Digital communication (TU20)

Anya, Georgia, Jade, Kate, and Misha are all in their early-to-mid-thirties and are all new mums who live in the same area. They have set up a WhatsApp group and this is the way they communicate most of the time. While they share some similarities in their social backgrounds, they are not part of the same friendship networks, which is reflected in the individual differences in the way they write. In this extract, they are taking their babies to a local park. They are typing their messages on their smartphones: Anya, Jade and Misha are en route while Georgia and Kate are still at home, preparing to leave. In this extract, they frequently update each other on their progress and current location and check the meeting place. They make references to landmarks and use deictic words as well as screenshots from their phones to help find each other in the park.

The unit can be used to reflect on the form that language and communication take within contemporary communication via social media. Students might discuss:

  • The ways in which the language used in computer-mediated communication (CMC) differs from, or perhaps resembles, in form from other genres (e.g. chatting with friends face-to-face, speaking on the phone, writing emails, facebook posts, sports commentary, recipes, headlines…)
  • Why people have adapted their language use, given the distinctive functions of such communication
  • Individual differences in CMC style
  • People’s attitudes to such language and whether it constitutes ‘bad’ grammar
  • How changes in technology in the past similarly affected language use (e.g. printing presses, telephones, typewriters, computers)

Discussion points

Linguistics Research Digest links
OMG! Is texting wrecking our language?
Language and gender on the internet
☺ Am I just emotional? ☹
R u tryin to b formal?
Text or call? How one thing leads to another…