Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Gender Voices in Electronic Discourse: A Forum in Ukrainian

Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Gender Voices in Electronic Discourse: A Forum in Ukrainian

Article excerpt

The fabric of electronic discourse is language; the weavers of that fabric are the individual participants.

Davis and Brewer 1997:8

Abstract: The present study analyzes electronic discussion forums in Ukrainian from a gender linguistic perspective. First, it tests hypotheses about the egalitarian vs. hierarchical nature of electronic communication. Second, it delineates a set of genderlect features found in electronic communication in Ukrainian. Finally, based on the discourse-oriented Speech Act Empathy Hierarchy (Kuno and Kaburaki 1975/1977, Kuno 1987), the analysis demonstrates that linguistic choices signal distinct discourse orientations of females and males in electronic communication space. Namely, in mixed-gender settings, on the continuum Speaker >< Addressee >< Others, females operate more locally: Speaker >< Addressee >(< Others). Males operate with the two opposite ends of the continuum: Speaker >(< Addressee >)< Others. The analysis emphasises that both genders have a range of speech strategies that are situational; however, in some settings, males and females negotiate meaning and perceive their relationship with the addressee/others differently.

1. Introduction

This article analyzes one of the newest forms of human interaction, computer-mediated communication in electronic forums, which is a type of electronic discourse. (1) Although this form of communication is written, it does not share all the features of written discourse and, in fact, approximates conversation. "Like telephone conversations, it is transmitted by a technology that replaces face-to-face communication ... [l]ike letters, electronic discourse is supported by a delivery system [that also] replaces face-to-face communication with writing that stands in place of voices. As a consequence, electronic discourse is writing that very often reads as if it were being spoken--that is, as if the sender were writing talking" (Davis and Brewer 1997: 2). Electronic discourse provides an opportunity to observe some aspects of oral discourse in written form that cannot normally be examined quite so directly. Electronic discourse is very distinct in that it is distinguishable from both written and oral interaction because of the relative anonymity of the interlocutors, the uninhibited expression and, in some instances, the depersonalized nature of interaction. In addition, the text in an electronic discussion, albeit usually directed at a specific recipient, is intended to be heard by others.

With respect to computer communication in general, some researchers have noted that a computer-supported communication "creates a freer, more egalitarian discursive space", which encourages "the free circulation of ideas, instead of the hierarchical model" (Delany 1995: 218), known also as the "equalization phenomenon" (Eldred and Hawisher 1995: 347). With respect to gender, some earlier studies on electronic discourse show that an electronic form of communication breaks gender barriers and the traditional patterns of contributions from females and males are changed (Graddol and Swann 1989). (2) According to Herring (1996), some researchers note that computer mediated communication is democratic because of its: (i) accessibility--"in theory, anyone with access to a network can take equal advantage of these opportunities" (1995: 2); (ii) social decontextualization--"the identity of contributors need not be revealed" and social status cues (accent, handwriting/voice quality, sex, appearance, etc.) are neutralized (1995: 2-3); (iii) lack of consensually agreed-upon and established conventions of use--participation is "less inhibited, leading to "flaming" and outrageous behavior on the one hand, and to greater openness on the other" (1995: 3); and (iv) relatively rare overt censorship--"what censorship exists is typically more concerned with selectively blocking the use of vulgar language than with blocking message content . …

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