New Year’s Resolution #2: Update this blog more. Okay, just write in it, since I seem to have not done that since August.

I kind of got sidetracked when a lot of things happened this summer. Before that, the blog was a useful tool to get my ideas out there into the world, as well as to brainstorm about things. I really want to get back to that.

Here are some posts that I’m currently thinking about:

  • A review of two talks I did this fall semester.
  • Tales of an eLinguist in Europe – from my travels to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Salzburg during November.
  • A discussion of Prezi, an alternative to PowerPoint, and how I use it in my grad student life.
  • Musings on the effect of the new Looking For Raid system on World of Warcraft society.

Any requests?

A Schedule Conundrum

So for this next school year, I’m facing something I’ve never faced before – a totally open schedule. I got a Mellon Award, which means that I don’t have to teach or be an assistant of any type. The plan is to get work done towards finishing my degree, which is finishing up that second QP and beginning dissertation work.

This is at once exciting and terrifying for me. I’m excited to have the time and energy to devote to my graduate work, but I fear the open schedule. I’ve never really experienced anything like that before, since I have always had something around which to plan my time. It’s always been classes, or a teaching schedule, or a job with regular hours. What do I do with an open schedule?

I’ve tried making a schedule for myself, but I’m struggling with how to do it. Big blocks of time devoted to one thing? Fifteen minute chunks of work on several different things? Do I work from home? Work from the office at school?

I’m interested in input from others who have had to make a similar adjustment. What time management strategies worked for you?


I admit it — as far as I can tell, I made up the term “eLinguist” and “eLinguistics”.

I don’t say that to mean “Hey, I’m the originator of this term, give me credit where it’s due!”, but rather to mean, “There may be a better word for what I do, but I can’t figure it out”.

One of the most popular terms that floats around is CMC, or Computer-Mediated Communication. This term has morphed into CMD (Computer-Mediated Discourse), and recently CMCMC (Convergent Media Computer-Mediated Communication), among others.

I’ve seen the variety of English that is used online referred to by many names — Online English, Internet English, eEnglish, eSpeak, netspeak, etc. I even called it “Online Written English (OWE)” once, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek attempt to give it a dialectal name.

The point is that, as far as I can tell, we don’t know what to call ourselves, those of us who study Computer-Mediated Communication. Linguists who study syntax are called syntacticians, linguists who study social uses of language are called sociolinguists; I count myself as a sociolinguist, a discourse analyst, but more than those, I am a linguist who studies CMC. We don’t have a fancy name. When I was asked to define myself several years ago, I came up with the term “e-linguist” on the spot, and I’ve used it ever since.

I like the term for a number of reasons. The e- prefix is a shortened form of “electronic”, and really, a lot of the stuff that those who might be dubbed eLinguists do is electronic. We use software to gather our data, we observe virtual communities, we correspond by e-mail and twitter, we publish in online journals. Furthermore, I think it really reflects the kind of tradition I’ve “grown up” in, academically, that being a computer-central one. I did most of my reading of articles online, have typed and printed my papers, even read textbooks online. I submit all of my publications electronically (I was recently turned off by a submission process that required a hard copy — how last-century!), and I correspond with my colleagues in online spaces. I am a native speaker of whatever it is that we call the online version of English.

I’m not saying it’ll catch on, or that it SHOULD catch on, but for lack of a better term, it’s what I use. I’m interested to know what other people who study this field have called themselves.

emoticons as words

I argued once, in a syntax paper, that emoticons should be classified as “words”. They carry meaning, they act as discourse markers, and therefore, they act like any other word.

Today, I accidentally discovered that the site 750words (which I’ve blogged about before) counts emoticons towards its daily wordcount.

Yeah, yeah, I know — it’s following the same wordcount algorithm employed by software like Microsoft Word to count words (which counts anything between spaces as a word, including “special symbols”); that isn’t exactly the same as saying that popular sites and software are considering emoticons as words. They just happen to fall into the parameters that the wordcount feature is operating in.

Still… it made me grin with the kind of geeky glee that is pretty unique to linguists.

GURT2011 Review – Susan Herring’s Plenary

At GURT 2011, the first plenary was by none other than Susan Herring, who is one of the pioneers of the field of Computer-Mediated Communication. In her talk, she discussed many of the issues facing researchers of language online as we proceed forward. One of the main threads of her talk was the concept of “Web 2.0”, which — as many of you probably know — is either a too-broad classification scheme or a tool of media hype. Dr. Herring (I am unsure of an appropriate address term to use for her, so I will go for the most respectful) used the concept of Web 2.0 to draw a useful distinction — to refer to computer-mediated interaction that goes beyond textual chat, where the main focus is outside of the chat. That is, there is multimodal content (either generated by the users or provided by the platform itself) that functions alongside social interaction, and that interaction is generally centered around the content rather than the talk.

We are all familiar with these types of platforms — YouTube, where users can comment but the interaction is around a shared video; Flickr, similar to YouTube but with photographs; Facebook, with users creating links and sharing videos and photos, or comments centering around a status update or change in relationship. This is a different way of looking at interaction online, and Herring suggested a framework for analyzing these phenomena which she called Convergent Media Computer-Mediated Discourse (CMCMD).

Her framework included a three-part organizational lens, broken down into ways of categorizing the content of focus: familiar, reconfigured, and emergent. She borrowed this idea from previous work by Crowston and Williams (2000), who used the terms “reproduced” and “emergent”. The idea behind this is that there are familiar things that we see in computer-mediated discourse (news sites, for example, that have article formats like those that we see in newspapers), and some things which are even directly reproduced (think of course syllabi that are put into digital format and uploaded onto the web — these are reproductions). From the familiar, things become reconfigured or adapted to the digital environment. Facebook itself is an example of this — it was adapted from the Harvard “face book”, like those yearbooks that we all have, and changed to fit a digital format. Finally, there are phenomena that are emergent, or native to the web itself. Wikis are a good example of this — collaboratively authored vaults of information that are always changing and being updated, interlinked and rich in multimedia.

Herring pointed out that online phenomena such as these tend to go through stages of being familiar, reconfigured, or emergent — news sites started as being familiar reproductions of newspapers that we could get on any newsstand, but then after a generation of users went by, became reconfigured to adapt to the new technologies available. They began to offer polls, videos, interactive content, comment forms, and the like; now, they are integrated with Facebook and Twitter so that you can share news stories between online mediums.

Finally, Dr. Herring reminded us all not to forget the familiar aspects of analyzing online language use because we are caught up in the “newness” of it all. Behind every new phenomenon is something that came before — retweeting is remarkably like quoting, Skype behaves like telephone conversations, status updates on Facebook are like emoting in MUD environments (or, at least they were back in the days when an “is” followed everyone’s name).

My personal big take-away from Dr. Herring’s talk was that we are not dealing with totally novel language forms here. Yes, we may be seeing some new processes as language is adapted to an online environment, but they aren’t being created ex nihilo. I think this is important for us all to keep in mind as we venture to analyze and understand language processes in a digital world — we don’t have to start from scratch.