exchange is affected by computer conferencing.

The students who wrote in the electronic conferences faced two interrelated tasks: participating in a multiparty "conversation" and negotiating the individual identities they presented to one another in their virtual space. Individual writers used their own idiolects to influence the form and content of electronic discourse, adapting their own tacit knowledge of conversational strategies and written discourse to the new medium, as they created a real, although temporary, community.

In the electronic universe, writers adapt conventions of oral and written discourse to their own individual communicative ends. Electronic discourse, sometimes called computer mediated communication, presents us with texts in contact, and through those texts, their writers. Intertextuality in electronic conferences replaced a variety of conversational conventions. This book examines evidence for change, some trace of being and human interaction in virtual space, a domain where footprints are not in moondust but in ether.

Boyd H. Davis is Professor in the Department of English, University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her work includes Dimensions of Language and Writing about Literature and Film (with Margaret B. Bryan), among others. Jeutonne P. Brewer is Associate Professor in the Department of English, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She has written Dialect Clash in America: Issues and Answers (with Paul D. Brandes), among others.


"This book describes a longitudinal study of college students acquiring and using one type of this new discourse, computer conferencing. The work is especially valuable because it describes use in as natural a setting as possible. " --Denise Murray, San Jose State University