Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media

Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media

Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media

Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media


Digital Discourseoffers a distinctly sociolinguistic perspective on the nature of language in digital technologies. It starts by simply bringing new media sociolinguistics up to date, addressing current technologies like instant messaging, textmessaging, blogging, photo-sharing, mobile phones, gaming, social network sites, and video sharing. Chapters cover a range of communicative contexts (journalism, gaming, tourism, leisure, performance, public debate), communicators (professional and lay, young people and adults, intimates and groups), and languages (Irish, Hebrew, Chinese, Finnish, Japanese, German, Greek, Arabic, and French). The volume is organized around topics of primary interest to sociolinguists, including genre, style and stance. With commentaries from the two most internationally recognized scholars of new media discourse (Naomi Baron and Susan Herring) and essays by well-established scholars and new voices in sociolinguistics, the volume will be more current, more diverse, and more thematically unified than any other collection on the topic.


predicting the future of the written word is a tricky business. Just ask Johannes Trithemius, the Abbot of Spondheim, whose book De Laude Scriptorum (In Praise of Scribes) appeared in 1492. Trithemius railed against a modern invention of his time—the printing press—arguing that handcopied manuscripts were superior to printed ones. Among the Abbot’s complaints were that parchment would last longer than paper, that not all printed books were easily accessible or inexpensive, and that the scribe could be more accurate than the printer. At the time Trithemius was writing, he was perhaps correct. He noted, for example, that printed books were often deficient in spelling and appearance. But he also maintained that “Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices,” a prediction that thankfully proved untrue.

New technologies can understandably be unnerving. Decades back, people were sometimes terrorized upon seeing their first automobile or airplane. In the 1970s and 80s, telephone answering machines produced similar fears. Many users hung up when they reached an answering machine, too tongue-tied to know what to say.

Today, it is new technologies such as computers and mobile phones that are commonly depicted as threats to both the social and the linguistic fabric. Regarding social issues, the concern has been that face-to-face encounters will diminish because we replace physical meetings with e-mail or text messages. Work by Barry Wellman, Anabel Quan-Haase, and others (e.g., Quan-Haase et al., 2002; Wang & Wellman, 2010) has challenged the contention that new media are reducing social capital.

The question of whether new media will compromise language standards is particularly vital in light of how much Sturm und Drang the issue has generated. Crispin Thurlow (2006) has provided an array of examples of the “moral panic” expressed in the popular press over lexical shortenings, random punctuation, and nonstandard spelling assumed to typify the text messaging of young people. These linguistic transgressions are seen as spelling doom for the English language. My own favorite from Thurlow’s collection is this one from the Observer: “The English language . . .

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