The Co-Evolution of Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis and Computer-Mediated Communication

Susan C. Herring

Indiana University Bloomington

 Computer-mediated communication (CMC) was originally text based and accessed through stand-alone clients. Increasingly, however, textual CMC has been supplemented by graphical, audio, and/or video channels of communication, and multiple modes of CMC are available on Web 2.0 platforms and smart phones. As the technological affordances of CMC systems have evolved over time, so, too, have the efforts of scholars to analyze the discourse produced using those systems. One approach is computer-mediated discourse analysis (CMDA), a specialization within the broader interdisciplinary study of CMC distinguished by its focus on language and language use and by its use of methods of discourse analysis to address that focus (Herring, 2004). However, CMDA was developed for the analysis of textual CMC; it has little to say regarding, for example, the visual aspects of online discourse. It also tends to assume that online communication takes place primarily through one channel (text).

 In this talk, I describe efforts to develop and extend CMDA over time in order to address non-textual communication and the trend towards convergence of multiple modes of CMC in a single platform. The exposition is structured in relation to three historical phases of CMC: stand-alone textual clients, Web 1.0, and Web 2.0.  I illustrate each phase – its challenges, as well as solutions adopted by scholars to address those challenges — with CMDA research. I conclude by proposing a theory of multimodal CMC that provides new direction for CMDA at the present time. This theory allows for the inclusion, under the umbrella of “CMC”, of graphical phenomena such as memes, avatar-mediated communication, and robot-mediated communication involving telepresence robot avatars in physical space, and thus extends the definition of CMC itself. Each of these phenomena mediates human-to-human communication, supports social interaction, and involves multiple modes or channels of communication, and thus constitutes fertile ground for computer-mediated discourse analysis in 2015 and beyond.


 Biographical Note

 Susan C. Herring is Professor of Information Science and Linguistics at Indiana University Bloomington, where she directs the Center for Computer-Mediated Communication. Trained in linguistics, she was one of the first scholars to apply discourse analysis methods to computer-mediated communication (CMC), initially with a focus on gender issues. She has published numerous works on CMC, is editor of the online journal Language@Internet, and is a past editor of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Her current research interests include multilingual CMC, multimodal CMC, and telepresence robotics.

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